By Kimberly Flowers, Feed the Future

Sometimes bringing together nearly a thousand development leaders and experts from around the world around an issue can spark a global movement. Last week I participated in a conference  hosted by the International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI) in New Delhi, India that was designed to leverage agriculture for nutrition and health. It was more than just a series of workshops and side meetings that merged experts from seemingly disparate fields. I believe it brought life to an already growing momentum. This energy and change comes at a crucial time when food security couldn’t be more critical in an increasingly interconnected world.

The momentum to link agriculture, nutrition and health across programs is greater than ever before, including at USAID. The newly created Bureau for Food Security, which is leading our food security efforts through Feed the Future, brings together both agriculture and nutrition experts. We know it isn’t just enough to increase the amount of food produced in developing countries. It is just as much as about ensuring access to quality, nutritious food and creating diverse diets in order for countries to combat hunger, poverty and undernutrition.

We know that women are the ones who can make this happen. Feed the Future works directly with small holder farmers. In Africa, nearly 80% of farmers are women; in Asia, women make up 60% of the farming workforce. In addition, women are the primary caretaker of the family, responsible for ensuring their children receive adequate vitamin and minerals in their first thousand days of life – the critical window of opportunity from birth to two years of age.

The 2008 Copenhagen Consensus – reached by a group of leading scientists and economists, including several Nobel laureates – found that 5 of the top 10 highest return solutions to global challenges closely relate to combating undernutrition. Improved nutrition is a critical driver for economic growth and poverty reduction. Strong nutrition in early life contributes to human and economic capacity through improved learning and productivity, and contributes to a robust, capable workforce. It also promotes gender equality and opportunities for women and girls, lessens susceptibility to other deadly diseases, and is critical to national prosperity, stability, and security.

Right now nearly 200 million children under age five and 1 in 3 women are undernourished. We can change this. Integrating agriculture and nutrition programs will create healthier, more productive and resilient communities by ensuring better access to better quality food.

Ambassador William Garvelink, Feed the Future Deputy Coordinator for Development, led the U.S. delegation at the IFPRI Conference in India. He made it clear that the U.S. is committed to investing in country-led strategies to combat the root causes of global hunger and poverty and that linking agriculture and nutrition is essential to make this happen.