Formative Research Sheds Light on Agriculture's Potential Impact on Nutrition in Guatemala

SPRING’s formative research to understand factors affecting household-level food purchase and production decisions in Guatemala’s Western Highlands provides insight into how agricultural investments in Guatemala can improve nutrition. To stress the agriculture and nutrition connection, we have introduced conceptual pathways providing a summary of the current state of knowledge for leveraging agriculture to improve nutrition.

We undertook this research in the Feed the Future zone of influence of USAID Guatemala’s Western Highlands Integrated Program (WHIP). In Guatemala, Feed the Future’s main objectives are agriculture sector growth and improving women and children’s nutritional status. USAID Guatemala uses a value chain approach dedicated to moving people out of poverty through better access to food and income. Unfortunately, better nutrition is not an inherent outcome of higher income and more food, so SPRING has used the agriculture-to-nutrition pathways to better understand how investing in agricultural value chains can lead to better nutritional outcomes.

Using market surveys and focus group discussions, we researched how market characteristics, gender roles, and household income affect food purchases and consumption behaviors.

There are numerous ways USAID can work to change behaviors related to food purchase and consumption. Educational messages can promote using extra income to purchase foods of higher nutritional value. Social and behavior change strategies should include mothers-in-law’s participation while promoting changes to women’s and children’s diets. Adapting creative solutions to local challenges, such as lack of storage and refrigeration will be necessary in order to achieve optimal results. Additionally, without significant increases in real and perceived income, there is unlikely to be changes in household spending decisions that impact nutritional outcomes.

This formative research will be useful in future decision making around developing programs and strategies for better nutrition. The conceptual pathways between agriculture and nutrition can be used as a platform for determining how agricultural investments and activities can improve access to food and health care, how the environment affects these factors, and how women and children’s nutritional status is affected.