The Nutrition Innovation Lab seeks to discover how investments in agriculture can be enhanced to accelerate gains in nutrition, and how policy and program interventions can more effectively integrated to cost-effectively achieve improvements in maternal and child nutrition at scale. It also pursues innovative research at the frontiers of biology and policy, such as exploring the links between aflatoxins and nutrition outcomes, the role of livestock promotion in enhancing diet quality, and the links between sanitation (open defecation practices) and nutrition outcomes. Combining resources from Uganda, US institutions, and global partners the research and capacity building activities of the Nutrition Innovation Lab focus on operationally and policy-relevant work that supports both national government and USAID priorities.
Nutrition Innovation Lab’s vision of success is a set of robust empirical findings that can be quickly translated into policy and practice. We aim for our work to support enhanced outcomes globally not just locally, as new findings are adopted nationally and regionally. Furthermore, we hope our research platform can synergistically help other research entities with related goals.
- A total of 21 students will have received Masters or Doctorate degrees with partial or full funding from the Nutrition Innovation Lab.
- 24 Ugandan students have attended the rigorous Boston to Bangalore Nutrition Collaborative (BBNC) training course in Bangalore India over the past four years with financial support from the lab.
- Many government officials have attended workshops and District Dissemination Meetings gaining capacity for designing and implementing nutrition programming. Our engagement with government officials have included both Local District Governments and Line Minisitries, ie. Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health.
- Forty professionals attended training on issues in public health nutrition, grant writing and research proposal development. This is emblematic of our support for career enhancing activities for Ugandan professionals, policy makers, and academics.
- The Nutrition Innovation Lab is working in collaboration with Makerere University to design and implement a modulated short course in Public Health Nutrition Practices and Programming aimed at filling in curricular gaps in the current set of educational offerings across Uganda. Through short courses students will be equipped to tackle nutritional issues in a multi-faceted and systematic way. These courses are being offered online with a customized version of Tufts University’s online learning system (TUSK), which is an open source platform for learning an content management.
Relationships have been forged with partners such as Makerere University, Gulu University, SPRING (Strengthening Partners, results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally), NASA, Heifer International (HI), UIC, IITA, UGA, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and FHI360. One set of Nutrition Innovation Lab’s core research revolves around the USAID Uganda Community Connector Project (UCCP), an integrated agriculture and nutrition intervention package implemented by FHI360. This includes the following activities:
- A comprehensive, repeated panel survey assessing agriculture, nutrition, and health pathways and providing evaluation data to UCCP. The survey was conducted at the end of 2012, and repeated at the end of 2014.
- A prospective birth cohort study to dis-entangle the nutrition or health gains of key target groups (e.g. pregnant women and infants). The birth cohort study is a ‘platform’ which can be used to assess top-rank hypotheses, like linking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) and mycotoxins (aflatoxin/ mold) to nutrition, while answering key questions on how and why integrated interventions may succeed. The cohort study began enrolling women in 2014.
- Process research to examine the implementation of multisectoral actions for good nutrition. This has included key informant interviews with central policy makers, and district administrations.
Additional activities in Uganda include
- The Nutrition Innovation Lab has supported a birth cohort study in Gulu which has examined food insecurity, depression, and other psycho-social factors which affect maternal and infant nutrition. This project has been run by Barnabus Natamba of Gulu University. Exposure to aflatoxin molds during pregnancy and early infancy is being assessed with the support of USAID/ East Africa.
- An analysis conducted by Kabunga Nassul, Ph.D., examined the relationship of household food insecurity, and anemia in women with fruit and vegetable production. This analysis found that fruit and vegetable production was linked to consumption and significantly less anemia in women of childbearing age. This is an example of concrete biologically plausible agriculture to nutrition pathway.
- The Nutrition Innovation Lab with UIC pilot validated an innovative water quality assessment test, the Aquagenx compartment bag test (ACBT). Use of the ACBT in the prospective birth cohort study will allow the Lab and UCCP to assess WASH (Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene) relating to under-nutrition and health.
- A secondary analysis utilizing a NASA dataset examined agricultural land use, biomass fuel and health. It examined the role of cooking fuels from agricultural land and forests in causing respiratory illness, which are linked to poor nutrition.
- Modeling the links of agriculture productivity to nutrition through the interaction of seasonality and climate variability with agricultural output and nutrition and how geography (agro-ecology, altitude, remoteness from markets) affects household outcomes is underway.
- The Nutrition Innovation Lab advocates for the need to examine the role of aflatoxin exposure in maternal and infant nutrition, has lead to an Associate Award to fund further analyses in the Ugandan studies.
- The Nutrition Innovation Lab in collaboration with the Nutrition Innovation Lab Asia facilitated a study of aflatoxin exposure and nutrition in Timor Leste partnering with the University of Jakarta (Indonesia), UNICEF in Timor Leste and the University of Georgia aflatoxin research laboratories (linked to the Peanut and Mycotoxin Innovation Lab).
- A series of dissemination seminars have been held at the national and district level over several years.
Bernard Bashaasha, PhD
Role: Principal Investigator, School of Agricultural Sciences, Makerere University
College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences