Growth Is Good, BUT NOT ENOUGH TO IMPROVE NUTRITION

Article excerpt

Growth - whether driven by the agriculture or non-agriculture sectors - is insufficient to address child malnutrition and reduce micronutrient malnutrition. Strategic investments and special programmes are needed in the complementary sectors of health and education.

Cross-country analyses have been conducted to explore the general relationship between growth and malnutrition in the process of development, Complementary case studies of an agriculture-based economy (Malawi) and an oil-based economy (Yemen) assess the impacts of alternative policies on growth and nutrition outcomes under a range of scenarios.

Results and associated policy implications

Agricultural or non-agricultural growth can be better for improving nutrition depending on the country's economic structure and the characteristics of its malnourished people. In Malawi, agriculture has a strong potential to contribute to the reduction of malnutrition. This outcome holds for most agriculture-based economies, and particularly those in which poor people are disproportionately found in the agricultural sector. Nutrition outcomes improve not only among rural households, but also among urban ones, mainly through reduced food prices and economic linkage effects that increase real incomes. In Yemen, growth led by the industry and service sectors is more beneficial for improving nutrition outcomes than agriculture growth as the majority of the population draws its income from non-agricultural activities. In addition, most foods - especially staples - are imported, so the net consumer benefit accruing from the local price effect of agricultural productivity growth is low.

The role of growth in improving nutrition shifts during the development process. Comparisons between a broad-based agricultural growth and a baseline scenario (in which agricultural growth is concentrated in the large maize sector) in the Malawian study reveal that calorie and micronutrient deficiencies become less responsive to growth as prevalence rates decline. Further reductions require economic diversification; thus, the structure of growth across the whole economy and within the sectors is important for determining nutritional outcomes.

Neither agricultural growth nor nonagricultural growth is sufficient to improve child nutrition and reduce micronutrient malnutrition as a whole. Cross-country differences are more pronounced for the relationships between growth and child malnutrition than they are for the relationships between growth and undernourishment. Non-income related factors (such as information and knowledge) and individual health and healthcare seem to matter more in reducing child malnutrition than in reducing undernourishment. Even with decisive policy reform in Yemen, resulting in rapid growth acceleration, child malnutrition remains at unacceptably high levels. In addition, despite reduced deficiencies in calories, iron, zinc and folate, vitamin A deficiency in Malawi remains largely unresponsive to economic growth. …