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Improving nutrition security through agriculture: an analytical framework based on national food balance sheets to estimate nutritional adequacy of food supplies


An analytical framework is described for assessing the nutritional adequacy of national food supplies and the potential for addressing micronutrient gaps by increased crop production and crop diversity. The micronutrient contents of national food supplies of three countries (Bangladesh, Senegal, and Cameroon) were estimated using data from national food balance sheets. Population-adjusted nutrient requirements and identified nutrient short-falls, defined as not meeting the requirements of at least 80 % of the population, were also estimated. Linear programming models were used to determine a mix of crops that could meet the gaps the deficits of several nutrients while minimizing the use of additional agricultural land. Out of eight micronutrients included in the present analysis, six were identified as inadequate in Bangladesh and Senegal (vitamins A and C, riboflavin, folate, calcium, and zinc) and three were inadequate in Cameroon (vitamin A, calcium, and zinc). Adequacy of vitamins A and C could be met by increasing production of a few crops that are particularly dense in these nutrients (e.g., carrots or guava), which would necessitate only a small addition of agricultural land. Folate adequacy could be improved with increased production of legumes and green leafy vegetables, but with a greater requirement for agricultural land. Some micronutrient gaps, however, would probably have to be met by other means, such as enhanced livestock production, food fortification, biofortification, or imports. Despite the limitations of agriculture to meet the entire nutrient needs of a population, agricultural policy should consider the potential to improve nutrient adequacy with the crops currently available and by crop diversification.

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The authors thank Shawn Baker and Shelly Sundberg of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their insightful comments of a draft version of the manuscript.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Joanne E. Arsenault.

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Arsenault, J.E., Hijmans, R.J. & Brown, K.H. Improving nutrition security through agriculture: an analytical framework based on national food balance sheets to estimate nutritional adequacy of food supplies. Food Sec. 7, 693–707 (2015).

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  • Agriculture
  • Micronutrients
  • Food balance sheet
  • Nutritional adequacy
  • Food security