Dr Edward Joy will be the UK-science lead for the Centre’s project “Fruits and Vegetables for Sustainable Healthy Diets (FRESH)- Expanded Network with UK Partners (FRESH-EN UP)”. In this interview he discusses his scientific background, the focus of the research and how LSHTM will be collaborating with CGIAR on this project.
Edward Joy is Assistant Professor in the Nutrition Group at LSHTM. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at Rothamsted Research. His research focuses on improving nutrition outcomes through agriculture and food system interventions. Edward leads LSHTM’s contribution to the MAPS project, which is developing an online tool to improve access to data on micronutrient status of populations and food systems, and enables users to explore the potential effectiveness of different interventions in sub-Saharan Africa. He was co-lead investigator on the GeoNutrition project, informing strategies to alleviate micronutrient deficiencies (MNDs) primarily in Ethiopia and Malawi. Much of his work involves integrating and analysing large-scale spatial datasets. Sometimes his work is field-based, including implementation of the AHHA trial and, in previous projects, conducting agronomic trials and soil/crop sampling.
Q. What is your academic and professional background and how has it shaped your current thinking?
I am interested in identifying and using agricultural innovations and adaptations to improve nutrition outcomes and reduce health inequalities. As this is an inter-disciplinary topic I am fortunate to work with colleagues in my joint role at LSHTM and Rothamsted Research, with expertise spanning the domains of agriculture and public health.
My current thinking – including on the role of research and capacity exchange in tackling malnutrition – has been strongly influenced by the people I’ve worked with (supervisors, colleagues, collaborators, and students). The GeoNutrition (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01268-5) and Micronutrient Action Policy Support (MAPS) projects, with funding from the Gates Foundation and the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, have been particularly formative for me. These projects, which focus on micronutrient malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa, have been very intentional about building and sustaining equitable research partnerships, working in particular depth in Ethiopia and Malawi. It has been rewarding to see these partnerships translate into high impact research.
Q. What are your goals for this project?
The initial phase of this project focuses on partnership building, primarily between LSHTM, IFPRI and Sokoine University of Agriculture, where the latter two partners lead the FRESH initiative in Tanzania. The goal of the FRESH initiative is to improve nutrition through increased fruit and vegetable (F&V) consumption in rural Tanzania, particularly for nutritionally vulnerable population groups. We will use this partnership building phase to conduct preliminary research into underlying barriers to adequate F&V consumption, and to co-design intervention options. We will also work to build the sustainability of the partnership itself, including strengthening finance and administrative capacity.
Q. Why the focus on Tanzania?
Tanzania is one of the focus countries of the FRESH initiative, and this project will build from existing work and partnerships. Tanzania has achieved huge improvements in health and development over recent years, for example infant mortality has more than halved since 2000. However, malnutrition including micronutrient deficiencies remains a problem, with low average consumption of nutrient-dense foods including fruits and vegetables. 65% of households in Tanzania are directly involved in agriculture, mostly smallholder, rainfed crop production (agriculture that relies on rainwater), which is a precarious livelihood even before considering the challenges posed by climate change and price shocks.
Q. How will LSHTM’s previous work on this subject contribute to the project?
LSHTM is at the forefront of research and policy translation on the links between agriculture and nutrition, including through the Agriculture, Nutrition and Health Academy, and a growing collection of projects under the new Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health. The Nutrition Group have relevant expertise in food system and population nutritional assessment (for example the MAPS project), and in the co-design and evaluation of interventions to increase F&V consumption in low-income, rural contexts (for example the UPAVAN project). Recently, we’ve been working with the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre to support food fortification policy decisions through analysis of National Household Panel Survey data, and we look forward to continuing this collaboration.
Q. Why will collaboration between the scientific partners be so important on this project?
Each partner will bring a unique set of skills, experiences and perspectives to the project. We will devote time and energy to the collaboration process, as we want to build a sustainable and equitable partnership as the basis for future research activities.
Q. How do you see this project evolving over the next few years?
Our ambition is to work with national stakeholders in support of their nutrition and development priorities, particularly around enabling access to nutritious diets through sustainable and resilient agricultural production systems. While F&V consumption is our initial focus, we may in future consider complementary approaches to increase the nutritional quality of diets, including soil management and the use of ‘biofortified’ staple crops.