Recent research has analyzed whether higher levels of farm production diversity contribute to improved diets in smallholder farm households. We add to this literature by using and comparing different indicators, thus helping to better understand some of the underlying linkages. The analysis builds on data from Indonesia, Kenya, and Uganda. On the consumption side, we used 7-day food recall data to calculate various dietary indicators, such as dietary diversity scores, consumed quantities of fruits and vegetables, calories and micronutrients, and measures of nutritional adequacy. On the production side, we used a simple farm species count in addition to looking at the number of different food groups produced. Regression models showed that production diversity measured through simple species count is positively associated with most dietary indicators. However, when measuring production diversity in terms of the number of food groups produced, the association turns insignificant in many cases. Further analysis revealed that diverse subsistence production often contributes less to dietary diversity than cash income generated through market sales. If farm diversification responds to market incentives and builds on comparative advantage, it can contribute to improved income and nutrition. Yet, increasing the number of food groups produced on the farm independent of market incentives may foster subsistence, reduce income, and thus rather worsen dietary quality. The results suggest that improving the functioning of agricultural markets and smallholder market access are key strategies to enhance nutrition.
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Further research is needed to develop indicators that properly account for the nutritional value of the different foods produced. The nutrition functional diversity metric (DeClerck et al. 2011; Remans et al. 2014; Luckett et al. 2015) and the nutritional yield metric (DeFries et al. 2015) are interesting approaches in this direction.
One could argue that subsistence-oriented households also need less cash income for the purchase of food and would therefore not be worse off. However, economic theory shows that using markets and building on comparative advantage leads to gains in total income (not only cash income) when markets function properly. That many farmers continue to be subsistence-oriented is their response to market failures, especially high transaction costs. Reducing market failures through appropriate policies is an important precondition for agricultural growth and development.
In this part of Indonesia, food markets function quite well. A high diversity of nutritious foods can be purchased all year round.
In urban areas of developing countries, the rising market share of supermarkets is also contributing to a shift in consumption towards processed foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt (Hawkes 2008; Demmler et al. 2018). Supermarkets do not yet play a major role in rural areas of developing countries (Qaim 2017).
We used 7-day food recall data for the dietary analysis. Seven-day recall data lead to systematically higher dietary diversity scores than 24-h recall data. A recent study with 24-h recall data from Malawi also showed positive but small associations between production diversity and dietary diversity (Koppmair et al. 2017). However, further research comparing different dietary indicators could be useful.
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This research was financially supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of the GlobalFood Program (grant number RTG 1666) and by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) (grant number 2813FSNu01).
Conflict of interest
The authors declared that they have no conflict of interest.
Parts of this paper were published earlier as K.T. Sibhatu and M. Qaim (2016), GlobalFood Discussion Paper 80, University of Goettingen.
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Sibhatu, K.T., Qaim, M. Farm production diversity and dietary quality: linkages and measurement issues. Food Sec. 10, 47–59 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-017-0762-3
- Dietary diversity
- Nutrition-sensitive agriculture
- Smallholder farm households
- Developing countries