Human–environment interactions are increasingly taken into account in order to meet goals on nutrition and food security.
Agricultural research and interventions for meeting goals related to food security usually focus on agricultural development and intensification to boost productivity, market value and incomes across the value chain. But it is often unclear where this has had a positive impact on nutrition outcomes. Further, strategies that externalize ecological costs by focusing on consumption – and thereby solely on getting produce to households and individuals – can ultimately rebound negatively on human health and well-being. With the pressures of population growth and climate change, food production systems are increasingly tilting toward practices that undermine the ecosystem functions that agriculture and communities rely on. The complexity of current global challenges requires a deeper look at how people can interact with their environments in order to fulfill the goals of food and nutrition security while maintaining, restoring and securing the ecosystems upon which we are dependent.
The nutrition-sensitive landscape (NSL) approach, supported by WLE, explores the relationships between nutrition, agriculture and the environment. Explicitly place-based, it aims to demonstrate how a better understanding of a landscape’s capacity to provide more diverse foods across seasons can contribute to diversified production systems and healthy diets. The NSL approach balances multiple ecosystem service functions (including provisioning, supporting, regulatory and cultural services) with UNICEF’s nutrition framework (wherein food, health and care practices determine health outcomes). The approach also uses qualitative and quantitative assessments that encompass aspects of food availability and access via household production, wild forage and capture, market availability, food cost and dietary intake.
The methodology employed for NSL studies includes a diet module, participatory action research, landscape monitoring and integrated modeling. A theory of change helps to draw links between policy, markets and capacity building. In communities in the Barotse floodplains of Zambia and in Kenya, learning plots were established so that different crops could be experimented with to diversify production and consumption. Workshops were held to raise awareness on nutrition. Central to the methodology is an inclusive, gender-sensitive, participatory approach in all phases of the experiential learning and innovation cycle. This examines the local knowledge of women and men as well as the constraints they face in developing sustainable and nutritious agriculture. The results of these studies were used to plan nutrition interventions.
The NSL approach can be used to pinpoint dietary gaps within communities; support community innovation and identify ways to make production systems more diverse; and provide ways for communities to improve their own diets. It has been applied in Zambia, Kenya and Vietnam, and its methodology has been discussed at meetings, workshops and roundtables. At an NLandscape knowledge event held in 2018, for instance, the methodology was applied in South Africa, Honduras, Tanzania and Zambia to identify commonalities and capture lessons learned. It was found that awareness was low and that conscious planning is needed for the social and ecological aspects of food production to be integrated into agricultural interventions and the national policies that frame them. In 2020, 47 students from Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America attended a seven-week course on Methodologies for Reading Sustainable Foodscapes, intended to equip them with the critical thinking and methods to plan and manage NSLs.
Food and nutrition have strong spatial aspects. It is recommended that efforts be made to better understand and embed food value chain approaches into the multifunctional landscapes and food environments that constitute the support systems of communities. Regional and national policy frameworks should encourage participatory and inclusive interventions by local and international development partners. These interventions should then be harmonized in food systems at the landscape, national and international levels.