Case Study

Behavioral Economics and Global Nutrition


According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition contributes to about one third of all child deaths. Maternal and child malnutrition account for more than 10% of the global burden of disease.


To address this problem, the Center for Advanced Hindsight partnered with the Gates Foundation to work directly with HarvestPlus, an organization that addresses hunger around the world. The collaboration included a behavioral marketing survey, focus group research, and exploratory research in Uganda and Rwanda.


We identified behavioral challenges facing HarvestPlus, stemming from the irrationalities of farmers, customers, and policymakers. For example, we noticed that iron-rich beans are bigger, more attractive, and taste better than most other beans and are therefore welcomed by consumers. Since there is demand for it, farmers should be motivated to grow and release beans into the market. However, farmers want to protect their niches in this new business model and might not be motivated to share their experiences of how to work with HarvestPlus and to introduce iron-rich beans to other farmers. This impedes expansion of supply. The Center offered advice on implicit hindrance of word-of-mouth communication, failure of adherence, and short-sightedness of policymaking.

Why it matters

The global problem of malnutrition is not merely a problem of getting nutritious food to people around the world. It is also a about fostering support of local governments to make it work. Any organization focused on alleviating world hunger should consider the different behavioral factors highlighted in this research and take action to address these hindrances accordingly.