Making healthy diets the easy choice

Photo of hands holding grains

It’s no secret that land degradation, water scarcity, instability, and the climate crisis are all impacting global food security on a huge scale. At the centre of this challenge is a broken food system that exceeds the planetary boundaries and yet fails to provide people with the diets and nutrition they need to live healthy lives. Here, Monique Beun, SNV’s Global Lead for Nutrition, shares her thoughts as she reflects on this year’s World Food Day.

Against the backdrop of urbanisation, economic development, and changes in lifestyle and culture, our food consumption patterns have changed. The food industry produces a huge volume of cheap, packaged, processed foods. This has found a willing market with consumers attracted by easily accessible, non-perishable, time saving and convenient food options.

But consumer behaviour across the globe – in rural and urban areas alike – needs to change to improve nutrition outcomes across communities. And society needs to transform its food system to make a healthy diet choice the easy choice.

Today, more than 820 million people regularly go to bed hungry. In support of this year’s World Food Day, on Sunday 16 October, we want to mark our commitment to building a world with dignity where no one goes to bed hungry, not even with hidden hunger.

And beyond a full stomach and a good night’s sleep, we aim to improve nutrition through better diets – and the availability and affordability of nutritious foods play an important role in improving food consumption and dietary habits for all.

It all begins at the farm

Smallholder farmers produce one-third of the world’s food. Two-thirds of those experiencing high acute food insecurity are these same rural food producers.

On the one hand, we find these smallholder farmers working hard to provide for their families and their local communities, but in need of a fair price for their labour and the true costs of the natural resources their production depends on.

On the other hand, low-income urban and rural consumers require improved affordability and accessibility of nutritious food, meaning there is a distinct need to keep prices low and within their reach.

Key to solving this challenge is making smallholder farmers’ practice more productive, yet more sustainable and climate-smart, and reduce post-harvest food losses.

Increasing the productivity of food

SNV has worked with smallholder farmers for years, with the aim of helping them to increase their incomes through increased productivity, increased access to essential agricultural services such as finance, and innovative sustainable technologies. By linking them to market demand and helping them become better connected with the entire value chain, we are creating value added through processing and product development, making their business more commercially viable.

One example of this is potato marketing and distribution. We have worked with local partners in Tanzania to optimise the potato supply chain in such a way that what is harvested in the morning on any given day can now be in the local shop or even on the consumer’s table later on that same day. By shortening the delivery time, and improving the aggregation and distribution process, we have reduced the need for storage and refrigeration, improved the value chain, reduced costs, and ultimately improved the nutritional value for the end consumer as the food is fresher when it reaches them.

And if we can help farmers become more sustainable, and increase their productivity of nutritious food, we enhance the efficiency of the supply chain and retail. The result? The healthiest options are right in front of the consumer, at the right price, in the right combination.

But how do we make the healthy diet choice the easy choice?

Creating the drive to choose a nutritious diet

It’s all about triggering communities towards nutrition awareness and healthy diversified diets. As SNV, our role is not only to provide information, educate people about nutrition, and design behaviour change interventions to nudge consumers into good nutrition behaviour – it’s also about creating a new social norm.

Take the example of an integrated nutrition-sensitive agriculture project in Lao PDR. Here, we aim to improve access to nutritious foods through enabling the knowledge and skills of farming communities to grow diverse crops by organising practical agricultural training at village level. As an offshoot, in a form of off-farm income generation, we support local women to make nutritious, homemade snacks to stand in place of packaged, processed, imported versions.

Together with our partners, we are also working with adolescent girls in this community to help them become more self-critical about what they want for themselves and their community in terms of food and nutrition. They have an important role in motivating younger children to choose the healthier, locally-produced option – establishing the consumer demand of the future.

Choosing collaboration

SNV does a lot of work with local communities – but we also work with governments to influence change and strengthen their co-ordination with other food sector players, thereby engaging them in the national nutrition agenda.

Beyond this is also working with the private sector on producing healthier food options and advocating for responsible marketing practices that promote good health and safe nutrition. This involves connecting smallholder farmers with private enterprises to produce healthy and nutritious processed food options using their produce and using last mile marketing to help consumers make the healthy choice.

This World Food Day, we reinforce our commitment to working with partner organisations, civil society, government, and communities to support the transformation of food systems, ensuring food and nutrition security to enable sustainable and more equitable lives for all.

Our ambitions? To provide consumers with access to adequate, affordable, nutritious foods. To support them to make sustainable and responsible food production and consumption choices for themselves and the planet. And to make healthy diets the easy choice.