Building the evidence base on the agricultural nutrition nexus: Marshall Islands

A recent released study conducted by Wayne Nelles on the agriculture-nutrition nexus in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) for the CTA/IFAD/PIPSO ‘Promoting Nutritious Food Systems in the Pacific Islands’ project emphasises the need of a national cross-sector knowledge based action plan to pursue a national transformation towards increased local food production and consumption to improve food and nutrition security (FNS).

One significant and problematic finding from the rapid scan is that: malnutrition, including child hunger, stunting, obesity, and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and other chronic health problems, appear to be strongly related to RMI’s high dependency on imports making up at least 90% of the food supply resulting in poor diets and a declining agricultural sector. Limited cultivation and consumption of traditional and local nutrient dense foods is one of the causes.

Although the RMI government has undertaken some useful measures in recent years to address such challenges, there is still an urgent and overarching need for a whole of government, inter-agency, cross-sectoral response to reduce food import dependency and associated NCDs in partnership with farmers, fishers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academia, the private sector, investors and donors. Ben Graham, RMI Chief Secretary supports the main findings of the study and the creation of a strong action plan to transform RMI’s food system:

A major national transformation is essential to encourage national self-sufficiency while improving and expanding local agriculture production to promote long-term food and nutritional security with climate change resilience. Such a transformation can build on evidence from scientific research as well as traditional knowledge and culture. But a full national agriculture census is needed so technical experts and decision-makers can better understand core agronomic, production, ecological and socioeconomic data while identifying specific agri-food system sector needs and best target areas for future investments.

Some additional specific recommendations from the study include:

  • Local community nurseries and centres for local genetic resources conservation, seed
    saving, cultivation and cuttings propagation on each of the Outer Islands;
  • Salt tolerant, “climate smart” and drought-resistant plant or tree varieties;
  • More space for school gardens with full-time care-takers and teacher coordinators;
  • More public awareness, education (non-formal and formal) and teacher training on nutritional or food security values of traditional plants or native species in local diets.
  • Better available, accessible and systematically collected agricultural statistics, since existing RMI agriculture data is poor while some sources, indicators and findings from different studies or external sources conflict or are not comparable.
About the report

Research included a desk review as well as a field mission to RMI conducting interviews, site visits and a small seminar to present preliminary findings and discuss potential follow-up with some stakeholders. The report includes:

  • Main actors in RMI implicating Food and Nutrition Security (FNS), agriculture and fisheries;
  • Principal FNS and agriculture related policies, legislation and plans;
  • selected FNS or agriculture related projects and programmes;
  • FNS agriculture related empirical data;
  • General observations and identified needs;
  • Conclusions and recommendations.

Read the full report here. 


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