Nutrition and health

Good nutrition – an adequate, well balanced diet combined with regular physical activity – is a cornerstone of good health.

While on the other hand, poor nutrition can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity. An unhealthy diet is one of the major risk factors for a range of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and other conditions linked to obesity. No matter how it is defined, nutrition starts with what we eat, the products of the food and agriculture sector.

Unfortunately, the sector has failed to halt the “triple-burden” epidemic – the co-existence of chronic hunger, malnutrition and over-nutrition – which now exists in all countries and cutting across socio-economic classes.

On its surface solving malnutrition seems as simple as growing more food. But food production is just one factor in the consumption and availability of nutrients. The way food is stored, distributed, processed, retailed, prepared, and consumed affects the access, acceptability, and nutritional quality of foods for the consumer. Better nutrition is largely a byproduct of a handful of policies, many of which are not about food at all, and each of which is vital to impact.

As one of the most critical issues facing society, malnutrition demands a population-based, multisectoral, multi-disciplinary, and culturally relevant approach. At CIAT, we are certain that agricultural research for development can do more for improving nutrition and health, where in the past it has failed.

What we do: A full food basket

CIAT’s nutrition research focuses on reducing all forms of malnutrition. We aim to improve the diets, nutritional status, and health of the poor, especially mothers, infants, and young children at critical stages of the lifecycle.

CIAT researchers work in partnership with the private sector, program implementers, and policymakers to foster collaboration and integration across the health, agriculture, social protection, and education and child development sectors.

The Center aims to generate a rich body of evidence on what works to improve nutrition—and what does not—to better design and implement policies and programs to maximize impacts. Our scientists also work to develop staple crop varieties richer in nutrients and apply value chain approaches to improve the availability, access, and intake of nutrient-rich food for the poor.

In photos

Community nutrition officers raise families’ awareness of issues related to vaccination, hygiene, and nutrition. Families also learn how to cultivate a kitchen garden and prepare nutritious food.

Through the FoodLens Initiative, CIAT scientists produce important insights on food systems in key “zoom-in” sites – including Hanoi, Vietnam – for informing improved food system policies.

Many farmers in Lushoto, Tanzania sell their milk to the Tanga Dairy Cooperatives Union. Local livestock feed does not have the same nutritional value as improved varieties. Livestock farmers in the district are finding ways of boosting their production and lowering their environmental impact by planting improved forages.

CIAT partnered with Keurig Green Mountain, Inc to provide important research insights to help the company improve their Fair Trade model and reduce seasonal hunger – or the “thin months” – that coffee producing families face in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

HarvestPlus works on biofortified beans in east DR Congo.

CIAT has contributed to Colombia’s National Quinoa Platform, and assisted farmers and policymakers develop strategies to capitalize on the income-generating and food security potential of quinoa.

Cows are milked morning and evening at this farm in Okara Sector, Rwanda. The amount of milk they produce depends on the quality and quantity of their diet.

How we do it: United to achieve zero hunger in our lifetimes

We use the process of biofortification to reduce malnutrition and improve the lives of millions of people around the world. Biofortification, a term coined by CIAT scientist Steve Beebe in 2001, is the process of increasing the density of vitamins and minerals in a crop, through plant breeding or agronomic practices, so that when consumed regularly will generate measurable improvement in vitamin and mineral nutritional status. Our crop breeders focus on increasing the micronutrients in two staple crops: beans and cassava.

At the front lines in the fight against hidden hunger, CIAT’s Nutritional Quality Laboratory asks tough questions about these and other biofortified crops developed by CIAT, HarvestPlus, and other partners. For example, the team conducts “retention studies” to analyze how much of a crop’s micronutrient content is lost from harvest to food preparation, according to different recipes from various countries. Meanwhile, specialized equipment helps the team analyze iron, zinc and carotenoids in crops in just a matter of minutes.

We also work to achieve real nutrition gains by providing evidence to help policymakers, the private sector, and other value chain actors tackle nutrition on all fronts and at all levels – from making social protection, agriculture, and other programs more nutrition-sensitive to providing an environment in which such programs can flourish.

Learn more about these initiatives: 

Breeding better crops

Together with HarvestPlus and other partners, CIAT develops new, more nutritious varieties of staple food crops that provide higher amounts of vitamin A, iron, or zinc—the three micronutrients identified by the World Health Organization as most lacking in diets globally.


Strategic Initiative on Sustainable Food Systems

The FoodLens initiative aims to help guide food systems toward an equitable and sustainable future, against a background of rapid globalization and urbanization, which have profound impacts on human diets.

Our impact

Bean breeders developed beans containing about 60% more iron and 50% more zinc – and released two new varieties – referred to as BIO101 and BIO107 – Colombia’s Santander Department.

Biofortified cassava with up to 40% of daily vitamin A needs has been released in Nigeria and DR Congo.

Specially-bred, high-iron beans have reduced iron deficiency and anemia in young women in Rwanda.

Provided technical assistance and forage grass hybrids to improve food security of farmers enrolled in the Rwanda’s One Cow per Poor Family Initiative and ensure animal survival, and milk and meat production, throughout the dry season.

Research updates

nutrition | CIAT Blog Science to Cultivate Change


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Latest publications

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