Health and Nutrition

However, along with nutrition, there is a particular focus in emerging markets among our employees and farming supplier communities.

Improving food security and nutrition in smallholder communities

Around 500 million smallholders produce 80% of all the food consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, as a sector, agriculture has the highest incidence of families living below the poverty line. Given that many of our products (aside from rice, dairy and wheat) could be termed as niche ingredients, or raw materials such as rubber, our role in driving food security might not seem obvious. But our close working relationships with farmer suppliers, and our expertise across the value chain, enable us to equip farmers and their communities with the knowledge and tools for sustainable and profitable agriculture, including staple food crops.

In this way, we will play our role in achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutition, and promote sustainable agriculture. 

Just as a balanced diet is nutritionally diverse, so a healthy livelihood shouldn’t be overly reliant on one crop. Through the Olam Livelihood Charter we have been starting to focus on improving access to nutritious food for farming families and reducing malnutrition. Encouraging farmers to diversify crops helps to stagger income and spread risk. It is also good for the soil. Farmers can grow other crops for cash or for family needs. In Côte d’Ivoire, a cocoa programme, with various customer partners, is supporting women to grow cassava, a food staple. More than 15 women’s groups are running nurseries with vitamin A fortified high-yielding cassava plants. These nurseries can now each produce 50,000 cassava plants every year.

Life expectancy in developing countries remains low, perhaps just 59 years for a man. This is compounded by poor nutrition, disease and an inability to treat minor ailments. This in turn impacts farm productivity – a study in Côte d’Ivoire found that during a single cabbage production cycle, farmers infected with malaria had 47% lower yields and 53% lower revenues. So, it is in everyone’s interests to invest in the health of rural communities.

In Africa we run the Olam Healthy Living Campaign which reached 250,000 people in 2017. Health caravans offered vaccinations, testing and other support for HIV, malaria, malnutrition and other needs.

In our rural emerging market operations, particularly where there is no piped water infrastructure such as around our plantations, we focus on improving Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) access for employees. As part of the Olam Livelihood Charter we dig bore holes and build wells. Not only does this provide water locally, but it frees up women and children to participate in training and education instead of walking many miles to collect water.

Our Packaged Foods Business  which produces consumer products in Africa is fortifying foods to counter malnutrition and stunting in children. In 2017 this included 98 million servings of Milky Magic biscuits and 821.5 million servings of Tasty Tom tomato paste in Ghana and 16.8 million servings of FreshYo yogurt in Nigeria. Coupled with mandatory fortification for our Africa Grains and Edible Oils, we produced a total of 68 billion servings of fortified foods.

In rural Cote d'Ivoire, the Sustainable Cashew Growers Programme (SCGP) links Olam directly with the farmers that supply us. We are the only company to participate in the entire value chain and in doing so, are able to gain insight into and respond to the social challenges faced by farmers and their communities.

As part of Olam’s commitment through AtSource Plus - a sustainable sourcing platform- to achieve sustainability objectives, the cashew business teamed up with the CR&S Africa department to carry out a comprehensive food security and nutrition study for cashew farming households in the SCGP.    

Drawing on resources and best practices from the food and nutrition sector, the team surveyed a representative sample of 797 households to find out what kind of food they typically eat, how often they eat it, and where it comes from. Information on the diets of more than 1,000 women and 323 children within those households was collected too. This information was enhanced by data collected on household demographics, engagement with Olam, child labour, income, agriculture and access to water and adequate hygiene and sanitation facilities to provide a complete picture of a typical SCGP household.

To carry out this work, the team mobilised all cashew field agents and engaged 23 female students from the local university to form enumerator teams. Since all cashew agents are male in Cote d'Ivoire this ensured gender balance in the team. All teams were then trained in basic concepts of food security and nutrition, as well as in survey methodology before heading out to the field for about two weeks.

"This was a very exciting initiative that engaged our entire team in understanding the link between farmers' food security and productivity. We realised it is not only about having enough food, but also about diverse, nutritious foods that will give farmers the good health they need to be productive." "This was a very exciting initiative that engaged our entire team in understanding the link between farmers' food security and productivity. We realised it is not only about having enough food, but also about diverse, nutritious foods that will give farmers the good health they need to be productive."

Daouda Diomande, Procurement Head and CR&S Coordinator for SCGP

After weeks of data collection and analysis, the study found that about 93% of households in the SCGP are food secure, meaning that even during the low-resource months of the year they can regularly access foods that give them adequate calories.

Good news, right? Well, kind of.  While households are accessing enough calories, their diets are not very diverse. Meals generally consists of a starchy staple, vegetables and fish – which while offering good amounts of protein and iron, do not usually provide important micronutrients. Micronutrient deficiencies interfere with the normal functioning of the immune system, cognition, endurance and work capacity.

Key risks also were identified that may cause the food security situation to change. For instance, farmers primarily rely on their cashew earnings to access and afford enough food.  They are also not self-sufficient in food production, which increases their vulnerability to fluctuations in the cashew market. Insufficient food production is linked to several issues, including small portions of land being used to produce food. Within the last five years, 76% of households have converted land where they once grew food into cashew farms.

When it comes to women's and children's nutrition, the results were less promising. About 27% of women of childbearing age (15-49 years old) and only 6% of children aged 6-23 months are eating what they need to. Without adequate nutrients, women and children will not experience proper growth and development and are vulnerable to life-long consequences to health and productivity, which will affect future generations too.

So, what's the bottom line? The food security situation for cashew farmers remains vulnerable - being almost entirely dependent on the crop for income means that one bad season can seriously affect their ability to buy food and feed their families. Meanwhile, the nutrition situation is poor. It needs improvement for everyone, and especially for women and children.  

Based on the study results, the cashew business is now working to reduce risks and improve the situation. In their AtSource Plus action plan, there are specific strategies, such as providing food crop support, livelihood diversification and nutrition education, to mitigate the food security risks and improve nutrition.

"Anything that jeopardises farmers' well-being also jeopardises our supply chain, so this study has provided our team with very important insights on where we need to step up our efforts. We see these activities as a win for the farmers, their families and our business.”

Prateek Gautam, General Manager- Cashew

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