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Connecting Agriculture to Better Nutrition in South Asia: Innovation as a process of socio-technical change

Volume 2017 No 16
Connecting Agriculture to better
Nutrition in South Asia: Innovation as a
process of socio-technical change
Dominic Glover
July 2017
I am grateful for support and helpful comments received from colleagues and contributors to the
LANSA consortium including Bhavani RV, Haris Gazdar, Stuart Gillespie, Richard Longhurst,
Sangeetha Rajeesh, Prakash Shetty and Jim Sumberg. I also thank Kim Bowler, Annie Lowden and
James Middleton for administrative assistance and support with the preparation of this document.
Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA) is an international research partnership.
LANSA is finding out how agriculture and agri-food systems can be better designed to advance
nutrition. LANSA is focused on policies, interventions and strategies that can improve the nutritional
status of women and children in South Asia. LANSA is funded by UK aid from the UK government.
For more information see
Contents .............................................................................................................................................................................. 3
Acronyms............................................................................................................................................................................. 4
Abstract ................................................................................................................................................................................ 5
1 Introduction ..................................................................................................................................................................... 5
2 A conceptual framework .............................................................................................................................................. 6
3 An analytical framework ............................................................................................................................................... 9
3.1 What is the basic concept of the intervention? Does the intervention reflect an implicit impact
pathway or theory of change ........................................................................................................................................ 10
3.2 What forms of practice or behaviour are envisaged if this intervention/innovation is taken up? ......... 10
3.3 Who is expected to practise or employ the technology? ............................................................................... 11
3.4 What material inputs, equipment or tools may be needed in order to take full advantage of the
technology ......................................................................................................................................................................... 11
3.5 What information, knowledge or skills are required to make the most of the new technology?. ....... 11
3.6 How extensive is the actor-network implicated in the change? ................................................................... 12
3.7 How does the intervention create cultural changes and redistribute power? .......................................... 12
4 Applying the framework to selected interventions ............................................................................................. 13
5 Discussion/Summary .................................................................................................................................................... 20
6. Conclusions and further implications ..................................................................................................................... 21
Appendix 1: Analytical framework to assess interventions/propositions for technological change ............ 23
Appendix 2: Summary examples of interventions/propositions for technological change to strengthen
agriculture-nutrition linkages in South Asia ............................................................................................................... 24
Appendix 3: LANSA studies nominally including an innovation focus ................................................................ 31
References ......................................................................................................................................................................... 32
ActorNetwork Theory
originally Bangladesh Rural Advisory Committee, now Building Resources
Across Communities
Co-principal investigator
Department for International Development (UK government)
Farming Systems for Nutrition
fruit(s) and vegetable(s)
information and communication technologies
Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia, a research consortium
Multi-Level Perspective
orange-fleshed sweet potato
Public Distribution System (India)
principal investigator
sweet potato
Science, Technology and Society Studies or Science and Technology Studies
Vitamin-A Deficiency
This paper explores the role of innovation in strengthening the linkages between agriculture and
nutrition in South Asia. This paper eschews the common bias in discourse about ‘innovation’
towards eye-catching novelty and invention, which emphasises high-tech gadgets and devices,
external inputs and industrially and/or commercially produced technologies. Instead, this paper
adopts a broad conceptualisation of innovation as a change process, which involves a reconfiguration
of technical and social components, and has material, economic and behavioural dimensions. Thus,
the paper embraces practical and behavioural changes at farm- and household levels, such as the
establishment of home gardens for improved nutrition, as well as more obvious technological
novelties such as machines or the genetic engineering of biofortified crops. This inclusive, catholic
approach is inspired by insights from the anthropology and sociology of technology, and the specific
field of science and technology studies (STS), which view technology first and foremost as an
assembly of social and technical components, in which purposeful human agency interacts with the
material world in order to accomplish particular goals. From this perspective, the study of
innovation entails a focus on changes where information and knowledge, practices and behaviours,
and tools and inputs are being introduced, eliminated, modified and/or transformed. The particular
cases discussed in this paper are examples selected from the range of interventions studied by
partners in the LANSA consortium (Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia). The paper
introduces a framework comprising a series of useful questions that may be asked before, during or
after an intervention that intends to achieve better nutrition outcomes through technological change
in food production or consumption systems. Using this framework of questions, which focus on the
practices and practitioners of technology, the paper identifies the different and contrasting ways in
which the interventions have been conceived and, in particular, differences in their expectations
about who will practise the technologies concerned, how the desired benefits are supposed to be
realised, and how readily these expectations may be met.
Keywords: agriculture, nutrition, South Asia, innovation, technological change, practice
1. Introduction
This paper contributes to technical and policy debates about how agriculture and food systems may
be transformed in order to better address problems of hunger and malnutrition, with a geographical
focus on countries of South Asia. Despite rapid global population growth over the past century,
human endeavour has succeeded in producing enough food to feed everybody. Yet the world still
faces a ‘triple burden’ of malnutrition, a term which expresses the paradox that hunger (a basic
energy deficiency stemming from insufficient consumption of food) and micronutrient deficiencies
(‘hidden hunger’) co-exist with rising levels of obesity and overweight despite a general
background of abundant food, much of which is wasted across all levels of the global food system
(Patel 2007, World Bank 2016, Foley et al. 2011, Stuart 2009). In South Asia, undernutrition remains
a widespread problem, in spite of strong economic growth in countries such as India, which
continues to struggle with stubbornly high rates of maternal malnutrition and child stunting (Black et
al. , 2008; Deaton and Drèze, 2009; Haddad and Zeitlyn 2009; Headey, 2011; Levitt et al., 2011;
Subramanyam et al., 2011; Kadiyala et al. 2014).
The paper explores the potential for different kinds of innovation to strengthen the connections
between agriculture and nutrition in South Asia. The paper draws insights from research carried out
under the Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA) consortium, a partnership of
six research organisations located in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, the UK and USA.
The interventions
and case studies examined by LANSA researchers have approached the challenge of strengthening
agriculturenutrition linkages in a range of different ways. All of them may be considered
innovations in some sense or degree, in so far as they involve a change or reconfiguration of
knowledge, practices, organisation or material inputs in order to achieve a different (and hopefully
better) outcome. This paper reviews a selection of these interventions, alongside some reference
examples not studied directly within LANSA, so as to understand their general approaches, key
principles, and the basic features of their design and implementation. The aim is to create cross-
cutting insights into the various ways in which alternative kinds of innovation may help to strengthen
the nutrition-sensitivity of agriculture and food systems. The purpose of this analysis is not to
evaluate the impacts or success rates of the innovations in question, but to consider them from first
principles as alternative models or propositions for improving the linkages between agriculture, food
and nutrition.
The paper is organised as follows. The next section lays out a conceptual framework that defines
innovation broadly as a process of technological change, which involves the reconfiguration of social,
technical and material components. In this conceptual framework, it is suggested that a technological
intervention is best thought of as a proposition, which represents an opportunity or invitation to
people and organisations, as actors or agents, to engage in a process of learning and coordinated
technical change, in order to produce new kinds of outputs (or to continue producing existing
outputs in a new way, or in a changed context). Based on this conceptual framework, in the section
that follows I then present an analytical framework comprised of a series of focused questions, which
enable the researcher or analyst to understand the particular kinds of social-material-technical
reconfigurations that are entailed by the proposition (intervention) in question. Using this analytical
framework, I present a short discussion of cases and examples selected from the portfolio of
interventions studied by researchers under the LANSA programme, as well as a handful of other
interventions from the literature, identifying the reconfiguration of social, material and technical
relations involved in each of them. The cases are discussed in relation to the level or stage of the
value chain where an intervention is made: at the level of individual crop and livestock production
systems on farm; at the level of the farming system as a whole; interventions in the value chain
upstream of the farm; and interventions that target the value chain downstream of the farm. There
are some overlaps between these cases. The last two sections of the paper offer a discussion and
conclusions, which highlight practical and policy lessons and identify directions for further research.
2. A conceptual framework
This paper adopts a perspective on technology and innovation that places the purposeful activity (or
agency) of human beings at the centre of attention. This may be contrasted with an everyday
understanding of technology in common speech, where the term is usually understood rather
LANSA is a programme of research and capacity building supported by a grant from the UK’s Department for International Development
(DFID). For more information see
simplistically as referring to discrete and self-sufficient technical units. These units are generally
portrayed as embodied in the concrete form of machines, devices and ‘gadgets’, and very often
conflated with modern ‘high technologies’, epitomised by the latest information and communication
technologies (ICTs, conceived in the concrete form of smartphones or tablet computers), artificial
intelligence, drones and robots (such as self-driving cars), nanotechnology and biotechnology. There
are several problems with this everyday usage, which portrays technology as something concrete
and almost autonomous. This framing neglects human agency or practice, which is enabled and
constrained by the material world, including nonhuman living organisms and technical objects of
many kinds not only high-tech electronic devices, nanomaterials and transgenic seeds but also
familiar artefacts such as knives, paperweights and flags. These technical objects and nonhuman
organisms are only made into tools, instruments and machines when they are taken up, manipulated,
assembled and configured by human beings working individually or in groups and networks. In other
words, technology comes into existence through purposeful activity and through the interactions
among humans, plants, animals, materials and a surrounding agro-ecosystem.
This approach to technology recognises that effective nutrition is an accomplishment of action by
multiple people, groups and organisations, operating within a particular institutional and agro-
ecological setting. The approach is inspired by insights and concepts drawn from anthropological and
sociological studies of science and technology. One such tradition is technography, which draws an
ethnographic and sociological tradition associated with Emile Durkheim and especially Marcel Mauss.
A technographic approach places tasks, or the activity of ‘making’, at the centre of attention. This
guides the researcher to focus on the bodily skills, material interactions, contingent knowledge,
situatedness of practice (in time and space) and socio-cultural coordination of tasks, which constitute
technical practice or technology. Technological change known otherwise as innovation is
understood as the reconfiguration and reorganisation of tasks and task groups in response to new
ideas, inputs and goals (Richards 2000) (Jansen and Vellema 2011). The technographic approach is
also helpful in the present case because it has been elaborated particularly in relation to farming and
agriculture, with a recognition that producing, distributing and consuming nutritious foods is an
outcome of diverse and coordinated activities throughout a production chain (Jansen and Vellema
Another inspiration is the body of concepts and theories developed within science, technology and
society studies (STS), including actornetwork theory (ANT). This body of work is helpful in
various ways. To begin with, it is useful for thinking about how objects, technical artefacts and
nonhuman organisms help to create and stabilise relationships between human beings across time
and space. ANT refers to animate and inanimate nonhumans within the actornetwork collectively
as ‘actants’, a term coined to recognise the limited kinds of agency that may be expressed by
nonhumans through a network of relationships with humans. This conceptual language provides a
grammar for understanding how a relationship is established between a technical object’s designers
and its users, or the ways in which materiality may be employed by one set of actors to influence or
discipline the behaviour of other human beings (Callon 1987, Latour 1991, 1992). Particularly useful
in this regard are the twin concepts of inscription, which refers to the ways a specific mode of use
may be built in (i.e. inscribed, creating a script) into the design of technical objects and systems
(Akrich 1992); and affordance, which refers to the scope or range of different uses or techniques to
which a technical object or assembly may lend itself (Pfaffenberger 1992, Hutchby 2001). These
concepts draw attention to the ways in which individual agency is enabled and constrained in
interaction with other people, technical objects, material resources, information and institutions.
These interactions help to define the space for individuals to act in pursuit of their goals, and
therefore the space where external interventions might assist or encourage the achievement of
better outcomes, such as improved nutrition.
The key insight of this literature is to recognise that technology is not an autonomous force that
determines outcomes independently, but a human capacity enabled and constrained by the
materiality of technical objects, the agency of nonhuman organisms, social relations, cultural frames,
and the surrounding environment. Applied to the challenge of improving nutrition by changing
farming and food systems, these perspectives remind us that innovation is a distributed process,
involving action in diverse sites and at various scales. Improving nutritional outcomes may not be as
simple as introducing a new seed variety into a farming system, but could require changes in
cultivation techniques and schedules, harvesting practices and storage methods, food preparation
practices and consumer behaviours, and other areas.
From this perspective, achieving socio-technical change (for better nutrition or other purposes) is a
matter of assembling and ‘aligning’ a heterogeneous network of actors, tools and resources needed
to construct a new way of operating. The inventor or designer of a new technical process or device
has a key role to play as an initiator or instigator of change, but if positive change is to be
accomplished then many others will need to be engaged and enrolled. So-called ‘users’ are not just
passive implementers of a technical model determined in advance by the inventor, but agents (actors
and communicators) in a socio-material change process. The outcome emerges from interactions
among inventors, designers, manufacturers, regulators, pilot testers, the media, consumers, retailers,
and many others, whose interactions are situated in and mediated by socio-cultural frameworks and
material relationships in a specific time and place. The more extensive the actor-network involved in
a technological transformation, the more challenging the task facing the people or organisations
trying to drive change towards a preferred outcome (such as improved nutrition) (Bijker, Hughes,
and Pinch 1987, Bijker and Law 1992, Latour 2005, MacKenzie and Wajcman 1999).
From an independent but overlapping tradition of the academic literature on technological change
comes the concept of the ‘innovation system’. This approach recognises that multiple actors with
complementary capacities and resources operate on different levels and within different dimensions
to achieve change. It shares with the approaches mentioned above a recognition that technology
comprises not only tools and machines (‘hardware’), but also knowledge, information and skills
(‘software’) and social organisation and coordination (‘orgware’ or ‘socware’) (Lundvall 2007). The
innovation systems concept was first applied to agricultural research and development in the 1990s
and is now rather mainstream, but how agricultural innovation may lead to better nutrition is a
relatively novel research question (Hall et al. 2001, Loevinsohn and Mehmood 2014). One impact of
this type of thinking is that agricultural research for development increasingly includes interventions
that engage with entire value chains rather than only farmers (this is the case in the LANSA
programme; (Henson and Humphrey 2015)).
Finally, this paper also draws from the insights of a recent strand of the innovation systems
literature, which proposes a ‘multi-level perspective’ (MLP) on the dynamics of socio-technical
transitions (Geels 2002, Geels and Schot 2007). The MLP distinguishes conceptually between socio-
technical niches, regimes and landscapes. According to this perspective, an innovative technology may
first emerge and be incubated or fostered within a niche. If it goes on to have wider impacts at a
larger scale, this will likely occur by transforming established ways of operating within a given
industry or sector (a regime), perhaps by creating an entirely new type of industry while rendering
existing technologies and institutions obsolete. Ultimately, an innovation may go on to have a
revolutionary impact, transforming the overarching socio-technical landscape, with profound and far-
reaching implications for the organisation and functioning of macro-economic and political systems
and institutions. For the case of nutrition in South Asia, this would imply a root-and-branch
transformation of national and regional agricultural and food systems to deliver more and better
food to people who are currently malnourished.
Arguably, however, the intrinsic value of niches is too often overlooked, when policy makers and
business owners search for solutions that will ‘scale up’. A niche may have enduring importance for
particular groups or in certain contexts. But the key insight of the MLP, which it has in common with
ANT and innovation systems perspectives, is that the complexity (scope and scale) of change
increases with each level of transformation: the number of relevant actors expands, the size of the
network increases, the range of different situations and related interests that are implicated in the
change increases, and the opportunities, challenges and risks entailed also grow. This is the nature of
the challenge involved in ‘scaling up’ promising innovations. Improving the linkages between
agricultural activities and nutrition within one household might involve a very limited number of
actors and relatively brief interventions from outside. By contrast, an intervention to transform the
nutritional quality of a variety of a staple crop, such as rice, requires a much larger network of actors
such as molecular biologists, plant breeders, biotechnology regulators, and so on a longer
timescale, and larger investments both ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ of the farm and the household
(e.g. in research, policy frameworks, regulatory change, consumer engagement, and so on).
The conceptual language discussed in this section draws attention within processes of technological
change towards the agency of individuals and groups operating within networks of socio-cultural and
material-economic relationships. From this general perspective, a technological change initiative may
be conceived as a proposition (or set of linked propositions) made to a particular community or
network of actors. Those actors then have the opportunity to respond to the proposition
(intervention) in various ways potentially including ignoring the proposed change and attempting to
carry on as before. The next section lays out an analytical framework, based on the conceptual
insights introduced in this section, which may be used to investigate the nature of different
interventions in agriculture and food systems that are aimed at improving nutrition. The framework
comprises a series of questions, which aim to discover systematically who are the people and groups
expected by the intervention to change their practices and behaviours, and reorganise their task
groups, in order to practise new styles of agricultural production that are expected to lead to better
nutritional outcomes.
3. An analytical framework
The analytical method used in this paper involves a series of questions based on the theoretical
insights and conceptual categories outlined in the previous section. The questions posed are likely to
be relevant in all cases to some degree, while particular cases might give rise to more detailed and
specific follow-up questions, as appropriate. The questions aim to discover key features of the
interventions under consideration, with the aim of evaluating the scope, scale and complexity of the
changes envisaged in practices, institutions or organisations. This information will make it possible to
evaluate the feasibility of the intervention in question and consider whether those expected to align
themselves with the technological change are likely to have sufficient incentives to do so. The
questions proceed in a sequence of steps, each one shedding additional light on the nature of the
technological change proposed and how it is conceived to work. This creates the platform needed to
assess the intervention, consider its feasibility and appreciate the steps needed to ensure it is
effective in reaching its goals.
3.1 What is the basic concept of the intervention? Does the intervention
reflect an implicit impact pathway or theory of change?
The first question seeks a concise statement of the basic approach involved in the intervention
concerned. It asks, what is the essence of the technological change in question, and is the innovation
based on, or does it imply, a theory of change or an impact pathway? In this paper I use these terms
loosely, as their precise meanings are not central to this discussion. I use them here to stand for the
arguments that appear to underlie a given intervention, expressing the means by which it is expected
to ‘work’, in order to deliver improvements in nutrition. The theory of change or impact pathway
might be stated explicitly or it may be entailed by the assumptions and design features that can be
seen to inform the intervention. This question is a preliminary step towards understanding the basic
approach and general features of the intervention. It focuses specifically on the proposed changes to
techniques, practices and operations that comprise the technological proposition in question.
This is an important first step, but the remaining questions are vital because the visible changes to
technical practices do not completely define the scope and scale of the technological change, which
almost inevitably will entail wider changes in the social organisation and coordination of tasks, as well
as changes to connected parts of the system upstream (such as research, extension and input supply)
and downstream (such as distribution, retail and consumption). The remaining questions dig deeper
into these connections, aiming to discover more information about how the proposed technology is
conceived to work. The questions aim to identify the material, informational, organisational and
institutional factors on which the successful realisation of the envisaged technological change
3.2 What forms of practice or behaviour are envisaged if this intervention /
innovation is taken up?
The next step is to ask about the changes proposed in technical practices, specifically, what practices
or behaviours are to be introduced, eliminated or changed? This question enquires into the nature
of tasks: what is done and how it is done, using what tools; how the process consumes resources
and transforms materials; and what outputs are supposed to be produced. It also addresses the
organisation and configuration of technical practices the timing, sequencing and location of tasks,
their spatial configuration and social organisation. The purpose of these questions is to understand
on an abstract level the purposes and functions of tasks and how the intervention proposes to
reconfigure them and to what purpose.
3.3 Who is expected to practise or employ the technology?
The next step is to identify the human agents who are envisaged as the main practitioners (and
implicitly beneficiaries) of the technology concerned. In other words, the question aims to discover
the people and groups who are conceived as the principal targets of the intervention, whose
changed practices and behaviours would provide the most obvious signals of innovation and
technological change, if the intervention succeeds. In the conventional language of technology
transfer, these people might be identified as the principal ‘users’ or ‘adopters’ of new technology.
Using the more sophisticated concepts reviewed in the previous section, they may be recognised as
agents in their own right, possessing some capacity (be it high or low) to respond to the proposition
in front of them. These actors are also seen to be connected to a wider actornetwork comprised
of various people, organisations, institutions and resources. Importantly, though they might be
prominent actors within the socio-technical system, their ability to take up or sustain the new
practices envisaged in the proposed technological change will depend to some degree on resources
and information provided by other actors, or made available within the agro-ecological and socio-
economic context where they live and work.
In concrete terms, this question asks whether the key components of the proposed technology will
be implemented principally by individuals and/or households on their own behalf, by wider
communities cooperating together, by specialists with particular skills, or by organisations exercising
responsibilities on behalf of groups or institutions. This question begins to shed light on who the
actors and stakeholders are in a technological system, what interests are engaged, and how agency
and power are distributed within a network of different actors. The remaining questions dig yet
deeper into this enquiry.
3.4 What material inputs, equipment or tools may be needed in order to take
full advantage of the technology?
After having discovered something about the nature of tasks and the communities involved in
performing them, this question addresses whether the proposed technology depends on additional
supplies of resources from within or beyond the local area, such as seeds, mineral fertilisers,
machines, chemical food additives, or irrigation water. If so, are these resources readily available and
accessible to the people, groups and organisations identified with the previous question? This
question brings the analysis closer to an evaluative stage, in which it should be possible to judge the
economic, logistical and technical practicality of the proposition in question.
3.5 What information, knowledge or skills are required to make the most of
the new technology?
Novel technical practices will probably also depend on ‘know-how’, in other words, a bundle of
information, knowledge and skills that may be embodied in individuals, task groups or institutions.
Key questions include, what kinds and quantities of information and knowledge are required, and
what degree of skill is needed to successfully practise the proposed technology? Does the successful
implementation depend on very abstruse and technical know-how or is the knowledge required
fairly accessible to the proposed practitioners? How will farmers or food preparers be supported to
acquire knowledge and skills they may need to benefit from the technology, or avoid possible risks
or negative impacts? Above, I noted that some functions might need to be performed by specialists
or organisations on behalf of individuals and communities. We can think of these specialist tasks as
types of know-how and skilful practice that are embodied within individual professionals, or
institutionalised within organisations such as agricultural research and extension services, banks or
ministries of health. The more a technology depends on these kinds of specialised skill, the more
heavily the success of the intervention depends on an extended network of people and
organisations. This leads directly to the following question.
3.6 How extensive is the actornetwork implicated in the change?
This question addresses the complexity of the technological change envisaged by the intervention, by
examining the size and breadth of the network of people, organisations and resources involved in it.
Are the necessary know-how and resources concentrated in particular people and places, or are
they distributed through a wider network of actors? All kinds of resources may be encompassed by
this enquiry, including skills, information, raw materials, energy, funding, legal instruments, policy
frameworks, land, labour, machinery, and so on. In some cases, most of what is needed may be
available locally or within a small and tightly integrated network; in others the network may be much
larger and looser, with weaker ties of loyalty and solidarity. Essentially, this question aims to assess
the feasibility of the proposed technological change, by identifying the full range of actors and actants
which need to be assembled in order for the innovation to be successfully realised and sustained
over time. It addresses questions of scale (the size or extent of the actornetwork to be created)
and scope (the number and complexity and of the changes in practice and coordination, compared
to existing systems and practices).
3.7 How does the intervention create cultural changes and redistribute power?
This final question is evaluative. It asks who are the winners and losers of the proposed changes in
production, distribution and consumption. This represents the ultimate purpose of the analysis as a
whole, a qualitative assessment of the intervention’s likelihood of achieving positive change both in
the phenomena targeted by the intervention (such as malnutrition) and in other dimensions. The
deployment of new technology commonly implies a reconfiguration of cultural institutions and
economic relations, as well as a redistribution of power, income, employment or other assets. Who
may be affected, positively or negatively, by such changes? The answers to these questions have a
practical benefit, allowing the designers and implementers of the intervention to consider the
strengths and weaknesses of their approach and how it might be improved. How might potential
losses be mitigated or how might losers be compensated? Or can policy ensure that the benefits are
more evenly distributed? The redistribution of power and resources is liable to affect perceptions of
the desirability of the change among the different parties concerned and influence their motivation
to take up the opportunity or resist the change. In particular, it is important to consider how heavily
the success of the intervention depends on infusions of cash and other support from outside. There
is a real risk that new practices and systems may be abandoned as soon as funds, or the resources
they secured, are no longer available.
4. Applying the framework to selected
Strengthening the connections between agriculture and food and nutrition security might be done in
various ways. Conceptually, addressing the whole of this challenge must encompass the entire chain
from production to consumption (including aspects upstream of farms, such as farm input supply,
crop breeding research, and financial services). In this section, the analytical framework presented
above is applied to a selection of cases, representing different types of interventions that have sought
to organise and focus the activities of human beings, animals, natural resources, tools, machines,
institutions and relationships to improve nutrition through agriculture and value chains in South Asia.
The table in Appendix 2 summarises the insights of this analysis. The cases included in the table were
drawn from examples studied by LANSA researchers, as well as some additional cases from the
wider literature relating to the agriculturenutrition nexus.
The first three interventions listed in Appendix 2 targeted changes in individual crop or livestock
production systems. The first example concerns measures to encourage the cultivation of vegetables
in home gardens or kitchen gardens at farm household level. The second case is similar, but it
targets vegetable cultivation by groups of adolescent girls from different households within a
community. The third case concerns the stimulation or improvement of small livestock or poultry
production systems within rural households.
These three interventions have some common features as well as some important differences. In all
three cases, the central concept is that members of rural households should be encouraged to take
up, expand or improve the production of highly nutritious foods, whether fresh vegetables, eggs,
milk or meat. In all three cases, the underlying theory is that these ventures will improve household
nutrition both directly (through consumption) and indirectly (by raising incomes, which may be used
to purchase nutritious foods). In a systematic review of agricultural interventions designed to
improve the nutritional status of children, some evidence has been found to that these types of
approaches have had positive results (Masset et al. 2012). Alongside inputs, training and advice on
crop cultivation and livestock husbandry, not to be overlooked are the health and nutrition-related
information and guidance that may be needed to encourage dietary diversity and raise awareness of
the nutritional value of fresh vegetables and animal products. Good sanitary practices on the farm,
safe slaughtering methods and hygienic food handling practices may be especially necessary in
relation to animal production, consumption and marketing.
The scale and scope of these types of interventions is relatively small and narrow, in so far as the
ongoing production of vegetables, livestock or poultry would remain largely within the control of
individual households. While an initial intervention may be needed to initiate change, by providing
start-up resources (such as quality vegetable seeds or healthy ducklings), if the intervention is found
valuable then the technological change may be sustained over time by the individuals and households
engaged in it, who may manage their seeds and livestock to keep them healthy and productive over
time. Some external inputs will be required on an ongoing basis, such as seeds, ducklings, vaccines,
feed supplements, and veterinary services, but if the target population appreciates the value of these
inputs and is able to obtain them from local suppliers in the quality and quantity they require, then a
sustained improvement in productivity and nutrition might be achieved. This implies that industries
exist which can supply quality vaccines, feeds and feed supplements, or professional veterinary
services, at affordable prices.
In the case of the scheme to encourage small-scale cultivation of vegetables by groups of young
women constitutes a partial exception to the above remarks, in several respects. It entails the
creation of a new social grouping of young women belonging to different households, encouraging
them to cooperate. It depends on the provision of a suitable piece of land. Both of these moves are
likely to require the blessing and support of parents or guardians, and elders of the community,
particularly to overcome traditional objections to independent economic activity and control over
resources by young women. In general, engaging women in crop and livestock production at farm
level is considered an important step to take advantage of women’s traditional roles as carers and
food providers to families, including infants, children and the elderly. However, the cooperation and
support of male members of the household or community may also be needed, for example where
men are considered the ones to construct greenhouses or polytunnels, carry heavy loads, or
operate machinery. Women will likely also have limited time and energy to devote to crop
cultivation if they are also responsible for other tasks, such as care work, domestic chores and
income-generating farm work.
The fourth intervention in Appendix 2 is an example representing projects that encourage farmers
to cultivate and consumers to eat more of a specific vegetable type, identified as a ‘biofortified’ crop
because of the density of its nutritional content. In this case, the crop in question is the orange-
fleshed sweet potato (OFSP). This crop variety is high in beta-carotene, a dietary compound that is
converted by the human metabolism into vitamin A, which is an important micronutrient involved in
healthy vision. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a serious medical condition that causes blindness and
even death, especially in children. VAD is widely prevalent in South Asia among children and
pregnant and lactating mothers (Akhtar et al. 2013). OFSP is not widely grown or consumed in
Bangladesh, where advocates are attempting to increase production of seed potatoes, encourage
farmers and home gardeners to take up cultivation of the crop, incorporate OFSP into school
feeding programmes, and increase demand among consumers (Sirajul Islam et al. 2017).
The challenges and opportunities presented by this intervention are similar in some ways to the
home gardening interventions discussed above, but with a narrow focus on the cultivation of a novel
crop that is targeted due to its specific nutritional profile. In an important sense the major challenges
for the intervention are not agronomic, but require engagements with actors at several different
stages or levels of the food system, in order to accommodate an unfamiliar food crop. In simple
terms, this means working on both supply and demand aspects of the system simultaneously. A
functioning OFSP food system would require a regular supply of healthy seed potatoes, fuelled by
demand from growers, which in turn would be fuelled by demand from consumers. To achieve the
targeted improvements in vitamin A status, it would not be enough to encourage the uptake of
OFSP unless measures were also in place to ensure that the beta-carotene profile of OFSP varieties
is sufficiently high to make a difference, and that farmers, processors and consumers understand
how to protect the beta-carotene content during post-harvest storage, distribution and cooking.
Also, since beta carotene is fat-soluble and the absorption and conversion of the compound in the
body can be undermined by gut parasites and bacteria, it may be even more challenging to improve
the vitamin A status of people who have low-fat diets or are exposed to unhygienic food preparation
and consumption conditions (Haskell 2012). Therefore the impacts of the OFSP intervention depend
quite heavily on communication and guidance to raise awareness of VAD and its causes, the health
benefits of the beta-carotene found in OFSP, and healthy ways to prepare and serve the vegetable to
maximise its beneficial impacts.
The next type of intervention listed in Appendix 2 involves a different kind of biofortification.
Modern biotechnologies, including genetic modification, are being used to change the nutritional
composition of food crops. In the examples shown, genetic engineering is being used to modify the
micronutrient profile of rice, a major staple crop. A high-profile example of this approach is a
project to modify rice to express beta-carotene in its grains (as well as its green leaves and stems).
The resulting plants produce pale yellow rice grains, so the crop has been named Golden Rice.
Other projects have targeted the levels of micronutrients such as iron and zinc in rice (Brooks 2010,
2011, 2013). This type of intervention has something in common with the one just discussed, in that
the conceptually simple goal is to use food crops with better nutritional profiles to improve the
nutritional status of consumers. However, the comparison is misleading beyond a certain point. The
use of genetic engineering means that a much more extensive network of actors must be engaged in
the effort. The techniques of genetic engineering are highly specialised and require advanced
scientific skills as well expensive scientific equipment. Genetic engineering has also attracted special
regulatory testing and oversight, and stimulated considerable public opposition from some
consumers, environmental activists and development campaigners. These facts mean that the
number and diversity of actors involved in helping or hindering the project is quite large, and so the
complexity of delivering the project goals increases.
Above all, the intervention depends on the getting the technology to work effectively in a technical
sense. ANT theorists would go so far as to argue that the intervention depends on the ‘cooperation’
or ‘enrolment’ of rice which, as a living organism, expresses a limited kind of agency in relation to
the human beings who are trying to manipulate and control it. Scientists must accomplish a number
of technical steps before the intervention may succeed in improving the nutritional status of people
at risk of VAD. First, the genetic transformation needs to work. In the Golden Rice project this step
has been achieved, but it took considerable time and effort to move from a successful
transformation to a transformation in which the expression of beta-carotene in rice grains was
significant enough to have a chance of making a substantial difference to the vitamin A status of
people eating the rice (Enserink 2008, Brooks 2013, Dubock 2014, Eisenstein 2014). The next step is
to get the transformed rice varieties to perform agronomically in farmers’ fields, and this has been
another significant hurdle for the Golden Rice project. At first, the project scientists transformed
rice varieties that were convenient to work on, because they were familiar and well characterised
genetically and phenotypically, rather than the types farmers most commonly grow. The next
challenge is to backcross the transformed experimental varieties with the modern rice varieties that
are popular with farmers in different rice-growing zones and regions. The new trait needs to be
incorporated into commercial rice varieties in ways that do not interfere with the crop’s growth and
yield. As with any commercial variety, the trait needs to be expressed uniformly within the
population and stabilised across successive generations (Bollinedi et al. 2017). Once these steps have
been accomplished, there still remains the challenge of convincing farmers to cultivate the new
varieties and consumers to eat them (Bongoni and Basu 2016). In these aspects, the challenges facing
an intervention such as Golden Rice are similar to those faced by the OFSP project how to deliver
a usable quantity of beta-carotene to a vulnerable population of malnourished consumers at risk of
VAD (Haskell 2012). In India, for example, this might mean that the rice has to be incorporated into
the Public Distribution System (PDS), which distributes subsidised grains to the poorest households
(see below).
The next intervention listed in Appendix 2 is an example of food fortification that occurs in the post-
farm value chain. In Pakistan as in other countries, public programmes or mandates have been used
to fortify foods such as grains and oils with micronutrient supplements such as Vitamin A and iron.
Chemical fortificants are added during milling and processing. This type of intervention need not
involve farmers or require any change to existing cultivation systems. There is also no need in
principle for changes in food preparation practices or consumption habits by consumers, certainly
when foodstuffs are fortified routinely under a government mandate, and otherwise only in so far as
consumers might need to be encouraged to select a fortified commercial product in preference to
an unfortified one. Apart from that change in marketing or awareness raising, the only part of the
value chain that will be affected by food fortification will be largely under the control of the public or
private company concerned. The only external inputs required are supplies of chemical fortificants of
a specified quality and quantity, which can be obtained commercially, and the equipment needed to
combine them with the foodstuff in question. Blending the fortificant into the grain or oil is typically
a simple procedure that can be routinised, and the whole process falls under the control of company
managers and factory supervisors. Things do become more complex if poorer consumers and
populations in rural areas and small towns are to be reached with fortified foods, because many
thousands of village-scale mills must be engaged in the fortification business. This multiplies the
number of individual actors to be enrolled into the system, therefore it increases the costs of
monitoring the quality and safety of fortified products. However, the technical requirements remain
quite simple and manageable by small business owners or communities.
Fortified foods are also seen by some private-sector food industry players as commercial
opportunities, which they have targeted with branded food products. Examples reviewed by LANSA
researchers include Britannia Foods’ Tiger biscuits in India and Grameen Danone’s Shakti Doi
yoghurts in Bangladesh. Tiger biscuits are fortified with iron, calcium and vitamins and are sold
through commercial channels.
Shakti Doi yoghurts are rich in protein and calcium and contain added
zinc, iron and vitamin A and are sold through small shops and directly to consumers through a door-
to-door sales network (Sirajul Islam et al. 2017). In such cases, nutrition-related health claims are
incorporated within the branding and advertising of the products, which are marketed to middle
class consumers and in small package sizes to poorer customers as well. Grameen Danone, which is
a joint venture between a transnational food company and Bangladesh’s Grameen group of social
enterprises, and which is run on a ‘make no loss’ basis, also uses a network of community health
workers to promote the health benefits of Shakti Doi yoghurts. As with the fortification of basic food
staples discussed above, these commercial fortified foods can be produced and marketed without
necessarily changing the practices of producers of grains, oils or milk. The food supplementation may
take place in mills or factories under the control of a company, using fortificants sourced from
commercial suppliers. However, the novelty of the resulting products may require special marketing
2 (accessed 15 March 2017).
as well as a change in behaviour on the part of individual consumers, who may choose to purchase
and consume fortified food products, including items that may not have featured in their food basket
in the past.
The interventions discussed above have, in different ways, targeted individual crop production
systems and consumption practices relating to individual foodstuffs. The next couple of interventions
listed in the table in Appendix 2 target wider or whole farming systems rather than individual crop
or livestock production systems. The first one is a project encouraging farmers to produce and use
biochar as a vehicle to recycle valuable nutrients through the farm system. The second is an even
more ambitious intervention to transform local farming systems by adjusting and diversifying them in
a variety of different ways, with the goal to make the entire agricultural system more sensitive to and
facilitative of better nutrition for the rural community as well as consumers in markets served by it.
Moreover, in addition to transforming the farming system, the latter intervention also implies
substantial changes to agricultural research and extension services, to equip them to be more
nutrition-centric in their activities and programmes. I shall address this second aspect in the section
below about interventions in upstream value chains.
The nutrient cycling project involves the production of biochar on the farm or in the community,
using biomass (wood and crop residues) collected from the farm or the local environment. The
biochar is then intended to be combined with urine collected from farm animals or, potentially, from
humans. The biochar itself is not rich in plant fertilising chemicals, but its porous structure allows it
to absorb a very large volume of liquid urine, which is loaded with nitrogen (N), potassium (K) and
micronutrients. The nutrient-charged biochar then has to be dug directly into the root zone of crops
as they are being sown or transplanted, because the plant roots need to be in direct contact with
the biochar in order to draw out the available nutrients. Applied directly, undiluted animal urine can
be toxic to plants, but when made available in this slow-release, packaged form, the valuable
nutrients can be safely retrieved by the plants’ roots. Biochar is also said to improve soil quality by
increasing soil organic matter and water-holding capacity. According to proponents of the biochar
system, 1,000 L of urine contains about 10 kg each of N and K, which is enough to supply about 500
m2 of farmland per year. This volume of urine needs to be combined with about 300 kg of biochar,
which is derived from a significantly larger weight of collected biomass.
The biochar nutrient-cycling system entails a significant reconfiguration of farming operations,
including some completely novel practices. To make this system work, farmers need to gather a
substantial volume of crop residues, woody material and other suitable biomass, and subject it to a
controlled burn in a special kiln or properly excavated fire pit. The burn technique requires skilful
initiation and supervision over a period of several hours. As soon as the burn is completed the
biochar must be doused with urine collected for the purpose. Subsequently the nutrient-charged
biochar slurry must be conveyed to the fields or plots where it is to be used, where measured doses
need to be applied in furrows or pits where crops are to be sown or planted.
It is evident that these measures impose considerable demands in terms of labour, time, skill and
attention. The know-how required to operate the system successfully is rather wide-ranging,
including the skills and knowledge relating to biomass selection, preparation and quality control, the
digging and ongoing maintenance of pit kilns, the supervision of the controlled (oxygen-limited) burn,
the collection and storage of urine, the preparation and handling of the biocharurine slurry, and
the methods of applying the fertiliser to the root zone of different crops. The rewards, in terms of
increased yields, improved crop productivity or improvements in soil quality over time, would need
to be substantial enough to justify the care and effort invested. The potential direct benefits in terms
of household nutrition may depend on how effectively the biochar system returns valuable N and K
to the crop root zone, and how well crop plants take up any additional micronutrients that the
nutrient-loaded biochar may provide. If the crop productivity and yield improvements are large
enough to generate a marketable surplus, then the technology may also help to improve nutrition
indirectly, via increased household income.
Although the biochar nutrient cycling method entails substantial hurdles in terms of resources, time,
effort and organisation, in principle the material resources needed for ongoing management could be
readily available within the farming system or the local environment. This may depend critically on
whether penned animals are kept, and how easily their urine can be collected and stored. In some
sites, a cultural barrier may discourage the use of human urine for the system, but where this
practice is accepted it represents an effective way to directly close a human nutrient loop. To
introduce the method to a community, a short-term intervention may be enough to introduce the
concept, demonstrate the construction of kilns and urine-collecting pits and train people in their use.
Thereafter, provided the method is economical and sufficiently rewarding, and if the techniques of
controlled burning are relatively easy to learn, then the method may be self-sustaining without much
ongoing support. The benefits of the system are likely to be greatest if it is used to maximise the
production of higher value crops, such as nutritious vegetables. The effort required to sustain the
system is likely to be spread most economically among a group of people or households cooperating
to gather biomass and delegate a few members to make the biochar. For this reason, the biochar
method has been promoted to groups of rural households, including women, for use in home
The next example shown in Appendix 2 is Farming Systems for Nutrition (FSN), an intervention
which adopts an integrated approach to agriculture and nutrition. The FSN approach begins by
investigating nutritional problems and designing a suite of agricultural strategies to address them.
Agricultural research and extension programmes are targeted to address the particular nutrient
deficiencies discovered within a community, and these efforts are backed up with interventions to
raise community and household awareness of nutritional problems and their dietary solutions, the
nutrient content of specific food crops, and the merits of a diversified diet rich in micronutrients.
The FSN approach encourages a more biodiverse agriculture and the creation of ‘nutrition gardens’.
The impacts on nutrition of these changes in the farming system are monitored to evaluate their
impact (Das, Bhavani, and Swaminathan 2014, Nagarajan, Bhavani, and Swaminathan 2014).
The FSN intervention is quite broad in scope and scale, since it envisages changes in consumption
patterns and dietary habits as well as farming practices and cropping systems. It may entail changes in
land use and cropping patterns at both household and community levels. A wide network of people
and groups needs to be engaged and the range of practices and systems implicated in the changes is
quite extensive. The FSN approach entails changes in the organisation and strategies of agricultural
research and extension programmes, making them more sensitive to nutritional problems and
outcomes. The intervention may depend on considerable investments of money and professional
support from agricultural technicians and community health workers over an extended period
before agricultural and nutritional habits and conventions are decisively influenced. However, if the
new cultivation practices and consumption choices are taken up and found valuable, they may endure
after the intervention ends, relying only on resources that are accessible locally.
The next example in Appendix 2 shares some common features with the FSN approach, specifically
the way it seeks to stimulate behavioural and practical changes by women through a new, integrated
approach to delivering health and nutrition advice alongside agricultural extension services. A project
in India, studied by LANSA researchers, used modern ICT tools to deliver nutritional information
and advice to women, especially mothers of infants and young children (Kadiyala et al. 2016). In this
project, the connection to agriculture was somewhat incidental, in the sense that the intervention
focused primarily on health and nutrition guidance but was delivered alongside an existing
agricultural extension intervention and using the same kinds of tools. Agricultural practices were
implicated indirectly, for example women were advised about the nutritional implications of working
during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The intervention depends on the provision of material resources including equipment for audio-
visual recording and playback, and services including electricity, internet and telecommunications,
and the financial resources necessary to sustain the intervention, to scale it up, and to reach
successive cohorts of young women and new mothers. A range of specialist knowledge is required,
including expertise in health and nutrition, and skills relating to health communications and film-
The previous intervention could be considered an institutional innovation in so far as it exploits
existing audio-visual technologies to reorganise the modes by which agricultural and nutritional
information and advice are delivered to communities. The last intervention listed in Appendix 2 is
even more appropriately identified as an institutional one, because the principal innovation involved
is a change in policy and redirection of a public subsidy. India’s Public Distribution System (PDS) is a
long-established government scheme that gives poor households access to subsidised grains through
‘fair price shops’. Until recently, the PDS covered rice and wheat, while some states also included
items such as sugar and kerosene (Balani, 2013). The National Food Security Act of 2013 provided
for millets to be included within the PDS. Millets are coarse grain food crops, traditionally grown in
rainfed and semi-arid areas of India, which are more nutritious than rice and wheat. Including millets
in the PDS and other publicly supported schemes, such as school midday meal programmes, creates
a mechanism to stimulate increased consumption of these nutritious and culturally appropriate
grains, with a potential nutritional benefit for poor households (Parasar and Bhavani, 2016).
However, there is a risk that subsidised procurement prices, which are intended to encourage
farmers to grow millets for the PDS, may tend to increase general millet prices in consumer markets
outside the PDS, a perverse outcome that could undermine the goal of increasing millet
consumption (Rajshekhar and Raju, 2017). With this type of intervention, changes in behaviour are
required from both farmers and consumers, but these changes are stimulated with relative ease. The
direction of the new policy is largely under the control of government ministers through existing
bureaucratic structures, and relatively easy to implement in the context of the existing PDS system.
The major requirement is to communicate the change in policy to both farmers and consumers, but
as awareness increases changes in practices and behaviours may be sustained through price signals. It
may also be necessary or helpful to raise awareness of the nutritional benefits of millets, and take
steps to promote their cultural status compared to alternative grains. The mere fact of including
them within the PDS might contribute to this revaluation of millets as a traditional and popular food.
5. Discussion/Summary
In this paper I have sought to demonstrate the practical usefulness of understanding innovation as a
process of technological change with material and practical, cognitive and social, communicative and
organisational aspects. To develop this argument I have adopted an eclectic, catholic approach to the
theoretical and conceptual bases for this type of understanding, drawing on a selection of
anthropological and sociological sources as well as a body of policy- and practice-oriented literature
on innovation processes and systems. I have argued in favour of an understanding of technology in
which human agency is a key mechanism, which is enabled and constrained by a network of social,
organisational and institutional relationships with other people and groups, and even with
nonhumans. These perspectives and approaches are practically useful because they draw attention to
the fact that technological change cannot be delivered by a single actor, and certainly not by a
singular technical package that is merely ‘transferred’ or ‘adopted’ by new users. Instead, a change in
technical practice is accomplished through the agency of various individuals and groups.
This conceptual language provides a framework for analysing the dynamics of technological change
and, especially in the present case, a means of appreciating the scale and scope of change sought by
an external intervention, such as a project or policy designed to deliver an improvement in nutrition
through strengthened linkages with agriculture. The framework helps the designers and
implementers of such an intervention to identify the range of actors who need to be enrolled or
mobilised within the proposed change process. It also helps them to identify the stakeholders whose
interests are implicated in the change, who might need to be accommodated or incentivised to go
along with it. Often, problems that arise in programmes and projects stem from misunderstanding
who are the principals chiefly responsible for changing techniques, practices and social coordination,
and taking into account their capacities, interests, priorities, values and goals.
In this paper I have considered several kinds of interventions, including interventions to stimulate
new or improve existing production systems at household level (e.g. home/kitchen gardens,
vegetable cultivation by groups of young women, husbandry of small livestock and poultry, or
adoption of nutrient-dense crops such as OFSP); interventions to transform wider farming systems
(e.g. nutrient cycling using biochar, or the FSN concept); interventions downstream of farms (such as
food fortification and crop biofortification); and innovations in institutional practices and policies (e.g.
reforms in service delivery or the inclusion of millets in the PDS).
Some systematic differences can be identified between the interventions reviewed here, including:
The size of the financial investment required. For example, the project to develop Golden
Rice has required sustained investments of millions of dollars, as well as substantial
donations in kind, over more than a decade. The size of the payoff is also expected to be
very large, if the project is successful. By comparison, promoting kitchen gardening requires
a very small investment over a short period of time, although scaling up the intervention to
reach many groups and communities might require multiplying that initial investment many
times, unless the innovation starts to spread spontaneously or through individual initiatives.
The size and diversity of the network engaged. Do the technological changes proposed lie
largely within the control of individuals or households, or do they require the cooperation
and coordination of many others? How widely dispersed is the network spatially and
temporally? Are the actors involved relatively homogeneous, or separated by cultural
differences, socio-economic distinctions and status hierarchies? Is there sufficient trust and
confidence between members of the network whose cooperation is required?
The scope and complexity of the changes envisaged in practice. Are the changes technically
difficult to master? Are the changes concentrated in time and space or do they have knock-
on implications for longer time periods and wider groups and spaces? Are the potential
benefits large enough to compensate for the effort invested? Can they be realised quickly
and tangibly or do they emerge only slowly and imperceptibly?
The directness or indirectness of the connection between an intervention and its impacts on
nutrition (or other goals). Will the projected benefits be realised as a necessary
consequence of the proposed changes in practice or only indirectly, e.g. via an increase in
The distribution of opportunities, risks, benefits and disadvantages. Are there winners and
losers from the intervention? Are the costs and benefits distributed evenly or equitably
among women, men, children, young people and the elderly? Do these groups have equal or
fair access to the new technological proposition and capacity to take advantage of it? A good
example is the case of women, who typically bear special responsibilities for feeding other
household members including men, infants, children and elderly people. Often, women lack
secure access to land and other productive resources, including money. Interventions to
improve nutrition may be most effective if they increase women’s agency.
The feasibility and sustainability of the intervention. What does the technological proposition
compete with, in terms of time, money, energy, attention, skill, etc? For example, women
often carry a substantial burden of care for other family members as well as engaging in
income-generating labour. Practices such as vegetable cultivation in greenhouses require an
additional investment in watering and plant care. A technical system such as the biochar
nutrient cycling method require practitioners to gather, transport and process biomass and
urine, supervise controlled burns, and painstakingly apply biochar slurry to the root zone of
crops. These tasks demand time, energy and skill. Is this investment actually feasible
alongside other tasks? Can other tasks be abandoned to accommodate the biochar
practices? Are the rewards of biochar nutrient cycling substantial and rapid enough to
reward the people engaging with the innovation?
6. Conclusions and further implications
The conceptual approach and analytical framework presented in this paper may assist the designers,
implementers and evaluators of nutrition-focused agricultural interventions to approach their tasks.
One practical lesson is that delivering better nutritional outcomes might require interventions at
various levels of a whole value chain encompassing production, distribution and consumption, and
even activities upstream of farms such as basic research, crop and livestock breeding, product
development, extension services and input supply. The value chain to be addressed by the
intervention may be rather short in the case of foods that are produced and consumed directly on
the farm, or very long and diffuse in the case of some very novel inputs, such as transgenic crop
varieties, or farm products that are sold into distant markets to generate incomes.
Another lesson is the importance of carrying out a careful stakeholder analysis in order to identify all
the people and organisations implicated in the intervention, especially those who are being asked to
change their practices and behaviours and those who may be affected, positively or adversely, by the
intervention. Within such a stakeholder analysis, special attention should be given to gender issues,
including the agency of women as decision-makers and practitioners of farming, women’s own
health, and their roles as carers, income earners and controllers of household resources.
Using the type of analysis recommended in this paper, project designers and implementers should be
better equipped to define and understand the opportunity space within which they want to
intervene, identify the actors they will need to enrol and the resources they will need to assemble,
and plan the sequence of steps they will need to follow in order to realise better nutritional
outcomes for particular target communities in specific situations.
Appendix 1: Analytical framework to assess interventions/propositions for technological
Appendix 2: Summary examples of interventions/propositions for technological change to strengthen agriculturenutrition linkages in
South Asia
Essential concept
(Implicit impact
pathway or theory of
change leading to
improvements in
Who is expected
to practise the
(principal or
behaviours or
practices are
expected to
What material
inputs are
information, skills
and knowledge
are required?
Extent of the
to be engaged
(scale of the
Scope of the
(complexity of
Home /
Stimulating/ increasing
domestic production of
nutrient-dense food
crops will lead to
increased consumption
of nutritious foods at
HH level, and increase
HH incomes (under
women’s control).
Will also increase
accessibility of FV on
local markets, increasing
consumption among
Rural (farm) HHs,
especially women.
New or
cultivation of
crops in home
especially by
Consumption of
produced FV
within the HH,
especially by
children; or sale
of FV
Suitable, accessible
land under control
of the HH (and
under women’s
Other inputs e.g.
fertiliser, pest
control equipment.
For crop cultivation:
knowledge and skills
of FV cultivation
(sowing, care,
For consumption:
knowledge about FV
processing, storage,
food preparation;
nutritional content
and health benefits.
extension service;
support and
health workers.
Modest changes
in practice largely
under control or
within domain of
HHs (context-
Cultural barriers
around gender
roles and
empowerment of
women within
by young
Stimulating small-scale
production of
vegetables and fruits by
young women will lead
to empowerment of
young women and
increase in production
and consumption of
nutritious FV at HH
level, and increase HH
Young rural women
cooperating in small
Young women
form groups to
learn and take up
FV production for
consumption and
consumption of
nutritious FV at
HH level.
Land for young
women to
Seeds, fertilisers;
Material for
greenhouses and
Farm tools and
For crop cultivation:
knowledge and skills
of FV cultivation
(sowing, care,
For consumption:
knowledge about FV
processing, storage,
food preparation;
nutritional content
Small groups of
supported by
families and wider
trained and
advised by
extension officers
and technicians.
Substantial new
formation of new
allocation of land
and resources,
learning of new
skills. Cultural
hurdles around
Essential concept
(Implicit impact
pathway or theory of
change leading to
improvements in
Who is expected
to practise the
(principal or
behaviours or
practices are
expected to
What material
inputs are
information, skills
and knowledge
are required?
Extent of the
to be engaged
(scale of the
Scope of the
(complexity of
incomes (under
women’s control).
Will also increase
accessibility of FV on
local markets, increasing
consumption among
Sale of FV to
increase HH
and health benefits.
gender and youth
in relation to
control over
land, engagement
in FV production.
poultry (e.g.
Encouraging rural HHs
to undertake or
improve small
husbandry will lead to
increased HH
consumption of
nutritious foods (e.g.
eggs, meat, milk) and/or
increased HH incomes
from sale of
products. Will also
increase accessibility of
healthy animal/poultry
products on local
markets, improving
diets of consumers.
Rural HHs,
especially women
and young people.
Adoption of new
or improvement
and expansion of
existing practice
consumption of
products (eggs,
meat, milk).
Healthy and
productive chicks/
ducklings/ breeding
goats; feeds;
Veterinary services
(esp. vaccination);
advice on poultry
breeds, husbandry
methods, disease
controls measures,
community health
workers; NGOs;
services. Sellers
and consumers in
the market.
Modest to
changes of
practice within
HHs, largely
under HH
control, but
depending on
ongoing supply of
and delivery of
vaccines and
services. Also
improvements in
public market
facilities and
HH-level cultivation of
HHs, especially
HHs adopting or
Clean planting
Training and
Seed suppliers;
Could be a
Essential concept
(Implicit impact
pathway or theory of
change leading to
improvements in
Who is expected
to practise the
(principal or
behaviours or
practices are
expected to
What material
inputs are
information, skills
and knowledge
are required?
Extent of the
to be engaged
(scale of the
Scope of the
(complexity of
crops (e.g.
OFSP, high-
zinc rice)
(new, nutrient-dense
varieties of) food crops
will lead to increased
consumption of
nutritious foods by
producer HHs and
consumers on local
women (cultivating
and cooking
nutrient-dense food
cultivation of
food crops.
Producers HHs
consuming or
selling them.
material of
Other farm inputs
(e.g. fertilisers,
fungicides, water).
information about
cultivation practices,
storage and cooking
nutritional benefits.
health workers /
responsible for
food preparation
and family feeding;
consumers in the
simple change
where new
varieties (e.g.
OFSP) may be
substituted for
alternative ones
(e.g. traditional
SP). Much more
complex where
the intervention
entails adoption
of a totally novel
fortified oils
and iron-
wheat in
biscuits in
Fortification of basic
food products (e.g.
flours and oils) or
processed food
products (e.g. snack
foods) will lead to
improvements in
nutritional outcomes.
Food processing
industry (major
food companies;
small-scale millers,
Regulation by state
fortification; quality
and safety
and marketing of
foodstuffs and
processed food
consumers buying
and using fortified
Equipment to
incorporate the
fortificant (e.g.
premix feeder for
Skills and equipment
for qualitative and
monitoring of
fortified products.
Nutritional advice/
marketing info. /
advertising to
consumers (e.g. on
risks of VAD and Vit
A benefits).
Post-farm value
chain, including
retailers and
May include many
thousands of
small-scale grain
millers as well as
big-brand food
Modest technical
changes, largely
within control of
food processors,
but requiring
investment and
ongoing input
Challenging to
involve small-
scale, village-level
processors and
Essential concept
(Implicit impact
pathway or theory of
change leading to
improvements in
Who is expected
to practise the
(principal or
behaviours or
practices are
expected to
What material
inputs are
information, skills
and knowledge
are required?
Extent of the
to be engaged
(scale of the
Scope of the
(complexity of
India; Shakti
yoghurt in
reach poorer
crops (e.g.
Altering the genetic
characteristics of staple
crop varieties will
create more nutrient-
dense foods and
increase consumption
of micronutrients (e.g.
zinc, pro-vitamin A [
carotene], vitamin D,
Farmers cultivating
transgenic crops;
choosing and
consuming them.
Plant breeders
and seed
developing and
biofortified crop
Farmers choosing
to plant them;
Value chains
segregating and
distinctions of
biofortified foods;
biofortified food
adoption of new/
improved food
storage and
Biofortified seeds,
Information and
training about novel
traits; how to
cultivate the crops;
how to process/
store them after
harvest. How to
cook them
(modified methods
to preserve distinct
Whole value
chain (from input
supply to
Public AR4D
system; private
agri-input dealers
and distributors;
food processors,
On-farm impacts
(substitution of
new variety);
In seed system
and post-farm
value chains,
potentially very
In HH food
preparation and
significant (e.g.
storage, changed
Essential concept
(Implicit impact
pathway or theory of
change leading to
improvements in
Who is expected
to practise the
(principal or
behaviours or
practices are
expected to
What material
inputs are
information, skills
and knowledge
are required?
Extent of the
to be engaged
(scale of the
Scope of the
(complexity of
methods and
cooking methods
and times).
Cycling for
New methods for
processing and
combining (a) crop
residues and (b) human/
animal waste (urine) will
capture nutrients that
will (c) be applied as
fertiliser to the crop
root zone using new
crop establishment
techniques, which will
increase crop
productivity and
improve nutritional
profile of crops grown
on poor soils.
Rural HHs including
men and women.
organised into
groups of
Adoption of new
processes to
produce biochar,
collect urine,
combine them,
and apply
resulting nutrient-
charged biochar
to plant root
Biomass (crop
residues and other
vegetation) for
burning; kilns for
burning to create
biochar; urine
collected from
livestock and/or
human beings;
vessels for storage
and transport of
urine and biochar.
Initial training and
guidance on entire
system, especially
(a) constructing
kilns, (b) controlled
burn, (c) application
of biochar to root
Men and women
within HHs; farm
External support
from trainers and
changes in
activities, skills
and organisation,
but largely within
HHs or small
System for
Reorganisation of farm
production systems at
village scale, in order to
diversify cropping
patterns, increase
production and
consumption of
(a) Farmers and
village communities.
(b) Agricultural
researchers and
In production:
Changes in farm-
and village-level
crop and
livestock mix.
In consumption:
HH and individual
Land. New crops,
improved seeds;
other farm inputs
e.g. fertiliser, pest-
control equipment
and methods.
Guidance and
information on
diversified crop and
labourers, HH-
Public sector
AR4D and
extension system;
Agri-input dealers
significant change
in land use,
Essential concept
(Implicit impact
pathway or theory of
change leading to
improvements in
Who is expected
to practise the
(principal or
behaviours or
practices are
expected to
What material
inputs are
information, skills
and knowledge
are required?
Extent of the
to be engaged
(scale of the
Scope of the
(complexity of
nutritious foods. Making
the agricultural research
and extension system
more nutrition-
dietary changes
(quality and
In research and
forms of
information and
dietary advice.
and distributors;
health workers;
activities, etc.
advice into
Providing health and
nutrition advice through
a digital agricultural
extension platform will
raise awareness of
healthy maternal, infant
and young child
nutrition (MIYCN)
practices, leading to
beneficial changes in
behaviour and
improvements in
nutritional outcomes.
Women, especially
mothers and people
caring for infants
and young children.
Women’s self-help
Target population
engages with
health and
nutrition advice
delivered via
video format, and
and editing
equipment; devices
for screening and
sharing videos;
venues to screen
videos and hold
discussions and
training sessions.
information and
guidance; health and
(storyboarding and
filming, interviewing,
editing, etc.).
Individual women
and women
organised into
self-help groups;
Nutrition experts;
health workers;
specialists; film
changes relating
to feeding
depending on
existing situation,
e.g. availability of
working habits
during pregnancy
and breastfeeding
may entail
Essential concept
(Implicit impact
pathway or theory of
change leading to
improvements in
Who is expected
to practise the
(principal or
behaviours or
practices are
expected to
What material
inputs are
information, skills
and knowledge
are required?
Extent of the
to be engaged
(scale of the
Scope of the
(complexity of
difficulties for
dependent on
women’s labour.
Inclusion of
millets in
the PDS
Including millets within
the PDS will stimulate
demand, increase
supply, improve
accessibility of
nutritious coarse grain
cereals, thus diversifying
diets of poor
consumers and
improving their
State governments
procure millets for
the PDS and include
millets among
subsidised grains in
fair price shops;
Farmers respond to
price signals and
increase millet
PDS-eligible HHs
purchase and
consume more
distribution and
consumption of
millets to
increase (relative
to alternative
grains, especially
rice and wheat).
Millet seeds
Notification and
activities to inform
farmers and
Advice and guidance
on nutritional
benefits of millets
and dietary
Knowledge of
millet-based dishes/
recipes for home
legislation, state-
level policy and
funds for
procurement and
distribution of
grain; farmers and
managers of fair
price shops.
Simple, one-time
change to legal/
framework (e.g.
National Food
Security Act
2013) may lead
fairly easily to
of practices
across the PDS
system. Ongoing
challenges in
monitoring and
policing of PDS.
Key: FV = fruit(s) and vegetable(s); HH = household; OFSP = orange-fleshed sweet potato; SP = sweet potato; PDS = Public Distribution System (India); VAD = vitamin-A
Appendix 3: LANSA studies nominally including an innovation focus
Household duck rearing as a tool to
combat poverty and malnutrition
among rural communities in Bangladesh
University of Queensland (Lead: Joerg
Henning, PI)
Chittagong Veterinary & Animal Sciences
Royal Veterinary College, UK
Biochar Urine Nutrient Cycling for
Health (BUNCH); A feasibility study of
organic nutrient cycling to enhance
homestead food production for
improved nutrition
University of Heidelberg (Lead: Sabine
Gabrysch, PI)
Ithaka Institute for Carbon Strategies
Helen Keller International
BRAC University
Feasibility of an integrated agriculture
and nutrition behaviour change
intervention to improve maternal and
child nutrition in rural Bangladesh
University of Sydney (Lead: Michael Dibley,
International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease
Research, Bangladesh (ICDDRB)
Agriculture Extension Division, Government
of Bangladesh
Solidarity, Bangladesh
Design suitable approach for promoting
Nutrition Sensitive Farming System
(NSFS) as foundation for Healthy tribal
Community in Banswara, India
Vaagdhara (Lead: Deepak Sharma, PI)
Action Against Hunger (ACF)
Female agricultural labour and
nutrition: resolving conflicting time
Institute for Financial Management and
Research (Lead: Andre Butler & Aparajit
Mahajan, Co-PIs)
Department of Agricultural & Resource
Economics, University of California-Berkeley
National Agro Foundation
People's perspective and feasibility of
Kitchen Gardening under different
geographical and environmental
Action Against Hunger (ACF) Pakistan (Lead:
Ashok Kumar, PI)
Promoting collective vegetables
gardening by adolescent girls for
reducing malnutrition in Afghanistan
BRAC Afghanistan (Lead: Anowar Hossain,
BRAC International
Note: further details are available on the LANSA website:
Key: PI = principal investigator; Co-PI = co-principal investigator.
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... Second, which is a related point, the deterministic perspective on technology as embodied in technical artefacts neglects, or strongly downplays, the agency of human beings, which is enabled and constrained by relations and interactions with networks of other entities across their social and material worlds, including other humans, nonhuman living organisms, and objects and tools of many kinds, including documents, laws, contracts, discourse, and cultural frameworks (Callon and Law, 1997;Latour, 2005). Within the LANSA consortium, we have adopted a perspective on technology and innovation that places human agency and practice at its centre, which allows us to explore innovation and technology within South Asian agri-food systems as the purposeful activity of people and organisations, conducted and expressed through enabling and constraining interactions among people, plants, animals, materials and their agro-ecosystems (Glover, 2017). We contend that this approach helps to avoid the trap of technological determinism, particularly the analytical error of assuming that innovation is necessarily loaded with a positive value. ...
... Tackling the challenge of the triple burden in South Asia will require action across entire chains from production to consumption, including aspects upstream of farms, such as input supply, crop breeding research, and financial services. Drawing upon the guiding 'three Ds' principles of the pathways approach, in the LANSA programme we proposed a set of practical questions that could help analysts and policy makers to think about the design and implementation of innovative measuresincluding technical, practical, policy and institutional interventionsthat could be designed to achieve better outcomes for nutrition in South Asia (Glover, 2017). These are presented in Box 1. ...
... Table 1 presents a summary analysis of interventions that have sought to organise and focus the activities of people, natural resources, inputs, tools, institutions and relationships to improve nutrition through agriculture and value chains in South Asia. The table is derived from a previous version (Glover, 2017) and the analysis in this section is based on the same working paper. The cases presented in the table were drawn from examples studied by contributors to the LANSA programme, as well as additional cases from the wider literature relating to the agriculture-nutrition nexus in South Asia. ...
Innovations within global food systems have contributed to the predicament known as the triple burden of malnutrition – the co-existence of hunger and micronutrient deficiency with the diseases of overnutrition, such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension. We use the case of the triple burden in South Asia to demonstrate analytically that innovation is a double-edged sword, with positive and negative potential, rather than a simple good. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals that target food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture (e.g. SDGs 2, 3 and 12), the countries of South Asia need more innovation, but, first, they would also benefit from some intelligent reflection about what innovation means, the directions it should take, and its risks and downsides alongside its benefits. In the present juncture, South Asian countries have an opportunity to learn from the experiences of other developing nations, and choose from alternative options to steer their own course. In this paper, we discuss how innovation has contributed to the present situation and ask how alternative kinds of innovation may enable South Asian countries to escape from the triple burden. We describe a conceptual framework that may be useful for thinking about how innovation pathways can be created and directed towards the goal of improving nutritional outcomes in South Asia. The framework draws attention to the direction of socio-technical change, the distribution of technologies and their risks and benefits, and the diversity of possible innovation pathways (STEPS Centre, 2010). We illustrate these points using examples of innovations in the areas of agricultural production, value chain interventions, and policy and institutional reforms.
Full-text available
Homozygous Golden Rice lines developed in the background of Swarna through marker assisted backcross breeding (MABB) using transgenic GR2-R1 event as a donor for the provitamin A trait have high levels of provitamin A (up to 20 ppm) but are dwarf with pale green leaves and drastically reduced panicle size, grain number and yield as compared to the recurrent parent, Swarna. In this study, we carried out detailed morphological, biochemical and molecular characterization of these lines in a quest to identify the probable reasons for their abnormal phenotype. Nucleotide blast analysis with the primer sequences used to amplify the transgene revealed that the integration of transgene disrupted the native OsAux1 gene, which codes for an auxin transmembrane transporter protein. Real time expression analysis of the transgenes (ZmPsy and CrtI) driven by endosperm-specific promoter revealed the leaky expression of the transgene in the vegetative tissues. We propose that the disruption of OsAux1 disturbed the fine balance of plant growth regulators viz., auxins, gibberellic acid and abscisic acid, leading to the abnormalities in the growth and development of the lines homozygous for the transgene. The study demonstrates the conserved roles of OsAux1 gene in rice and Arabidopsis.
Full-text available
Successful integration of nutrition interventions into large-scale development programmes from nutrition-relevant sectors, such as agriculture, can address critical underlying determinants of undernutrition and enhance the coverage and effectiveness of on-going nutrition-specific activities. However, evidence on how this can be done is limited. This study examines the feasibility of delivering maternal, infant, and young child nutrition behaviour change communication through an innovative agricultural extension programme serving nutritionally vulnerable groups in rural India. The existing agriculture programme involves participatory production of low-cost videos promoting best practices and broad dissemination through village-level women’s self-help groups. For the nutrition intervention, 10 videos promoting specific maternal, infant, and young child nutrition practices were produced and disseminated in 30 villages. A range of methods was used to collect data, including in-depth interviews with project staff, frontline health workers, and self-help group members and their families; structured observations of mediated video dissemination sessions; nutrition knowledge tests with project staff and self-help group members; and a social network questionnaire to assess diffusion of promoted nutrition messages. We found the nutrition intervention to be well-received by rural communities and viewed as complementary to existing frontline health services. However, compared to agriculture, nutrition content required more time, creativity, and technical support to develop and deliver. Experimentation with promoted nutrition behaviours was high, but sharing of information from the videos with non-viewers was limited. Key lessons learned include the benefits of and need for collaboration with existing health services; continued technical support for implementing partners; engagement with local cultural norms and beliefs; empowerment of women’s group members to champion nutrition; and enhancement of message diffusion mechanisms to reach pregnant women and mothers of young children at scale. Understanding the experience of developing and delivering this intervention will benefit the design of new nutrition interventions which seek to leverage agriculture platforms.
Full-text available
Purpose The world is facing serious global food security challenges such as the need for sufficient food for a growing population and an exponential growth in nutrient deficiency disorders. Agricultural biotechnology, such as genetically modified (GM) crops, offers itself as a promising solution to address one or more of these issues. Golden Rice (GR) is an example of a GM crop which contains high amount of β-carotene, a compound which is an antioxidant and a precursor of vitamin A. In spite of GR’s promised potential benefits in combating vitamin A deficiency (VAD) disorders it is still not cultivated. This viewpoint paper aims to present the reader with a need for multidisciplinary research agenda, the outcomes of which can contribute towards the acceptance of GR. Design/methodology/approach This viewpoint paper is based on an extensive literature review to identify the “gaps” which contributed to low acceptance of GR. This paper presents a systematic discussion on the importance of GR in tackling VAD and discusses controversies around GR and a scientific approach to tackle them. Findings The literature review clearly indicates that there is a huge gap in information substantiating the potential of GR for consumers as well as for the farming community. Addressing these issues can substantially increase the acceptance and cultivation of GR. This viewpoint paper proposes food technologists’ and social scientists’ research agenda for GR and further indicates how the involvement of other research disciplines can improve the acceptance of GR. Originality/value The literature review indicates the potential of GR in tackling VAD disorders but clearly lacks information to substantiate these arguments. This paper presents authors’ opinions, urging scientists to take up a multidisciplinary research approach to emancipate GR from the clutches of GM food controversies.
Full-text available
Despite impressive gain in agricultural production and greater availability of food, a large population in India is suffering from nutritional imbalance. Improvements in total agricultural production leading to nutritive food would help combat under nutrition. To demonstrate the feasibility of agriculture- based remedy to malnutrition, five villages in Wardha district of Maharashtra were selected for validating the farming system for nutrition (FSN) approach. On-farm demonstrations of arable crops and women-managed community nutrition gardens (CNGs) of vegetables and fruits were initiated. A wide choice of nutritive vegetables to be grown was promoted to reduce the off-farm transport cost and ensure higher availability of nutritive vegetables to the households. The additional nutritional gain through FSN can be quantified in terms of equivalence and can be calibrated to ensure that the households get the recommended daily intake of nutrition. Accordingly, a FSN approach is evolved to provide nutritional security to every household.