Over the past decade, Peru has made impressive advances in reducing infant and young child malnutrition at the national level. Researchers have attributed this achievement in part to strong, coordinated advocacy by CARE Perú and other civil society members of Peru’s Child Malnutrition Initiative (Acosta and Haddad 2014). However, rates of poverty and malnutrition remain high in rural areas, where a majority of people depend upon agricultural livelihoods. In 2014, almost half of Peru’s rural population lived below the poverty line, and stunting affected almost a quarter of all children under five years of age in the Andean highlands (INEI 2014, INEI 2015). Evidence that early childhood malnutrition has long-term consequences for individual educational and economic outcomes makes infant and young child nutrition a top priority on Peru’s development agenda (Hoddinott et al. 2008, Maluccio et al. 2009).
Ongoing efforts to improve food security and nutrition in rural communities must respond to climate change impacts on food production. Smallholder farmers face increasing production risks due to climate change, and subsistence farmers in the Peruvian Andes are particularly vulnerable to its impacts (Lee et al. 2014). However, despite wide recognition of the many linkages across climate change, agriculture and nutrition, actors from these three sectors rarely work together to advance common development goals. In collaboration with CARE Perú, our research project is motivated by a need to inform integrated policy and programming strategies that can capitalize on the linkages between agriculture and nutrition, and thereby improve the food security and nutritional impacts of agricultural and climate adaptation interventions.
Our research takes place in the Shullcas River Watershed, which is home to smallholder producers whose farming systems emphasize indigenous Andean potato varieties as well as modern potato varieties, other indigenous root crops, fava beans and maize. A gendered division of household labor is common, as women bear the primary responsibility for food preparation and feeding activities, while men are more likely to pursue employment outside the household. Both men and women participate in household food production and agricultural decision-making; however, commercial farming activities are more likely to be led by men (Sarapura 2013). Due to its reliance on the rapidly-retreating Huaytapallana glacier, the Shullcas River Watershed has been classified as a region of high vulnerability to climate change. As a result, the region has received a series of targeted interventions by various government agencies and NGOs designed to promote climate change adaptation.
In this setting, the CARE-Cornell team designed and implemented an integrated household production and consumption survey, including anthropometric measurements of children under age 5, to address the following research questions:
- What social and economic factors influence the adoption of climate-adaptive farming practices – including sustainable soil and water management strategies and use of indigenous crops – and how are these practices related to household food security?
- What is the relationship between household food security and the individual diet and nutritional status of infants and young children?
- What role does gender play in household decision-making and outcomes related to agriculture, feeding practices and nutrition?
Cornell and CARE partnered with the Department of Human Nutrition at the Universidad Peruana de Los Andes (UPLA) to train enumerators and survey more than 500 households across 6 communities in the study region. The team completed anthropometric measurements for 386 children and recorded a 22% rate of stunting.
Preliminary results from the survey suggest that food production is primarily a subsistence activity rather than a commercial activity. Households in our sample undertake a wide range of non-agricultural activities to generate income, and relatively few sell crops commercially. Most families source the majority of their food from the market, which they supplement with staple crops produced on-farm. This finding emphasizes auto-consumption as an important pathway for linking agricultural interventions with food security and nutrition.
Farmers in the study area widely perceive that the climate is changing and that changing climate patterns adversely affect their agricultural production. Yet only 15% of farmers in our sample report having altered their production practices in response to the climatic changes they observe. Further analysis will help to determine which factors increase the likelihood of adoption of specific climate-adaptive production practices. The remaining survey results are still being processed.
Implications for Program and Policy Design
Although analysis of survey results is still underway, the CARE-Cornell team expects that this study will raise awareness within CARE and other development organizations about the importance of incorporating linkages among agriculture, food security and nutrition in program design. Further, the study will provide the basis for specific recommendations for integrating these linkages, and also gender considerations, in climate change adaptation programs throughout the Andean region. As a leader in promoting food security and nutrition in Peru, CARE will be able to use the results from this study to advocate for nutrition-sensitive agriculture and climate adaptation policy at the national level.
This research project emerged from a unique partnership model, supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, that links Cornell researchers with CARE development practitioners around the world. Our work has relied on CARE Perú’s local knowledge and information needs to inform the research questions and on Cornell’s technical expertise in research design and implementation to construct a rigorous methodology. CARE’s on-the-ground experience and existing relationships with local communities streamlined development of the survey instrument and engendered trust among survey participants. Cornell researchers will lead the data analysis efforts, and, together, both organizations will interpret results and identify policy and programmatic applications. Through close collaboration at each step of the research process, we aim to leverage the complementary expertise of Cornell and CARE to generate knowledge that is both academically valid and directly relevant to questions of programming and policy development.