The participants of the NSA Mountain Conference came from eleven Asian countries.
Photo: Helvetas

Conference on Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture in Mountain Areas

Hosted by HELVETAS, the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture in Mountain Areas took place in Kathmandu, Nepal, in February. The event aimed at bringing together various actors involved in nutrition sensitive agriculture (NSA) from around the world to discuss the diversity of needs and the creation of an inspiring environment for NSA implementation.

HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation organised the “Second International Conference on Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture in Mountain Areas”, which took place in Kathmandu on the 27th and 28th February 2018, bringing together participants from eleven different countries. The co-organisers were IFOAM-Organics International and the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL).

The conference highlighted NSA in mountain areas and brought together the Rural Service Providers’ network – that is the Mountain Agro-ecosystems Action Network (MAAN) - , which stretches across Nepal, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Ethiopia and Peru as well as India. Around 190 participants from eleven countries took part.

How to approach NSA

At the Opening Ceremony, chief guest Suroj Pokhrel, Secretary of the Nepalese Ministry of Agricultural Development, addressed the direct effect of malnutrition and food security on marginalised communities in Nepal. Pokhrel noted that NSA was a solution to many local-level initiatives addressing agriculture, processing, tourism and other areas.

Bharat Kumar Pokharel, Country Director of HELVETAS Nepal, officially welcomed all national and international guests and opened the first session on “The Added Value for Development”. 

In the first session, keynote speakers Frank Eyhorn, of IFOAM –Organics International and HELVETAS, Marlene Heeb of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Harihar Prasad Sharma, of the Nepalese Ministry of Health, Basudev Kafle, of the Nepalese Ministry of Agricultural Development, Thomas Bernet, of  the Swiss FiBL, and Eklabya Sharma, of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) highlighted the activities that are under way to implement NSA in rural mountain areas in Asia and underpinned its importance and relevance in improving nutrition condition in the regions. 

The second session on “Strategizing Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture” was opened by Markus Arbenz of IFOAM Germany.  

In the second as well as the third session, which dealt with “scaling up successes: inspirations for implementation”, the national and international keynote speakers shared their practices and lessons learnt in the field of NSA in their home countries, e.g. student-targeted nutrition education, home gardening, solar dryers, organic farming, etc. 

The second day of the conference concentrated on sharing knowledge, experience and learning in inclusive businesses, linking smallholders to markets, and, finally, aiming at sustainable nutrition-sensitive agricultural actions. Participants from Nepal and India shared their experiences in livestock-based farming systems, in promoting income and nutrition quality to rural women via an informal network that is provided by the international Mountain Agro-ecosystems Action Network. Further they discussed the improvement of soil health and protected cultivation.

A healthy soil for nutritious food is needed

The former Secretary of the Government of Nepal, Aatmaram Pandey, emphasised in an afternoon session the importance of improved nutritional agricultural practices in a broader context. The conference drew attention among participants from the health sector to the important role of agriculture in improving people’s nutrition status, and thus their health status. These participants were also made aware of the need for healthy soil for the good nutrition of rural mountain people.

In the final message of the conference, Pokharel highlighted the need for bringing nutrition into interdisciplinary systems, since food, nutrition and dietary practices were closely related. For improving the nutrition conditions of mountain people, the actors in this field should move from isolated to collective efforts.

Jane Carter, of HELVETAS Nepal, observed that organic farming was not the only answer to producing healthy food. Low-input agriculture, using methods such as integrated pest control, also had an important role to play. She further emphasised the importance of supporting practical work responding to the needs of both women and men working in rural and urban settings and tailoring interventions to people with different cultural, social, economic and other backgrounds. 

Concluding the conference, Markus Arbenz of IFOAM threw light on the need for collective efforts and more collaboration among all actors concerned to improve the nutrition situation via agricultural systems in rural mountain regions. To reach this ambitious goal, the personal engagement of the rural people was equally significant, Arbenz added.

Alok Shrestha and Soma Rana

More information

Nutrition in Mountain Agro-Ecosystems (NMA) project/ HELVETAS Nepal

Further reading:

Rural 21, No 1/2016: Nutrition-sensitive agriculture

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