Like many in Virginia Tech’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Jessica Agnew, a first year PhD student, is searching for ways to address today’s economic and development challenges by confronting business and health issues in developing countries.

“My work focuses on engaging the private sector in addressing malnutrition; specifically, micro-nutrient deficiencies,” said Agnew.

Agnew will deliver a presentation at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) technical advisory meeting in Washington, D.C. on November 10th. The presentation will cover methodology on consumer segmentation and poverty indices. 

In addition to presenting at the advisory meeting, Agnew was asked to collaborate with other food systems, sociology, markets, and policy experts to develop a framework for GAIN’s upcoming case study series.

“It is impressive that a graduate student was invited to participate in this sort of event,” affirmed professor Kevin Boyle, Agnew’s PhD advisor. “Agnew’s previous work abroad gave her valuable experience in assessing the ability for businesses to deliver nutritious foods to low-income markets.”

Last November Agnew worked with GAIN on their Marketplace program in Kenya talking to business owners and other stakeholders to discover how businesses could be structured to achieve overall scale and sustainability.

“Getting businesses to this point is a complex process,” stated Agnew. “How can you make business models work to reduce micro-nutrient deficiencies? Are consumers actually consuming enough to reverse micronutrient deficiencies? Are nutrient-dense foods actually able to make it to those who need it most?”

GAIN’s research is among the first to address these questions and the objective of the advisory meeting will be to refine the approach in answering these questions.

“I’ve seen examples of businesses succeed in bringing nutritious food to lower income consumers,” said Agnew. “It’s just a matter of figuring out how to make the market work in such a way to reduce high rates of micronutrient deficiencies.”



Jillian Broadwell