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Increasing Nutrition Sensitivity of Value Chains: A Review of Two Feed the Future Projects in Guatemala

Rationale for Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture

two men in a field
Photo by Hector R. Santos, USAID

Globally, there is a substantial evidence base for effective and cost-effective nutrition-specific interventions. The 2008 series from The Lancet on maternal and child nutrition highlighted several high-impact nutrition-specific interventions in the 36 countries with the highest levels of malnutrition, which encompass 90 percent of the total global burden. These interventions include complementary feeding, general supportive strategies to improve family and community nutrition, micronutrient interventions, the promotion of breastfeeding, reduction of disease burden, and strategies to promote community nutrition. In the series, The Lancet authors presented the evidence for these nutrition-specific interventions and projected reductions in stunting and effects on child survival that implementation at scale would yield. Using this evidence, the authors concluded that, although critical, the interventions alone are insufficient to achieve global targets (Bhutta et al. 2008). In fact, a follow-up series from The Lancet, published in 2013, reported that only 20 percent of stunting in children under five years would be averted if 10 evidence-based nutrition-specific interventions were to achieve 90 percent coverage (Bhutta et al. 2013). Numerous researchers, practitioners, governments, and donors have determined that, to reach the other 80 percent, a combination of nutrition-specific and “nutrition-sensitive” interventions are needed. Nutrition-specific interventions address the immediate determinants of malnutrition, such as dietary intake and disease (Ruel et al. 2013). Nutrition-sensitive interventions address the underlying determinants of malnutrition, such as access to health services, caregiving resources, food security, and a safe, hygienic environment.

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy 2014–2025 includes the following interventions in its definition of nutrition-sensitive: family planning, specifically, healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); nutrition-sensitive agriculture; food safety and food processing; early childhood care and development; girls’ and women’s education; economic strengthening and livelihoods; and social protection (USAID 2014). Additionally, the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future presidential initiative supports a country-driven approach to address the root causes of poverty, hunger, and undernutrition. Feed the Future’s two objectives include agriculture sector growth and improved nutritional status for women and children, with the intended outcome of sustainably reducing poverty and hunger. USAID Missions in Feed the Future focus countries are employing a range of multisectoral programming, with the assumption that nutrition-sensitive interventions will help ensure that Feed the Future achieves its ambitious goal of reducing stunting by 20 percent over five years in the areas where it works.1 The evidence for how nutrition-sensitive interventions lead to improved nutritional status is less robust than that for nutrition-specific interventions, especially with regard to the linkage between agricultural interventions and nutrition outcomes. Herforth and colleagues stated in a 2012 paper, “Despite the clear potential for agricultural change to improve nutrition in low- and middle-income countries, the evidence base for this relationship is poor (Herforth et al. 2012).”

Recent systematic reviews of studies that have evaluated agricultural interventions for improving nutrition reveal minimal compelling evidence of impact, and demonstrate a need for further quality research (Hawkes, Turner, and Waage 2012). Systematic reviews have revealed that “merely producing more food does not ensure food security nor improved nutrition” (Herforth et al. 2012), and that “agriculture interventions do not always contribute to positive nutritional outcomes” (FAO 2012). A 2013 paper by Webb analyzed literature on whether agriculture pathways can improve nutrition. This analysis revealed that current knowledge on nutritional improvements attributable to agriculture-based interventions is “weak and mixed,” which reflects “partial, often imperfect, knowledge of links along the chain from agriculture to nutrition, regardless of pathway” (Webb 2013). Despite this paucity of evidence, field experience indicates that nutrition-sensitive agriculture interventions, when properly implemented, can significantly contribute to improved nutrition outcomes.

A Conceptual Framework Linking Agriculture and Nutrition

The conceptual pathways between agriculture and nutrition (Herforth and Harris 2014) (Figure 1) were described to better understand how nutrition-sensitive agriculture functions in relation to general nutrition sensitivity. Although agriculture may be viewed primarily as a source of diverse, nutritious foods and income, its effect on nutrition is multifaceted, especially considering the critical role women play in agriculture. First, agriculture facilitates a healthy, active life by producing foods within households and for their own consumption, and by increasing access to foods within local markets. Second, when agriculture is a source of livelihood, it increases income levels, which facilitate the purchase of more diverse food as well as access to other primary social services such as health care. Third, agricultural livelihoods affect gender relations and the relative status of women. A female’s health and nutrition, as well as the health and nutrition of her children, are impacted by her time use, energy expenditure, and her access to and control over both productive resources and her household’s income. These three key pathways regularly interact and are not always linear. As shown in Figure 1, various agriculture livelihood investments and activities can improve access to food and health care at the household level, impact and be affected by the enabling environment surrounding the household, and ultimately affect the nutrition of women and children within those households.2

Figure 1. The conceptual pathways between agriculture and nutrition

Figure 1. The conceptual pathways between agriculture and nutrition

The conceptual pathways between agriculture and nutrition provide a useful tool for project designers and implementers to test their assumptions and determine whether their project interventions will reach and assist target populations in moving toward improved maternal and child nutrition. Through a landscape analysis of each of the 19 Feed the Future focus countries, SPRING determined that many Feed the Future portfolios prioritized spending on agriculture interventions, with the proportion of nutrition-focused spending and interventions being significantly smaller.

woman selling food at market
Photo by Judiann McNulty, SPRING

In practice, this has indicated that large value chain projects often include a smaller nutrition component that promotes nutrition-specific messaging and education coupled with home garden interventions. These parallel, nutrition-oriented interventions are intended to increase home consumption of diverse foods or provide an opportunity for families to increase earnings as they sell their surplus production in local markets. Usually, a significantly larger value chain component targets staple crops (such as maize or rice), high-value export food crops (such as horticulture or nuts), or nonfood exports (such as coffee or handicrafts). It is necessary to examine these value chains in order to incorporate interventions that can potentially further nutrition-sensitive agriculture outcomes or support other nutrition-specific programming.

Applying Pathways Thinking to Value Chains and Food Systems

vegetables displayed at market
Photo by Judiann McNulty, SPRING

The conceptual pathways described above reflect the relationships among determinants of nutrition-sensitive agriculture within the household. Yet the agriculture sector encompasses a far greater sphere than agriculture producer households. The food and agriculture system also is comprised of people and institutions that are involved in the consumption, disposal, marketing, processing, and production of food, and includes inputs and outputs at each step. Economic, sociopolitical, and technological environments are also associated with the food system. These environments are separate from households, but also envelop households and their members, as households and their individual members are part of the food system. Food system activities affect the availability and affordability of food for all food consumers, including producer households, as well as the demand for diverse and nutritious foods. The food system also impacts the natural resource environment; the health, water, and sanitation environment; and the knowledge and norms surrounding nutrition and health.

The three starting points in the pathways diagram (production, income, and empowerment) represent outcomes of agricultural commodity value chains functioning within the larger food system. Improvements can be made to enhance nutrition outcomes of the value chain activities, regardless of the selected crop’s nutrition content. For each stage of the value chain3 and food system—inputs, production, processing, storage, retail, consumption, and waste and recycling (Figure 2)—a number of opportunities may exist to enhance nutrition sensitivity.

Figure 2. Key stages of an agricultural commodity value chain and food system

Figure 2. Key stages of an agricultural commodity value chain and food system

The sections below explain how a range of interventions may be considered or altered to become more nutrition-sensitive. Interventions may take place at all levels, not solely within households. Many interventions reflect and emphasize the importance of implementing well-planned behavior change and capacity building interventions. Describing activities funded under Feed the Future, the presented examples do not comprise a complete set of possible strategies or interventions. Rather, the collection was assembled to describe how food systems may mitigate underlying contributors to undernutrition before outcomes from agricultural activities are realized. These examples are presented in the order that they appear among the key stages of an agricultural commodity value chain and food system.

Sample Nutrition-Sensitive Interventions Along the Value Chain and in the Food System


  • Introducing labor-saving technologies can decrease the amount of time spent on farming activities and allow more time for other project-promoted activities, such as child care. Labor-saving technologies include drip irrigation, integrated pest management, and mulch. Often, these technologies save money as well as time while simultaneously promoting production outcomes.
  • Sowing improved seeds for food and/or cash crops may increase production of plants that are more nutritious or more resistant to pests or diseases. The additional production may then be consumed by families as part of an improved diet, or sold by families, therefore increasing the household income. A decision to cultivate one or more biofortified crops results in an increased amount of nutritious foods available in markets and potentially mitigates micronutrient deficiencies within a population target area, making this practice is an example of a nutrition-sensitive agriculture intervention.


  • Promotion of the use of improved agricultural practices such as pruning, shade management, spacing, and timing of planting contributes to increased crop production. Capacity building on such topics may enable smallholder producers to maximize the potential of the resources they do have, allowing them—without a large additional investment—to produce more and, ideally, to earn more from their production in a way that sustains the natural resource base on which farmers depend for their livelihood. Use of sustainable agricultural practices does not guarantee a direct contribution to the nutrition of producer households. However, coupling promising agricultural production practices with financial support programs and behavior change education may result in improved household nutrition. Financial support programs could focus on household budgeting instruction and increased access to financial or social protection services, both of which assist in smoothing seasonal income fluctuations. Education focused on behavior change could encourage improved food purchase and consumption practices, promote a more diverse and nutritious diet, possibly resulting in improved household nutrition.
  • Using greenhouses or other controlled environments may permit crop diversification or the extension of growing seasons. Such activities should promote consumption of the range of crops being grown (most often vegetables), thereby increasing the diversity of foods available for consumption in producer households and for purchase in markets. This practice also creates new markets for farmers, decreases oversaturation of one or two products in markets, and provides year-round cash flow and availability of food to small farmers. Due to the intensification of production that is possible in controlled-environment systems, greenhouse technologies may also decrease time demands on women, therefore increasing the time available to care for their children.
  • Promotion of good soil and water management practices, a requirement for sustainable production, may include nutrition-sensitive agriculture messages such as retention of micronutrients in the soil and ensuring safe water use to avoid harm to the health of people and animals. Soil conservation practices can maintain nutrients in soil and in foods, as well as increase production. Additionally, sustaining soil health could allow farmers to produce on limited land over the long term, increasing farmers’ resilience. Sustainable management of forests, soils, and water sources would contribute to safe food and water sources, decrease erosion, help sustain production, and protect water sources.
  • Intercropping diversifies production and may expand local and international market opportunities, as well as increase household consumption of a diversity of nutritious foods while helping to conserve soil. Intercropping may also decrease the need for separate plots for home gardens, which are often abandoned due to insufficient land, time, or water.
  • Practices aimed at decreasing the prevalence of aflatoxins4 are critical along multiple stages of the value chain and production. Improved cropping, drying, harvesting, and storage practices, as well as switching to crops or foods less prone to aflatoxin contamination, have the potential to decrease levels of aflatoxin in foods consumed by humans and animals. These decreased levels of aflatoxins in foods would improve human health and nutrition outcomes.

Processing and Storage

  • Processing at the cooperative level rather than at the household level contributes to quality control and can create local jobs, especially jobs for women, who may lack access to sufficient land to support year-round food production. Cooperative-level processing could also decrease water use and improve the environment. Contaminated water and waste can be safely broken down and reused as fertilizer rather than permitted to run off into streams and other water sources. Furthermore, income-earning opportunities for cooperative members may expand due to the improvements in product quality and/or increased opportunities for value additions to products before their sale.
  • Packing horticulture products at the cooperative level could add value and ensure that products that do not meet buyer standards could remain with farmers and be sold in local markets or consumed at home. This would potentially increase the availability of nutrient-dense foods for households.
  • Developing a local market for horticultural crops that do not meet export quality standards could facilitate the establishment of microenterprise, which would create local jobs and expand the diversity of nutritious food available locally. Linking efforts for product development and social and behavior change communication could build the local demand for the new products. This demand could incentivize producers to diversify production, and could motivate the creation of markets for products rejected by export buyers.

Marketing and Retailing

  • Expanding the number of domestic and international buyers could increase demand and consequently the scale of production and the number of farmers able to participate. Such expansion may create a broader range of potential markets as well as new incentives and income opportunities. In the case of nutrient-rich crops, such incentives to production may also be accompanied by messages promoting consumption of these foods.
  • Expanding local demand could relieve saturated export markets and extend the season for producers, which would improve year-round food availability and access for producer households, as well as the availability and diversity of nutritious foods in local markets for consumers.
  • Creating links to local and municipal markets could help increase the availability of and access to diverse nutritious foods throughout the year.


  • While income is a key incentive to the roles played by the range of food system actors, encouraging better consumption practices may also contribute to increases in income. More nutritious consumption practices would expand markets by increasing demand for more nutritious foods. Education on dietary diversity, feeding and food preparation, healthy foods, and hygiene, can occur at cooperatives, health centers, households, schools, and other locations to engage stakeholders and encourage adoption of improved dietary practices. Advertising or behavior change communication campaigns could also promote better spending and consumption practices.
  • Designing a strategy to influence what people purchase in local shops could create demand for more nutritious, locally produced products and improve dietary diversity.
  • Techniques for preserving horticulture products could increase year-round horticulture consumption by facilitating the storage of fruits and vegetables, which have a short shelf life. This storage facilitates consumption of a more diverse diet for an extended portion of the year. Such value addition would also provide new income opportunities for those who may process and sell these preserved products.
  • Targeted messages about not using irrigation water as a source of drinking water could improve human health in communities.


  • Technical support for composting waste materials with probiotics could reduce the time needed for decomposition, improve environmental and human health, and save money for producer households.
  • Ensuring a plan for safe disposal of agricultural waste materials (such as empty fertilizer containers, plastic mulch sheeting, and irrigation tubing) could preserve both environmental and human health. For example, safe disposal of empty pesticide containers and community-wide messaging related to the health hazards associated with pesticide usage could help deter communities’ use of pesticide-contaminated containers to store drinking water or food, which would improve residents’ health.

Guatemala Case Study

Rurual Value Chains Projects

Implemented by AGEXPORT and ANACAFE in Guatemala, both RVCP activities focus on coffee, horticulture, and handicrafts value chains, with a primary objective of increasing the incomes of smallholder farmers.

To better understand how and where linkages to nutrition may be leveraged within agricultural value chain programming, SPRING sought to gain a comprehensive understanding of two USAID-funded value chain activities in Guatemala, and explored ways in which these value chains could increase their relative nutrition-sensitivity. Both activities are Rural Value Chains Projects (RVCPs) and are implemented by two different consortia, Asociación Guatemalateca de Exportadores (AGEXPORT) and the Asociación Nacional del Café (ANACAFÉ).


A Word About Trainings

Trainings to improve knowledge and skills are recommended along many stages of the value chain as a way of promoting nutritionsensitive agriculture. To ensure that trainings do no harm, it is critical that they consider environmental and social factors and other demands on participants’ time and energy. Linking training to access to and use of new technologies may be one way to enhance nutrition-sensitive agriculture outcomes.

Chronic malnutrition rates in Guatemala have remained stubbornly high, and with 54 percent of children under the age of five years being moderately to severely stunted, the country ranks third-highest in the world for undernutrition (UNICEF 2009). Among rural and indigenous children in Guatemala, stunting rates nationally are 59 and 66 percent, respectively. These rates of stunting reach even higher levels in some regions of the Feed the Future zone of influence, which includes 30 municipalities in five departments of the Western Highlands: Totonicapán, San Marcos, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, and Quiché (Feed the Future 2011). As part of its effort to confront the challenge of undernutrition, the Government of Guatemala is implementing a multisectoral response through its Zero Hunger strategy and donor support from the Feed the Future initiative.

In Guatemala, Feed the Future applies the value chain approach to transition families out of poverty and improve both their incomes and access to food. Complemented by improved access to health services, access to potable water, and comprehensive hygiene and nutrition education, agricultural value chain activities are expected to result in poverty reduction and improved nutrition for the targeted population.

Activity Descriptions

USAID designed the RVCPs around income-generation interventions focused on coffee, handicrafts, and horticulture value chains in Guatemala’s Western Highlands. Awarded as two separate activities, the RVCPs are implemented by AGEXPORT, ANACAFÉ, and their subcontractors. RVCPs are expected “to improve household access to food by expanding and diversifying rural income and to contribute to improve the nutritional status of families benefited under this program” (USAID Guatemala 2011). This is to be accomplished by “expanding the participation of poor rural households in productive value chains, and linking these chains to local, regional, and international markets” (USAID Guatemala 2011). Tables 1 and 2 provide an overview of the two activities.

Table 1. Rural Value Chains Project—AGEXPORT

Period of PerformanceMay 2012–May 2017
Geographic Region12 municipalities in Quiché, Totonicapán, and Quetzaltenango
Target Value ChainsCoffee, handicrafts, and horticulture
Total BudgetUS$23 million
ObjectiveIncrease incomes of rural families in the selected municipalities by increasing their participation in the target value chains.

RVCP AGEXPORT plans to work with 140 rural value chains (85 focused on horticulture, 25 on coffee, 30 on handicrafts) focusing on the following six components:

  • Improving value chain competitiveness
  • Increasing participation in these value chains
  • Improving agriculture productivity
  • Expanding markets and commercialization with private sector participation
  • Increasing the productivity of crops grown for home consumption and improve food utilization
  • Improving competiveness of the handicrafts value chain

Additionally, the activity has five cross-cutting themes, including cultural identity, environmental sustainability, gender, knowledge management, and rural financial services.

* AGEXPORT 2012.

Table 2. Rural Value Chains Project—ANACAFÉ

Period of PerformanceMay 2012–May 2017
Geographic Region18 municipalities in Huehuetenango and San Marcos
Target Value ChainsCoffee, handicrafts, and horticulture
Total BudgetUS$27 million
ObjectiveReduce poverty and malnutrition by increasing incomes of small producers who participate in the value chains. Generate behavior change so that the increases in income are sustainable and lead to improvements in nutritional status of beneficiary households over the short, medium, and long term.

RVCP ANACAFÉ plans to work with approximately 102 cooperatives (60 involved in coffee, 26 in horticulture, 16 in handicrafts) focusing on the following five components:

  • Improving value chain competitiveness
  • Increasing participation in these value chains
  • Improving agriculture productivity
  • Increasing the productivity of crops grown for home consumption and improve food utilization
  • Improving competiveness of the handicrafts value chain

Additionally, the project has five cross-cutting themes, including education and capacity building, business development, financial services, communications, and links with local and national government.

* ANACAFÉ 2012.

Methodology and Data Collection Tools

SPRING conducted field visits and consultations with a range of stakeholders, including implementing partner staff, input suppliers and buyers, and producer cooperative members. During these interactions, SPRING aimed to identify opportunities along the three specific commodity value chains of coffee, green beans, and handicrafts to reduce or mitigate the underlying causes of undernutrition. SPRING used the pathways diagram (Figure 1) as a framework to organize its findings and provide recommendations based on where current RVCP interventions are situated relative to the pathways diagram.

The study included a document review, focus group discussions, and key informant interviews. Primary data collection consisted of key informant interviews with the staff of AGEXPORT and ANACAFÉ as well as with nutrition partners Fundación de la Caficultura para El Desarrollo Rural (FUNCAFÉ) and Instituto de Nutrición de Centroamérica y Panamá (INCAP). Individual interviews were also conducted with buyers and suppliers to the surveyed cooperatives. Focus group discussions were held with farmer and producer cooperatives, especially those for the coffee and green bean value chain activities. Documents reviewed included activity monitoring plans, requests for applications, and work plans. This review provided the investigators with a comprehensive overview of project goals, interventions, methods, and monitoring strategies. The document review also provided clarity on geographic targeting, as well as how the activities intended to complete both the agricultural and nutritional components of their work. Appendix 2 provides a schedule of the interviews.

SPRING developed key informant interview guides for the various stakeholders. Key questions related to the following themes5:

  • What do the target value chains look like: What markets do they reach? Who are the involved stakeholders? What is the enabling environment?
  • How do the two activities support the value chains: What interventions do they include? What technologies are they introducing? What types of training and capacity building are employed? What support mechanisms are present along the value chain? How does activity support fit into food, health, and market systems? What is the activity measuring to know whether interventions are on track?
  • What have the various stakeholders witnessed in their own lives with respect to income, production, food security, empowerment, health, or livelihoods since beginning to participate in the activity?

Value Chain Selection

For this study, SPRING and the implementing partners worked with three specific value chain commodities in coffee, handicrafts, and horticulture. An assumption underlying the selection of these value chain commodities was that due to the strong export market for these commodities, efforts to strengthen each step of the value chain would result in improved income for the range of actors involved, especially for smallholder producers or home-based artisans. It was further assumed that an increase in income would contribute to an improvement in nutritional status among participant households. In other words, the income-to-food and health services purchase pathways would be the primary avenues for linking agriculture to nutrition in these activities.

For horticulture, the export product of green beans was chosen because it is one of the two primary crops grown by a majority of AGEXPORT-supported producers. Two cooperatives in Quiché, Asociación Integral de Desarrollo Agrícola (AIDA) and Asociación Agros Ixil (Agros Ixil), were selected for participation in the activity due to their availability and size differences. Agros Ixil, in Santa Maria Nebaj, is the larger of the two, with 400 members, and is certified by GLOBALG.A.P. (GLOBALG.A.P. 2014). AIDA, in Cunen, is smaller, with 97 members and no certifications.6 The two cooperatives are further described in Table 3.

Table 3. Comparison of the AIDA and Agros Ixil Cooperatives

CharacteristicAsociacion Integral de Dearrollo Agricola (AIDA)7Asociacion Agros IxiL8
LocationCunen, QuichéSanta Maria Nebaj, Quiché
Number of members97 (30 of whom are women)400 (350 are active members, 75 of whom are women)
Land cultivated with green beans25.57 hectares8.69 hectares9
Green bean yield211.89 quintales/hectare10125.89 quintales/hectare
Price paid by buyers in quetzales (Q)Approximately Q367 per quintal (US$47.88 per 100 pounds)Approximately Q250 per quintal (US$32.62 per 100 pounds11)
CertificationNot certifiedGLOBAL G.A.P. certification12
Crops grown for export85% green beans and 15% peasMostly peas and some green beans
Other crops grownCorn and beans by all. Also about 30 members targeted for family plotsBeans and corn and small amount of carrots and potatoes13
Payment scheduleEvery two weeksProducers are paid once a year at the end of harvest; the buyer pays the cooperative every 15–21 days
IrrigationAll have irrigation; only 2% have drip irrigation60% have irrigation; about 18% have drip irrigation
BuyersSiesa buys 70%; Quatros Pinos and San Juan buy 30%.Siesa14

Table 4. Comparison of Cooperativa Integral Agrícola El Porvenir and Asociación Agrícola y de Dessarrollo Integral Bitenám

CharacteristicCooperative Integral Agricola el Porvenir15Asociacion Agricola y de Dessarrollo Integral Bitenam16
LocationJacaltenango, HuehuetenangoConcepción Huista, Huehuetenango
Number of members383 coffee-producing members (40 of whom are women)17370 members (135 of whom are women)
Average planted land per memberApproximately .7 hectares18Total area planted is 67.2 hectares, 32.2 of them certified organic
Average coffee yieldApproximately 12 quintales per farmerTotal production was 3,000 quintales in 2013, with 1,175 certified19
Price paid by buyersNo fixed price. In 2013, the average price was Q1,026 per quintal, with the cost of production at Q800 per quintalNo fixed price. In 2013, the average was Q850 per quintal for conventional coffee, with the cost of production at Q700 per quintal
CertificationCertified Fair Trade, Utz, Starbucks20Fair Trade and organic21
Other crops grownCorn and beansCorn and beans22; 42 members have family plots on which they cultivate additional crops
Payment scheduleOnce a year in MayRegularly throughout the season, with the last payment in May
IrrigationNot availablePANACAFÉ provides drip irrigation for 42 family gardens
BuyersThe cooperative sells to a federation and the federation finds the buyersCoffee Atlas and Café Import

Coffee was selected because it is the primary focus crop for ANACAFÉ and is the crop with the highest earning potential for ANACAFÉ clients. Two coffee cooperatives in Huehuetenango—Cooperativa Integral Agrícola El Porvenir, in Jacaltenango, and Asociación Agrícola y de Dessarrollo Integral Bitenám, in Concepción Huista—were selected by ANACAFÉ due to the cooperatives’ availability. Table 4 shows the two cooperatives’s characteristics.

The handicrafts value chain is a smaller focus for both of the RVCP activities and represents a new source of nonagricultural income with high levels of demand. AGEXPORT selected one handicrafts cooperative, COPITEM, which was also chosen because of its availability.23

At each cooperative, SPRING conducted focus group interviews with members of the board of directors, member producers, RVCP technicians (both agriculture and nutrition), and, in some cases, representatives from the largest buyer, Siesa. SPRING also met with staff from The Mayan Store, one of the handicrafts buyers in Guatemala City.


SPRING spoke with a variety of stakeholders from both the RVCP staff and the three main value chain categories. However, the sample size was small and the selection was based partly on availability and location. During SPRING meetings, a number of producers remained relatively quiet and did not answer many questions. Absence of active participation from producers could be due to a lack of fluency, as the conversations were in Spanish, which is not the native language for all participants, or because the discussions were in groups rather than one-on-one. Individual interviews, with translators present, may have drawn deeper information from producers. Additionally, one assumption going into the work—that producers would be earning additional income tangible in their daily lives—proved not to be true, for both coffee and horticulture value chain participants. As a result, some questions were not relevant, and the team reconceptualized some of its initial goals.


The findings of this study reveal opportunities to incorporate nutrition-sensitive agriculture thinking and interventions across the RVCP activities, as well as within the enabling environments of each commodity value chain. However, it is important to note that many specific findings were based on opinions voiced during focus group discussions and interviews, and did not emerge from a large-scale evaluation or research project.

Although the primary objective of both activities was to increase incomes for value chain participants, coffee and green bean producers reported that they had not perceived a noticeable increase in household income. SPRING was unable to obtain income-related monitoring data; therefore, it is not known whether these households experienced an actual increase in income. On the other hand, handicrafts producers perceived increased earnings and identified an impact on household investments and priorities. Additionally, green bean and coffee producers in the participating cooperatives are paid annually, at the end of the harvest, which might influence their recall and perception. For year-round cash flow, many producers reported relying on loans from the cooperatives, with interest rates of approximately 18 percent.

The horticulture activities lack a standardized set of messages about best agricultural practices, although each cooperative staffs technicians who are available to provide trainings and support farmers. The technicians noted that with improved techniques, production on the currently cultivated land could significantly increase. There is not significant incentive for increasing production of green beans, however, as the green bean market is saturated. Following the 2013 harvest, producers destroyed a portion of their crop, as they did not have buyers who could purchase all of it. Nonetheless, cooperatives did not appear to have a plan to diversify either their buyers or the types of crops that they are producing. Small greenhouses were identified as an opportunity to grow new crops, such as asparagus, which are demanded by their buyers. Technologies such as coffee pulpers and dryers that would allow producers to process crops at the cooperative level were noted as methods to ensure consistent quality and avoid waste. However, these technologies were not widely available, nor were the methods promoted or requested by the farmers.

The technologies promoted in cooperatives are limited. AGEXPORT encourages green bean producers to use plastic mulch sheeting. Incorporating this practice decreases the need for weeding, but there is not a strategy for safe disposal of the plastic. A drip irrigation component, introduced in some green bean cooperatives, reaches only a small percentage of producers: 2 percent in one cooperative, and 18 percent in another. Technologies or interventions focused on decreasing women’s workload or the number of hours a day that women work are not included in project activities.

Most of the cooperatives do not process products on-site. Green beans are collected by the buyer and sorted at a factory, with the rejected portion destroyed. The few cooperatives that process horticultural products at the cooperative level did not participate in this study. Coffee producers complete most of their own drying and pulping at home. In 2013, a percentage of the crop was lost because coffee fermented when a rainy harvest season made it impossible for farmers to dry the beans.

The value chains have few, if any, links to local markets. Although horticulture cooperative members noted demand for horticulture products, farmers believe that local markets do not pay well. Farmers prefer to grow products with a buyer who will guarantee prices and pay freight costs. Producers mentioned that they keep some of their crop to consume at home. Additionally, there seems to be interest in the home garden component that both activities promote for home consumption, but many producers lack sufficient land or water to grow everything they consume at home, and instead prioritize export crops.

Members of every cooperative interviewed identified soil erosion and deforestation as one of the greatest challenges facing local farmers and communities. Water availability over the long term is another concern. Participants from primary buyer Siesa mentioned that the main motivation for working with cooperatives located a significant distance from their factory is the cooperatives’ access to community water sources for irrigation, as community water sources are lacking in many areas close to Guatemala City. None of the cooperatives has a strategy in place to address the challenges of deforestation, lack of water, or soil erosion.

Although handicrafts comprise the smallest value chain, the AGEXPORT activity is revitalizing handicrafts traditions that had nearly disappeared in the Western Highlands. This revitalization has resulted in new jobs for young people and an additional source of regular income. Unlike horticulture producers, handicrafts producers are unable to meet demand and are learning to create high-quality products. The potential for growth is large, and a ready market exists. A business plan that includes a cost structure is needed, as RVCP activities have not calculated projections for linking improved production capacity, costs, and markets. Previously, producers have been forced to incur a loss when selling products, as they were unaware of production costs when initially accepting the work.

Nutrition-Sensitive Opportunities Along the Value Chain

The following section discusses opportunities to improve nutrition sensitivity that are highlighted in the above findings.


There is an excellent opportunity for producers to utilize technologies and improved inputs that will improve resiliency, increase productivity, and save time. For example:

  • Drip irrigation technology could increase yields and save time if fertilizers were added to water.
  • Building greenhouses would allow producers to diversify crops, expand the growing season, and increase agricultural earning potential and availability of diverse crops for home consumption.
  • Because all farmers grow corn and beans for home consumption, use of improved or biofortified seeds could lead to production of more resilient or more nutritious crops.
  • Expanded testing of coffee varieties could increase resilience for producer households, which would combat the decimation of coffee production due to the coffee rust plague.


Both coffee and green bean producers stated that enhanced agricultural practices would increase their yields, therefore maximizing their potential resources and facilitating an increase in farmers’ earnings and consumption in a sustainable way. Coupled with additional interventions, production methods can be nutrition-sensitive. For example, improved production methods can lead to increased income. If education around improved production methods were paired with lessons in farm budget management and financial services, farmers could make informed spending decisions with this additional income. Similarly, improved production methods can lead to decreased time and labor demands. If education around social protection were paired with education in improved farming methods, the increase of time and decrease of labor demands could lead to women’s empowerment. Producers and cooperative leaders noted a lack of knowledge and capacity in regard to training methods. Therefore, both AGEXPORT and ANACAFÉ may consider increasing their emphasis on basic training around improved agricultural practices as a central component of their work plans. New elements or practices that could be promoted include:

  • Improved crop management practices such as shade management and pruning of coffee plants, or more efficient spacing and timing of planting green bean seedlings. These practices increase yields and provide farmers with more crops to sell, therefore increasing their income. If the promotion of these improved crop management practices were paired with education on the use of the farmer’s income, farmers’ nutrition-sensitive practices may increase. Example improved spending behaviors affecting nutrition-sensitive practices include:
    • Increased purchase and consumption of nutrient-rich foods by producer households
    • Saved income through safe-savings mechanisms to ensure that funds are available for regular and emergency health care
    • Investment in labor or time-saving technologies that protect the health and well-being of women
  • Incorporating intercropping and improved crop rotations to help producers expand market opportunities, conserve soil, and improve household consumption of a diversity of nutritious foods. Intercropping or crop rotation could also enable families to continue planting family plots that they have had to leave fallow due to insufficient land, water, or time.
  • Introducing improved water and soil management practices, such as agroforestry, to mitigate erosion. These practices can also help maintain nutrients in the soil, which studies have shown can improve nutrient density in crops for consumption. More efficient use of limited water would also help sustain and protect water sources, thereby contributing to safe food and water sources.
  • Ensuring safe storage and application of agricultural chemicals to avoid harmful health effects, especially among women, infants, and children, in communities and minimizing runoff into public water sources.

Processing and Storage

Processing at the cooperative level is a potential opportunity for both green bean and coffee producers. A few examples and suggestions for cooperative-level processing and storage follow:

  • Empowering cooperatives to take on more of the post-harvest and presale processing activities, such as sorting and grading, so that rejected green beans could remain in the communities for sale in local markets or home consumption, rather than be destroyed.
  • Leveraging excess or diversified production to create new value-added products to sell in local markets. Formative research to determine types and sizes of packaging that may encourage local purchase of nutritious horticultural commodities could increase producers’ income-earning opportunities. These new products could generate employment opportunities, especially for women, the landless, and members of female-headed households.
  • Bulk drying and pulping of coffee during wet seasons could decrease waste caused by fermentation. An added benefit to this practice would be the decrease of processing wastewater runoff into local streams. This runoff pollutes water sources that are used for household consumption.

Marketing and Retailing

Marketing and retailing practices create opportunities for improved nutrition at the community and household levels within the horticulture value chain. A few examples of marketing and retailing practices that could impact nutrition habits include:

  • Expanding and diversifying the number of domestic and international buyers to improve farmers’ bargaining power and reduce producers’ risk. This expansion and diversification would also allow producers to contribute to the availability of more diverse and affordable nutritious foods in local markets as products that may not meet export standards could be well suited for local consumption or small-scale processing activities.
  • Tapping into local markets to increase both producer earnings and the availability of diverse foods. A business plan detailing the costs of pursuing a wider diversity of buyers and markets would demonstrate whether producers would find targeting these markets profitable.
  • Dissemination of simple messages focused on the importance of purchasing and consuming healthier foods. This dissemination would aim to launch a movement or campaign toward healthier diets and could occur via businesspeople, local leaders, mass media, and shopkeepers.


Home gardening, coupled with nutrition education for targeted beneficiaries, is the only intervention currently aimed at improving consumption practices. This intervention is especially important to coffee producers, who may have a limited amount of land available for food crop production. However, diet and consumption practices could be improved through a variety of methods. A few options for facilitating this improvement include:

  • The development of a strategy to increase local demand for nutritious foods. For instance, local business people and leaders could model consumption of nutritious foods while creating local market opportunities. This could make healthy foods more affordable, and thus improve dietary diversity among community members.
  • Increase household participation in home gardening, and encourage local sales of surplus production to enhance household dietary diversity and boost the proportion of household income controlled by women.
  • Expand messaging that promotes proper consumption and feeding practices, especially among households with children. Producer cooperatives, processors, and other businesses operating within any given value chain could facilitate the establishment of policies and practices that maximize women’s time and enhance their ability to care for very young children. For example, businesses could provide on-site child care services as well as the time and space for breastfeeding infants and feeding young children.


In the target areas, awareness of environmental pollution and the effects of agricultural inputs and practices on the health and safety of the natural resource base is low. Waste management is a key concern, and producers should capitalize on opportunities for improvement. For example:

  • Probiotics could be used to expedite waste materials’ composting process. Waste materials produced from coffee processing are a problematic regional pollutant. Probiotics would reduce the time needed for decomposition and the demand for chemical fertilizers. Technical assistance on the use of probiotics could improve target areas’ environmental health and save money for producers.
  • Creating a plan for the safe disposal of plastic mulch sheeting as a key production practice would contribute to the maintenance of environmental health.


More evidence and practical examples are needed to enhance opportunities to make value chain activities more nutrition-sensitive. Promisingly, Feed the Future projects include a number of value chain activities that can be studied to test assumptions and identify better practices and opportunities for improvement in such efforts. There is still a lack of clarity around what the roles and responsibilities of value chain activities should be in terms of nutrition outcomes, as well as what the value chains should measure and how. Instead of funding activities with separate streams for agriculture and nutrition interventions, the opportunity exists for more multisectoral work that improves the nutrition sensitivity of any value chain, regardless of the commodity’s nutritional content. Good agriculture practices can be nutrition-sensitive in and of themselves and can yield increased production of diverse foods, improved soil and environmental health, increased incomes for male and female producers, and more time available for mothers to spend caring for their families.

Although reaching households is important for achievement of maternal and child nutrition results, opportunities for linkages to nutrition need to be considered well before reaching the household level. Identification of nutrition-sensitive actions to be performed by the range of actors and organizations within any given target value chain—from input suppliers to processers and buyers—as a part of activity design ensures a strengthened enabling environment for nutrition improvements at the household and individual levels.

For value chain activities to achieve the most nutrition-sensitive outcomes, they need to increase production and income for producer households. Furthermore, these activities should empower women by taking into account women’s control of resources, their time, and their energy expenditures. The opportunities described in this report provide possible leverage points for increasing nutrition sensitivity of the value chains and open the door for discussion of further developments for Guatemala and other Feed the Future country portfolios that will contribute to improved nutrition and agriculture outcomes.


1 In 2013, the United States announced that between 2012 and 2014, it anticipated spending more than US$1 billion on nutrition- specific interventions and more than US$8.6 billion on nutrition-sensitive interventions. As part of a comprehensive approach, Feed the Future integrates a wide array of these interventions into its programs

2 A short summary of the pathways is in Appendix 1. For more detail, see SPRING’s technical brief series.

3 Value chains end just before the end market, normally retail, as consumers are typically the end market. Consumption, post-consumer waste, and recycling, which usually occur after the retail stage, are not considered part of the value chain. Consumption, post-consumer waste, and recycling are, however, part of the food system, and therefore are included here.

4 Aflatoxins are a naturally occurring carcinogenic byproduct of common fungi on grains and other crops.

5 For the full questionnaires, see Appendix 3.

6 Obtaining certification is expected to increase the prices paid by buyers, raise the quality of production, and thus make cooperatives’ products more attractive to buyers.

7 AIDA. 2014. Interview with SPRING. September 3.

8 Agros Ixil. 2014. interview with SPRING. September 4.

9 Green beans are not the primary crop produced by Agros Ixil, accounting for the smaller number of hectares.

10 The numbers for “land cultivated with green beans” and “green bean yield” were provided from the monitoring data of AGEXPORT, not from the interviews. It is unclear from the interviews why AIDA, which is not certified, is producing a significantly larger quantity of green beans per hectare than Agros Ixil, which is not certified.

11 This is less than AIDA reported being paid, even though both cooperatives have the same buyer and Agros Ixil is certified and AIDA is not. It is unclear whether the lower figure is simply the result of AIDA’s reported payment being from buyer to the cooperative and Agros Ixil’s was from cooperative to producers.

12 G.A.P. stands for good agricultural practice; GLOBALG.A.P. is the worldwide standard that assures it. GLOBALG.A.P. sets voluntary standards for the certification of agricultural products around the globe and certifies those that comply.

13 Agros Ixil tried selling locally but did not have good results: Prices were not fixed prices locally and the quality of the products was not high enough to sell them in Guatemala City markets. Agros Ixil is significantly decreasing the acreage planted with these crops.

14 Siesa is one of Guatemala’s leading agro exporters, handling crops such as runner beans, string beans, green peas, garden peas, mangetout peas, fava beans, broccoli, and asparagus.

15 Cooperativa Integral Agrícola El Porvenir. 2014. Interview with SPRING. September 5.

16 Asociación Agrícola y de Dessarrollo Integral Bitenám. 2014. Interview with SPRING. September 8.

17 Nearly 200 additional members of the cooperative receive credit but are not producers.

18 During the interview this was given in manzanas, with approximately 1 manzana planted per farmer and a total of 96 manzanas planted, with 46 of them certified organic.

19 This was 50 percent less than the previous year due to coffee rust.

20 The only premium is 6 cents per pound for the Fair Trade certification.

21 It costs Q80,000 each year to maintain certifications: an additional US$130 per quintal (US$40 for Fair Trade and US$90 for organic).

22 AIDA used to have buyers for broccoli and carrots but stopped producing these crops because of high shipping costs: the markets for exports are too far away, and local markets do not pay enough.

23 Unable to reach COPITEM because of strikes, SPRING met with one of its producers and its handicrafts coordinator and specialist in Guatemala City. COPITEM is located in Momostenango, Totonicapán, and has 52 members, 32 of them women.


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