GFAR blog, Partnerships for impact

Measuring progress in the Decade of Action on Nutrition


Right now, as the International Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Diets and Improved Nutrition is convened at FAO to discuss actions on nutrition to be delivered during the Decade, country governments and stakeholders are being challenged, under Sub-theme 3 of the Symposium, to implement Measures to Strengthen Accountability, Resilience and Equity within Food Systems.

 The success of agricultural research and innovation programmes is still largely measured by conventional criteria of production tonnage. Production is relatively easy to measure and has often been treated simplistically – the more food is produced, the fewer the people considered hungry. However, this does not reflect the realities of availability or access to food, nor its nutritive qualities. Moreover, our changing world has many interacting development needs, as set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.

SDG 2.2 committed the development community to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030. As the world concertedly focuses on the complexities of nutrition, it raises the question: If we don’t have the right tools to measure the contribution of agriculture to nutrition and other sustainable development outcomes, how will we know if we have made progress at the end of 10 years?

 A number of milestone events have taken place in 2016 to move forward the agenda on nutrition, most notably the United Nations General Assembly which saw the launch of the FAO/WHO-led UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, the EAT Forum in June and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS43) in October.

A session of the International Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Diets and Improved Nutrition, 1 December 2016

The Partners that make up GFAR have given this theme much attention over recent years. At the Third Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3) Global Event in April, representatives from across the world’s agricultural research and innovation communities, from smallholder farmers to upstream research, determined to establish a common platform to compare and learn from new metrics, to give better indicators and insights on impacts from agri-food research and innovation, across the wide range of sustainable development objectives set out in the 2030 agenda. Participants agreed to work together in a new Alliance on Changing the metrics for SDG Impacts.

With so many actors and the global scale of the “wicked problem” of inadequate nutrition, finding clear and simple expressions of the complex issues and the simple, direct measures required to track progress is a real challenge. The risks are that data developed by academics often fail to strike a chord with policymakers and the public.

GFAR, in partnership with EAT, has previously explored these issues and identified the challenges through a multi-stakeholder discussion event alongside the second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2). GFAR has been supporting the EAT Forum since its inception in 2013, on the increasingly important issue of integrating metrics and changing underlying value systems around the real costs and returns of agricultural production.

Earlier this year, the EAT Forum in Stockholm gathered leading thinkers and practitioners around the table to discuss challenges in food, nutrition, health and sustainability. High-level speakers and powerful messages during the EAT Forum addressed a variety of topics of importance to GFAR, ranging from the strong links between food and the SDGs to the effects of climate change on agri-food systems, addressing food-related waste and land policies and market access for smallholder farmers. The 2016 Global Nutrition report was presented at the EAT forum, and several presenters made reference to the need for promoting healthier eating habits, particularly using locally-grown produce and cuisine. Among these was Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who added his influential voice to raise awareness of the other side of the nutrition challenge—the paradox of obesity coupled with undernutrition.

GFAR Secretariat participated in the EAT session on increasing accountability for nutrition, which has brought direct linkage with the agenda of the UN Decade for Action on Nutrition. This Decade was also a major topic of discussion in the recent Committee on World Food Security, as participants explored what realistic and measurable indicators and targets should be set to track progress on nutrition outcomes. GFAR Partners in FAO on that occasion launched the eLearning module, Improving Nutrition through Agriculture and Food Systems, designed to assist professionals from any fields in agriculture and food systems, who are designing or implementing nutrition-sensitive policies and investments. FAO has also now released a Compendium of Indicators for Nutrition-sensitive Agriculture, designed to assist those responsible for designing nutrition-sensitive food and agriculture investments in selecting appropriate indicators by which to monitor nutrition impacts.


All of these recent developments are highly relevant to the GCARD3 outcomes and show the importance of the Alliance for Changing Impact Metrics. The Partners in GFAR are eager to showcase results and demonstrate sustainable development impacts from agricultural research and innovation. Comparing and improving the metrics used for development outcomes through agricultural innovation, and better understanding their synergies and trade-offs, will help address underlying societal values and norms around the real cost and value of agricultural systems becoming truly sustainable and delivering nutritious food for all.

This is a truly collective action, catalyzed by GFAR, the unique global forum on agricultural research and innovation. As we embark on the Decade of Action on nutrition, the Alliance will involve, link and share experiences and learning among partners from all sectors. We welcome your involvement in building this alliance and sharing your ideas and knowledge around these vital measures. Will you join the Partners in GFAR to find new and better measures for sustainable change in agriculture and nutrition?

If you would like more information on the Alliance for Changing Impact Metrics, please write to the GFAR Secretariat at

Dr. Mark Holderness is Executive Secretary of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research.

Photo credits: 1-Neil Palmer-CIAT; 2-Mark Holderness

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