ECHOcommunity Conversations

Human Nutrition Discussion

As an ECHO network member studying human nutrition, I definitely think this category should exist and hope to see the conversation expand further!

For one, I would be very interested to learn about and connecting with network members doing work in human nutrition.

While the very core of ECHO has historically been agriculture, nutrition represents the link between human health and agriculture science, and warrants careful examination in its own right. In this way, conversations around human nutrition uniquely contribute toward sustainable community development and human flourishing. Failing to consider human nutrition needs may lead to shortfalls in otherwise thoughtful projects.

My hope is that members doing work in nutrition might be able to use this space to discuss work, research, and questions pertaining human nutrition, particularly as it relates to agriculture. I would love to hear if others are interested in this sort of conversation, as well.


This is a conversation I would definitely like to be part of!

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Hi Rebecca - thank you for bringing this topic to everyone’s attention. This is often the most difficult thing to do. I am in Cuba and we have a couple of women working in the house. One who has been here for about 8 years is now eating many more vegetables as she helps prepare vegetarian food, and many different dishes which expand both her knowledge and her taste - her husband loves our veggie food and is a willing guinea pig for new recipes. The other young woman with two young children has rejected all overtures to send home leftovers (actually just extra food made in case she will take it) or to learn how to use veggies in different ways. We have now an increasing amount of vegetables and fruit again - but it will take more than that to get Cubans to include green stuff in their meals!

So this is not just a question of growing great food - but how to get people to eat it! Traditional dishes with vegetables have disappeared since the 60’s when mom went out to work and was too busy to teach daughter how to cook! And this is everywhere. And families have lost the knowledge of storing food, making things that will last like pickles, jams, frozen veggies. With no prepared foods families often resort to the basics - rice and more rice and beans (and we lost most of our bean crop this year to a marauding bug) and may be boniato or malanga! Sign me “worried in Cuba”

Yes I agree that it is essential that the link is made between food production & human nutrition. Our food production systems need to be developed around meeting the nutritional needs of the family. But it is very difficult to introduce new foods into the local diet. For example we are seeking to promote vegetable gardening for the Badjao sea people in the Philippines. They do not usually eat vegetables as highlighted at a recent training event where the people picked out the very small amount of vegetable added to their lunch and wouldn’t eat it. Is it just time and education that is needed to be able to see these changes in diet?

Great to get some responses, thanks Dawn, Kate, and Donald.

These are already some great discussion points. Nutrition obviously relates to behavior as well, which Kate and Donald brought up so well. Your description of experiences in Cuba reminded me of the US, Kate, and the ways that “foodway” practices are translated (or lost) from generation to generation. Where there is knowledge around traditional dishes and vegetable preparation that are culturally rooted, designing growing spaces for optimal human health is much easier.

Have any of you found any resources to help you as you think about behavior change? I’ve always found organizations like Gardens for Health International quite helpful (, but I’d like to do some more research on the topic, myself.

Thanks, Rebecca, for the reminder about Gardens for Health. Here is a recent blog from CultivateAbundance that also speaks to your discussion.

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Yes! Agriculture to nourish the body and soul — nutrition, the link between agriculture and health. Could not agree more. This conversation needs to happen. There are considerable barriers to diet change, but hand in hand with agriculture training it is possible. I’d be interested in others’ input and experience.


@Brad_Ward, We’d love to hear from you and Trish about your experience in promoting good nutrition.

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Hi Rebecca,

I think the Human Nutrition conversation category has significant merit. The lack of protein is especially troublesome in much of the least developed world. Having a place to discuss specifics would be of great benefit!

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Hi all, just wanted to share this open-access literature review that compiles 44 peer reviewed publications pertaining to “Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture” (NSA).

NSA might be defined by several different types of interventions, including women’s empowerment, biofortification, irrigation, supply-chains, etc. Perhaps the section of this paper most relevant for many of ECHO’s network members starts on page 131, section 3.1.2 “Homestead food production types of programs.”

On an individual scale, it’s easy to be discouraged when it comes to this sort of work. While it is hard to change an individual’s behavior, I’m struck by the ways that production diversity consistently translates into dietary diversity, and why home gardens are so critical in this effort. An opening paragraph in this study reads: “Overall, they find evidence that agricultural development programs that promote production diversity, micronutrient-rich crops (including biofortified crops), dairy, or small animal rearing can improve the production and consumption of targeted commodities, and some evidence that such improvements lead to increases in dietary diversity at the household and sometimes the maternal and child level.”

Protein has been mentioned already, and of course is very important. Are there key micronutrients of concern in the communities you work with, that you are aware of?

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Could not agree more this is a very important topic to discuss about. Zinc and iron deficiency are some concerns too. Wish to join the discussion

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Putting my name here so I get pinged.
@Kate_Daley thanks for the story to accompany
as small thoughts, I would suggest that reintroduction of vegetables starts with plants have have known benefits, used as medicine. Its not a big jump to say X controls my blood sugar and its “free to me.” and other plant uses following.
Use that foot in the door to remind people of their grandma and grandpa’s generation. The nostalgia and desire to return I think is a powerful tool. We’ve also seen in our area breastfeeding vs commercial replacer has an incredibly powerful comparison – makes me angry the greed we see playing out. I would say its a related microcosom.

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Hi Joel, In Cuba there is widespread use of natural medicine - doctors write scripts for chemicals or flowers! The problem principally is that Cubans are by preferance carnivores and don’t think vegetables are really food.

Kate Daley Cuba Beyond the Beaches Tours Real Cuba Jaguey
Tel in Cuba 53-22-659320

One strategy that often works when presenting a new idea is to start with what people already do and go from there. So what kinds of plants do Cubans use in the dishes they make? We lived in the Dominican Republic for 9 nine years and ate standard Dominican lunches most days. Typically there were salads of tomatoes and cabbage or lettuce, with a little grated carrot in there. In terms of the seasonings, the women who usually made our midday meal were open to including garlic chives as part of the seasoning. Throwing leafy greens into a meat sauce was also not a hard sell.

I also lived and worked in Haiti for seven years, “full time” and for about four years coming and going between the DR and Haiti. Haiti was easy because family already eat a diversity of greens. There it was a matter of intensifying the production and presenting a few additional options. Moringa was easy to promote in Haiti because it has gotten a lot of press internationally and they already used it occasionally as medicine/food. We were living in the DR when we heard that Fidel Castro was promoting moringa in Cuba and that made it wildly popular for a while in the DR.

Do people have a cow or a goat or a few sheep that they raise as a source of income for emergencies? Most of the leaves that are super nutritious for people are also super helpful with animal production. Cows, goats and sheep can benefit from eating things like moringa. Offspring often develop more rapidly and therefore reach market weights more quickly when their mothers are eating highly nutritious leaves. This is not a guaranteed connection between agriculture and human nutrition, but it is a way to validate the ways that people already feed themselves while offering small but significant and persistent improvements.

Thanks, Rebecca, for this topic. It’s an excellent discussion. And thank you for the .pdf article. There is also this article by #Cecilia Gonzalez about linkages between agriculture and nutrition:

Excellent blog post. Agriculture and nutrition imply so much!