Agriculture is man’s oldest occupation. It is the foundation for providing food for human beings. Mahatma Gandhi, a renowned Indian icon and human rights activist once said: “to forget how to till the earth and tend the soil, is to forget ourselves”.
Agriculture is the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, fruits and other products. It entails the growing of food foliage, fibres and vegetables on land to feed others. It also covers animal husbandry, aquaculture and other ancillary productions.
Agriculture, undoubtedly, has a direct impact on the environment. It has a direct impact on the food we eat, how much of it we consume, the quantity and the quality.
Agriculture, which has numerous forms, is central to sustainable development. The agricultural sector is critical for generating employment in rural areas, supporting the economy in farming communities, and providing food and nutritional security. The sector, therefore, has an essential role in improving overall nutrition. Good nutrition is key to ensuring good health and the wellbeing of populations.
Many things adversely affect the production of food, including the lack of access to good seedlings, little or no agricultural extension services, poor agricultural practices and infertile soils. Poor food production adversely impacts on the populations and hinders access to nutritious foods. The end result is wide spread incidences of malnutrition.
Malnutrition is a state in which the body doesn’t get enough nutrients. It is the underlying cause of 45 per cent of child deaths worldwide today. Nutrient deficiencies, such as protein deficiency have caused wasting and kwashiorkor in children globally, with a large percentage of the affected children originating from Sub Saharan Africa. Iron and calcium deficiencies have also been identified as key contributors to maternal deaths, putting mothers at an increased risk of anaemia.
Reports from UNICEF state that “Protein deficiency has also been linked to stunting of infants, and severe wasting of children aged 12 months to four years.”
This waste of potential in individuals and human lives can be prevented, by the implementation of certain policies.
First, there must be cross-sectoral planning between the health and agriculture sectors, to promote the maximum impact of good agricultural policies on health and nutrition. The agricultural sector must collaborate with nutritionists, dieticians and health personnel to improve nutrition security for women and children and consequently their health outcomes.
Secondly, there should be increased investment in agricultural extension to better equip both the small and medium scale farmers for improved yields. A farmer with proper agricultural training and good farm management will grow healthier crops with better seeds; which will surely benefit the end-user or consumer in the long run.
Finally, the government should implement policies to reduce the price of food items across board, as well as educate and sensitize mothers on eating nutritious food. It also needs to work to expand economic opportunities through agriculture.
Once clear goals and objectives have been set from the foundation (which is agriculture) and proper collaboration between the ministries of health and other stakeholders are achieved, overall nutrition and general health and wellbeing will improve. Undoubtedly, appropriate intervention in agriculture can boost nutrition for the general population.
And the time to begin is now.
Reginald Onabu, Researcher and aspiring Public Relations Officer, Writes from Lagos.