In a world of food abundance, millions of people suffer from poor nutrition. In some parts of the world, the poor have inadequate access to energy from food to meet their energy requirements. In these locations, food shortage is often a seasonal phenomenon and micronutrients are also generally lacking in the diet. Elsewhere, there is a stable supply of energy but the poor have monotonous diets lacking in essential micronutrients. In other places a “nutrition transition” is under way in which the poor and other consumers enjoy sufficient access to energy, and indeed often consume excessive amounts, but the quality of their diets is unhealthy owing to a combination of factors relating to nutrition and lifestyle. Excessive consumption combined with more sedentary lifestyles, often associated with urbanization, contributes to an increasing incidence of obesity and chronic disease such as diabetes in countries still plagued by undernutrition. A combination of these nutritional problems adversely affects about 2 billion people worldwide.
The relationship between agriculture and human nutrition is far more complex than the relationship between food production and food consumption or the economic relationship between food supply and food demand. Increased food production raises the availability of food, but by itself does little to ensure that poor and vulnerable people have access to the food that is produced. Nor does the gross quantity produced say much about the quality or nutritional value of people’s diets. The persistence of malnutrition as a global public health concern despite the successes in increasing agricultural production belies any notion that malnutrition and undernutrition can be solved entirely from the supply side. How then can agriculture, with its customary focus on productivity and yields, more effectively contribute to improved nutrition outcomes?