Food as a basic necessity of life is one of the vital substances humans depend on to survive and carry out daily tasks. To function optimally, humans require proper nutrients which are ingested, digested, absorbed, and utilized for the sustenance of life.
Malnutrition, also known as "hidden hunger," is a widespread problem in many households and countries. Agriculture provides food or nutrition, but the availability of food from agriculture does not guarantee excellent nutrition. It is important to note that The term “undernourishment” connotes inadequate caloric intake while the term “malnourishment” refers to the lack of a minimum daily balance of nutrients that may include proteins and essential amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Undernourished people are likely to be malnourished. Improper diet can lead to starvation, obesity, poisoning, disease, or death.
Traditionally, nutrition has been viewed as the realm of health professionals. Yet, the challenge it poses cannot be solved solely by the health sector. It is understandable that the task of addressing malnutrition is daunting but feasible, as long as key sectors are adequately identified and leveraged. The foods which provide energy and nourishment come directly or indirectly from plants, and by providing 90% of food consumed worldwide, farmers are the first nutrient providers and we will be discussing the role of agriculture in tackling malnutrition because agriculture plays a unique and critical role in improving nutritional status.
Bio-fortification of foods, fruits, and veggies
This is the concept of breeding crops to boost their nutritional worth, it differs from conventional fortification in that it emphasizes making plant foods more nutritious while they are growing, rather than adding nutrients to foods after they have been processed. It aids in the provision of important vitamins and minerals from the time of planting to the time of harvesting. When bio-fortification is done properly, everyone consumes the right amount of nutrients in the required proportion for the body's proper growth and development.
Micro nutrient-enriched fertilizers
This improves soil fertility, aids in soil support, and results in higher yields of more nutritious food. Poor soil quality is a significant factor that leads to micronutrient deficiencies in humans, resulting in malnutrition; if the soil is not rich in all of the necessary nutrients, food products will lack the nutritional benefits required of them; however, when enriched fertilizers are applied to the soil, crops, and plants will grow with the balanced proportion of nutrients required for consumption
Improved agronomic practices
The act of utilizing plants for food, fuel, fiber, recreation, and land restoration is known as horticulture. Improving farm productivity and nutrient content is a good idea since it promotes food diversity. It is one of the many actions that may be done on farmlands to improve the soil's nutrients and restore its fertility, these approaches will be beneficial since farmers will only need a small number of fertilizers or chemicals to produce nutrient-rich food.
This is a very important method of tackling malnutrition by agriculture, it is the practice of planting different crops sequentially on the same plot of land to improve soil health and optimize nutrients in the soil, there are many ways of rotating crops for high nutritional benefits. For example, the rotation of legumes, cereal, and oilseed crops can be of great nutritional benefits as it offers a wide range of nutrients. To ensure that malnutrition is being tackled by agriculture, effective crop rotation must not be pushed aside, farmers should be encouraged to embrace the planting of different crops on their farmland to help balance the soil PH and maintain soil nutrients.
Tillage helps to make the soil environment favorable for plant growth, this involves the manipulation of the soil to optimize the germination of crops. This process can halt and reverse the process of soil degradation thereby helping to prevent nutrient loss from the soils and increase crop production while conserving soil nutrients.
Post Harvest Handling
To effectively tackle malnutrition, there must be an effective method to retain nutritional values, improve shelf-life, food safety as well as a reduction in post-harvest losses to ensure healthy foods are available in all seasons.
Reducing post-harvest loss along all segments of the agricultural value chains
presents an opportunity to improve nutrition security by capturing
otherwise lost nutrients to channel into the food system and create
profitable, accessible, and affordable diversified diets.
Improvements have been made in many aspects of post-harvest technologies and handling of perishable foods, including harvesting indices, harvesting methods, pre-cooling methods and applications, storage techniques, packing and packaging, quarantine systems, transport systems especially by road and sea, modified and controlled atmospheres and all these have greatly improved the handling and quality of food crops and contributed significantly to improving nutrition and national development.