4.3.6. Applying the Value Chain Approach to Food Utilization

Value chain approaches can improve food utilization by integrating nutrition into value chain selection, adopting nutrition-sensitive value chain analysis, analyzing the implications of project design on nutrition, diversifying diets, promoting mixed allocation of production increases, leveraging relationships to improve household nutrition practices, adopting nutrition-sensitive value chain analysis, analyzing the implications of project design on nutrition, and supporting nutrition-sensitive processing upgrading, and identifying win-win opportunities to enhance food safety and value chain efficiency.

Integrate nutrition into value chain selection. Value chain programs that aim to improve utilization should include nutrition considerations in the value chain selection criteria. In many cases, utilization can be most effectively addressed by targeting the foods the poor consume or produce.[1] For example, the Wellness and Agriculture for Life Advancement (WALA) project included the impact on household food security and nutrition as one of its ten selection criteria. It incorporated findings of the team’s nutrition specialists on the nutritional gaps, as well as information collected by the agribusiness team on which crops were the most competitive and had the greatest potential for market growth. As a result, the project identified pigeon peas, cow peas and groundnuts as crops that met both market and nutritional objectives. Pigeon peas, for example, are largely consumed in the south of Malawi but a majority of farmers have not traditionally grown sufficient quantity to sell. WALA is supporting farmers to increase their productivity and, though increased production, expect to benefit household nutrition.

Adopt nutrition-sensitive value chain analysis. Considering the nutritional implications of upgrading strategies and mapping nutritional changes along the value chain can reveal opportunities to reduce the potential for harm and create positive nutritional outcomes. These strategies are particularly suited to the value chain approach, given its focus on understanding the flow of the product to the final consumer and the incentives and disincentives for maintaining food nutrition values.[2] Nutritional opportunities may exist at multiple levels of the value chain. The following figure, produced by Feed the Future Rwanda, illustrates nutritional opportunities that they identified across the value chain.[3]

Another example is the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which is conducting a nutrition-sensitive value chain analysis in Indonesia. While the VCA is being conducted over multiple years, many of its methods are relevant to shorter studies. The VCA is investigating the implications of shifting consumer demand for four high-value agricultural commodities on the nutritional status of consumers. Research is involving actors throughout the value chain. Surveys with producer, traders and processors are examining the incentives to maintain quality of the commodities as well as actual practices. Research at the consumer level is looking at the status and drivers of household diets, the proportion of food being sourced from supermarkets versus traditional sources, and anthropometric health indicators among family members.[4]

Analyze the implications of project design on nutrition. The decisions that are made in the design and implementation stages of the value chain project cycle will often have significant nutritional implications. Projects that do not consciously consider the nutritional impacts of programming decision can cause negative outcomes. One tool for addressing this is the Nutritional Impact Assessment Tool, created by the Infant and Young Child Nutrition project. The assessment tool guides implementers in assessing the potential implications of their interventions on nutritionally-sensitive groups.

Diversify diets. Individuals need to consume a diversified diet to ensure adequate amounts of different nutrients.[5] There is a risk that the value chain approach may inadvertently have a negative effect if it is applied to a single value chain. However, implementers can use the approach to address a lack of dietary diversification with the following interventions:

  • Build demand for more nutritious products. New varieties of more nutritious crops and products are being developed by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and others can improve the health of consumers. However, consumer demand may not immediately exist for more nutritious products if these products have not formed part of an area’s traditional diet or if they have significant taste, quality or texture differences. For example, the recently developed Golden Rice variety has a high Vitamin A content, offering consumers an important and sustainable source of an essential vitamin. It is also high in beta carotene. This has positive health benefits, but causes the rice to have a yellow colour that is offputting for many consumers who are used to rice being white. One of the major benefits of these improved varieties is that they can improve the nutritional status of large portions of the population, including those who are not directly engaged in development programs and those who do not buy processed foods. In some cases, interventions that build demand for these products [e.g., branding/labeling (to denote local origin), changes in policy (procurement rules), product formulation, and education and exposure] can yield very positive results. The value chain approach can support such initiatives because of its focus on understanding and building market systems. For instance, two value chain projects built demand for the nutritious orange-fleshed sweet potato in Mozambique and Uganda through extensive market research into consumers' preferences and willingness to pay. The project found that a significant proportion of consumers were willing to pay more for the orange fleshed sweet potato over the traditional variety once they were aware of the nutritional benefits.[6]
  • Support new product formulation. New product formulation can contribute to increased consumption of nutritious products while also creating new lines of business for processors. IFPRI in Uganda has partnered with a public university to develop new bean-based food products with reduced cooking times, thereby shortening the duration of food preparation and increasing consumption of this nutritious food.[7] In Mozambique, TechnoServe is starting to test a franchise model for female-operated community milling operations that will produce and market more nutritious new food products to local populations using traditional staple crops (e.g. maize).[8]

Promote mixed allocation of production increases. Promoting the mixed allocation of increased food production to consumption and sale supports both improved nutrition and higher incomes. A Land O’ Lakes project in Zambia advised farmers to sell the milk harvested in the morning, while consuming the milk harvested at night. The increase in milk consumption among households that participated in the project and received a heifer is significantly higher (70%) than in those households that did not engaged in the project (31%).[9]

Leverage relationships to improve household nutrition practices. Value chain initiatives that wish to improve food utilization will need to consider how they can leverage tools like behavior change communication and nutritional counseling to reach households and the individuals within them, particularly if they are otherwise not working at these levels. Leveraging value chain relationships, such as those that exist between farmers and extension officers or millers, is one approach to delivering nutritional messages directly to households. TechnoServe's initiative with female-operated millers in Mozambique, for instance, envisions the mills ultimately becoming a hub for disseminating nutritional messaging to local populations that is embedded in sales transactions.[10]

Support nutrition-sensitive processing upgrading. Upgrading the food processors that supply consumers with their milled or processed products offers significant scope to improve utilization at scale in areas where the poor are purchasing – rather than growing – a significant portion of their caloric intake. In Tanzania, where the negative effects of vitamin deficiencies are estimated to cost over two percent of GDP, food fortification has the potential to reach over 30 million consumers, or approximately three quarters of the population.[11] A USAID-funded Global Development Alliance called the the African Alliance for Improved Food Processing and managed by TechnoServe in partnership with General Mills is working to develop new solutions. It is improving the technical capacity and commercial viability of small and medium-scale food processors in Sub-Saharan Africa to fortify selected basic grains and to produce food products targeted at both at commercial markets and specifically to vulnerable populations. The Alliance is working directly with processors in collaboration with development partners and the support of USAID funding.[12] To take the model to scale, General Mills has created Partners In Food Solutions, a non-profit entity that will replicate the approach. Two other international food processing companies, Cargill and DSM, have also joined as initial corporate members.

Identify win-win opportunities to enhance food safety and value chain efficiency. Improving food safety is not always negative for small-scale producers; it can often improve nutrition levels while producing reduced waste and improved returns for value chain actors. Mercy Corps Indonesia's Value Initiative Program (VIP) has simultaneously improved food safety and firm profitability through its work in the tofu and tempe value chains. Selected for their widespread consumption among Jakarta consumers including the urban poor, both foods have high protein and nutrient content but are often produced and prepared under unhealthy conditions. VIP used various interventions to improve nutritional content, at multiple stages of the value chain. New technology was introduced at factories that improved production efficiency by 30% while also improving product cleanliness. A new cooking stove was piloted with street vendors that burns used cooking oil. Creating alternate use for the oil reduces incentives for operators to reuse oil for cooking, thereby creating health benefits for consumers. Finally, the program has increased awareness and usage of an existing government loan facility that lends for clean production upgrades.[13]


  1. Shenggen Fan and Joanna Brzeska, The Nexus between Agriculture and Nutrition: Do Growth Patterns and Conditional Factors Matter?, 2.
  2. Corinna Hawkes and Marie T. Ruel, Value Chains for Nutrition, 18.  
  3. USAID Rwanda, Strategic Review:  Feed the Future, August 6, 2010, 23
  4. Corinna Hawkes and Marie T. Ruel, Value Chains for Nutrition, 37-38.  
  5. Infant and Young Child Nutrition project, Achieving Nutritional Impact and Food Security through Agriculture, Feb 2011, 1. 
  6. Corinna Hawkes and Marie T. Ruel, Value Chains for Nutrition, 44.  
  7. Robert Mazur et al, Enhancing Nutritional Value and Marketability of Beans through Research and Strengthening Key Value-Chain Stakeholders in Uganda, 2011
  8. TechnoServe, Market-based approaches to nutrition improvement and food security and linkages to agriculture:  TechnoServe's evolving strategy, 7
  9. Richard Swanson, Final Evaluation of Land O’Lakes Zambia Title II Development Assistance Program, January 2009, 84
  10. TechnoServe, Market-based approaches to nutrition improvement and food security and linkages to agriculture, 7
  11. National Food Fortification Alliance, Action Plan, undated.
  12. Feed the Future, African Alliance for Improved Food Processing
  13. Case Study in Using the DCED Standard: Tofu Production in Indonesia with the VIP, 2011