By Sarah Rawson, Senior Strategist, Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability
Grabbing a handful of cashews has become the go-to healthy snack for hungry moments. Rich in fibre, protein and packed with heart-friendly fats, these crunchy, creamy kernels – which are in fact seeds of the cashew apple - are now one of the most eaten nuts in both Europe and America. But there’s a catch.
The countries where cashew is produced face high rates of malnutrition, with many farming households unable to eat healthily themselves. For example, in Côte d’Ivoire, about 1 in 5 children under the age of five are stunted – a result of chronic malnutrition – which inhibits them from reaching their physical and cognitive potential[i]. Given this starting point, we set out to better understand the situation of the cashew households in Olam’s sourcing network; what kind of food they typically eat and if it is enough to meet their food and nutrition needs year-round.
Rooting out the cause of poor nutrition in Côte d’Ivoire
We found that 93% of the households are food secure, meaning they can regularly access foods that give them adequate calories. This is good news, but we also discovered that families are getting nearly all of these calories from only a few food groups and primarily starchy staples, which lack many of the micronutrients needed for normal functioning of the immune system and optimal health. Even greater deficiencies were shown amongst women and children, with less than one-third of the adult women and 6% of surveyed 6-23 month-olds eating what they need to.
Olam Edible Nuts has been working with cashew producers in Côte d’Ivoire since 2011, under the Sustainable Cashew Growers Programme (SCGP), providing technical training and support geared towards increasing productivity and incomes to some 30,000 smallholder farmers. And it’s proved effective with farmers seeing their incomes increase by 21% on average by 2018. But while this will go a long way in improving families’ ability to afford nutritious food, we know there are additional barriers to sustained good nutrition which the programme can also help communities overcome.
Boosting farmer health with tech
The survey itself was prompted by the process of gathering data for Olam’s sustainability insights platform AtSource, which uncovered a number of areas where the livelihoods and well-being of farmers could be improved. By capturing key health and nutrition metrics, we know where we need to investigate further and focus our interventions.
These insights are informing new strategies to support farmers such as through crop diversification and nutrition education, while also enriching our longstanding efforts to address some of underlying determinants of malnutrition, like limited access to clean water. Since 2014, the team has invested more than US$65,000 to build water pumps and safe toilets, as well as support communities fight against relentless diseases like HIV/AIDS. These efforts to safeguard farmer health and nutrition have becoming even more important in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has revealed just how reliant global supply chains are on people’s well-being at every step of the journey.
The metrics on AtSource are accessible to our customers - global FMCG companies - via a digital dashboard, which acts as window into where hotspots - on malnutrition for example - lie and equally, where progress is being made. By connecting companies further down the supply chain to the source of their products, AtSource brings them in as a partner on the collective efforts to improve the impact of cashew production on people and planet. And they can communicate their role to consumers. It also gives them assurance that their cashews are responsibly sourced, fully traceable and sustainable.
Extending our community reach through collaboration
Olam’s global cashew teams have 105 extension staff on the ground in our sourcing origins, but for all their hands-on support, we know we cannot achieve the positive change we seek alone. So, as with all our sustainability programmes, our scope for action under SCGP increases with partnerships. This is why we’re a partner in national efforts to improve nutrition with the National Nutrition Program of the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene, alongside its other partners like UNICEF, World Health Organisation, Hellen Keller International and the Government of Canada.
In August 2020, Olam teamed up with these organisations to promote good nutrition and COVID-19 prevention practices amongst cashew-producing communities. While our partners provided the necessary expertise and supplies, Olam’s extension staff on the ground helped mobilise communities and deliver the support.
In the districts where Olam operates, we helped reach 2.5 million children under age five with vitamin A supplementation, nearly 400,000 with deworming tablets and some 200,000 with acute malnutrition screening. While these may seem bite-sized activities, research tells us that they are among the top interventions to ensure that the next generation is protected from the lifelong consequences of undernutrition. Vitamin A supplementation alone is associated with reducing the risk of a child dying before their 5th birthday by 24 percent[ii]; while removing intestinal infections improves a child’s cognitive development, health and ability to absorb nutrients[iii]. These benefits stick with them throughout their life and help ensure they can reach their full potential.
“Our engagement with the private sector in the fight against malnutrition has taken on a special dimension with Olam. We note the excellent collaboration on planning and preparing interventions and the presence of Olam agents on the ground, working with the health districts on vitamin A supplementation, deworming and malnutrition screening for children under 5, as well as supporting sensitisation efforts on COVID-19. We are happy with this collaboration and hope that it continues”.
Dr Kouamé Oka René, Director Coordinator of National Nutrition Programme, Côte d’Ivoire
In a nutshell, improving nutrition in the long-run requires sustained and comprehensive action in multiple sectors, but one clear part of the solution is to focus on scaling the interventions that evidence shows have the biggest impact and especially at a time when the current health pandemic risks propelling a hunger one.
[i] UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Group: Joint child malnutrition estimates. July 2020
[ii] Mayo-Wilson, Evan et al., ‘Vitamin A supplements for preventing mortality, illness, and blindness in children aged under 5: systematic review and meta-analysis’, BMJ, vol. 343, 2011