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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
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.
Barrett, C. B. (2010). Food systems and the escape from poverty and ill-health traps in Sub-Sahara Africa. In P. Pinstrup-Andersen (Ed.), The African Food System and Its Interaction with Human Health and Nutrition (pp. 242–260). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press in cooperation with the United Nations University.
Barrett, C. B., & Bevis, L. E. M. (2015). The micronutrients deficiencies challenge in African food systems. In D. E. Sahn (Ed.), The Fight Against Hunger and Malnutrition: The Role of Food, Agriculture, and Targeted Policies (pp. 61–88). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Berti, P. R. (2015). Relationship between production diversity and dietary diversity depends on how number of foods is counted. Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences USA, 112(42), e5656.
Burlingame, B., & Dernini, S. (Eds.). (2012). Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity: Directions and Solutions for Policy, Research and Action. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Bioversity International.
Chege, C. G. K., Andersson, C. I. M., & Qaim, M. (2015). Impacts of supermarkets on farm household nutrition in Kenya. World Development, 72(1), 394–407.
Chiputwa, B., & Qaim, M. (2016). Sustainability standards, gender, and nutrition among smallholder farmers in Uganda. Journal of Development Studies, 52(9), 1241–1257.
Chiputwa, B., Spielman, D. J., & Qaim, M. (2015). Food standards, certification, and poverty among coffee farmers in Uganda. World Development, 66(1), 400–412.
Coates, J. (2013). Build it back better, deconstructing food security for improved measurement and action. Global Food Security, 2(3), 188–194.
de Haen, H., Klasen, S., & Qaim, M. (2011). What do we really know? Metrics for food insecurity and undernutrition. Food Policy, 36(6), 760–769.
DeClerck, F. A. J., Fanzo, J., Palm, C., & Remans, R. (2011). Ecological approaches to human nutrition. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 32(1), S41–S50.
DeFries, R., Fanzo, J., Remans, R., Palm, C., Wood, S., & Anderman, T. L. (2015). Metrics for land-scarce agriculture. Science, 349, 238–240.
Demmler, K. M., Ecker, O., & Qaim, M. (2018). Supermarket shopping and nutritional outcomes: A panel data analysis for urban Kenya. World Development, 102, 292–303.
Euler, M., Krishna, V., Schwarze, S., Siregar, H., & Qaim, M. (2017). Oil palm adoption, household welfare, and nutrition among smallholder farmers in Indonesia. World Development, 93, 319–335.
Euler, M., Schwarze, S., Siregar, H., & Qaim, M. (2016). Oil palm expansion among smallholder farmers in Sumatra, Indonesia. Journal of Agricultural Economics, 67(3), 658–676.
Fafchamps, M., & Hill, R. (2005). Selling at the farmgate or traveling to market. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 87(3), 717–734.
Fanzo, J. C. (2017). Decisive decisions on production compared with market strategies to improve diets in rural Africa. Journal of Nutrition, 147(1), 1–2.
Fanzo, J., Hunter, D., Borelli, T., & Mattei, F. (Eds.). (2013). Diversifying Food and Diets, Using Agricultural Diversity to Improve Nutrition and Health. London: Routledge.
FAO. (2016). Minimum dietary diversity for women: a guide for measurement. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
FAO. (2011). Guidelines for Measuring Household and Individual Dietary Diversity. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
FAO. (2010). World food dietary assessment system, Version 2.0. Rome: International Network of Food Data Systems, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
FAO, WHO, & UNO. (2004). Human energy requirements: Report of a joint FAO/WHO/UNU expert consultation : Rome, 17–24 October 2001. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Geertz, C. (1978). The bazaar economy: Information and search in peasant marketing. American Economic Review, 68(2), 28–32.
Godfray, H. C. J., Beddington, J. R., Crite, I. R., Haddad, L., Lawrence, D., Muir, J. F., Pretty, J., Robinson, S., Thomas, S. M., & Toulmin, C. (2010). Food security: the challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science, 327(5967), 812–818.
Hatloy, A., Torheim, L. E., & Oshaug, A. (1998). Food variety - a good indicator of nutritional adequacy of the diet? A case study from an urban area in Mali, West Africa? European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 52, 891–898.
Hawkes, C. (2008). Dietary implications of supermarket development: A global perspective. Development Policy Review, 26(6), 657–692.
Headey, D., & Ecker, O. (2013). Rethinking the measurement of food security: From first principles to best practice. Food Security, 5(3), 327–343.
Herforth, A., & Ahmed, S. (2015). The food environment, its effects on dietary consumption, and potential for measurement within agriculture-nutrition interventions. Food Security, 7(3), 505–520.
Hirvonen, K., & Hoddinott, J. (2017). Agricultural production and children’s diets: Evidence from rural Ethiopia. Agricultural Economics, 48, 469–480.
Hirvonen, K., Taffesse, A. S., & Hassen, I. W. (2015). Seasonality and household diets in Ethiopia. Public Health Nutrition, 19(10), 1723–1730.
Horton, S., & Steckel, R. H. (2013). Global economic losses attributable to malnutrition 1990–2000 and projections to 2050. In B. Lombard (Ed.), How Much Have Global Problems Cost the World? A Scorecard from 1900 to 2050 (pp. 247–272). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
IFPRI. (2017). Global Nutrition Report. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.
Jones, A. D. (2017). On-farm crop species richness is associated with household diet diversity and quality in subsistence- and market-oriented farming households in Malawi. Journal of Nutrition, 147(1), 86–96.
Jones, A. D., Shrinvas, A., & Bezner-Kerr, R. (2014). Farm production diversity is associated with greater household dietary diversity in Malawi: Findings from nationally representative data. Food Policy, 46(1), 1–12.
Keding, G. B., Msuya, J. M., Maass, B. L., & Krawinkel, M. B. (2012). Relating dietary diversity and food variety scores to vegetable production and socio-economic status of women in rural Tanzania. Food Security, 4(1), 129–140.
Khoury, C. K., Bjorkman, A. D., Dempewolf, H., Ramirez-Villegas, J., Guarino, L., Jarvis, A., Rieseberg, L. H., & Struik, P. C. (2014). Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 111(11), 4001–4006.
Koppmair, S., & Qaim, M. (2017). Farm production diversity and individual-level dietary diversity. Public Health Nutrition, 20(11), 2070–2072.
Koppmair, S., Kassie, M., & Qaim, M. (2017). Farm production, market access and dietary diversity in Malawi. Public Health Nutrition, 20(2), 325–335.
Krishna, V. V., Euler, M., Siregar, H., Fathoni, Z., & Qaim, M. (2017). Differential livelihood impacts of oil palm expansion in Indonesia. Agricultural Economics, 48(5), 639–653.
Loos, T. K., & Zeller, M. (2014). Milk sales and dietary diversity among the Maasai. Agricultural Economics, 45, 77–90.
Luckett, B. G., DeClerck, F. A. J., Fanzo, J., Mundorf, A. R., & Rose, D. (2015). Application of the nutrition functional diversity indicator to assess food system contributions to dietary diversity and sustainable diets of Malawian households. Public Health Nutrition, 18(13), 2479–2487.
Maxwell, D., Vaitla, B., & Coates, J. (2014). How do indicators of household food insecurity measure up? An empirical comparison from Ethiopia. Food Policy, 47(1), 107–116.
M'Kaibi, F. K., Steyn, N. P., Ochola, S., & Du Plessis, L. (2015). Effects of agricultural biodiversity and seasonal rain on dietary adequacy and household food security in rural areas of Kenya. BMC Public Health, 15, 422.
Muller, C. (2009). Do agricultural outputs of partly autarkic peasants affect their health? Evidence from Rwanda. Food Policy, 34(2), 166–175.
Oyarzun, P. J., Borja, R. M., Sherwood, S., & Parra, V. (2013). Making Sense of Agrobiodiversity, Diet, and Intensification of Smallholder Family Farming in the Highland Andes of Ecuador. Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 52(6), 515–541.
Pellegrini, L., & Tasciotti, L. (2014). Crop diversification, dietary diversity and agricultural income: Empirical evidence from eight developing countries. Canadian Journal of Development Studies, 35(2), 211–227.
Pingali, P. (2015). Agricultural policy and nutrition outcomes – getting beyond the preoccupation with staple grains. Food Security, 7(3), 583–591.
Pinstrup-Andersen, P. (2013). Nutrition-sensitive food systems, From rhetoric to action. Lancet, 382(9890), 375–376.
Powell, B., Thilsted, S. H., Ickowitz, A., Termote, C., Sunderland, T., & Herforth, A. (2015). Improving diets with wild and cultivated biodiversity from across the landscape. Food Security, 7(3), 535–554.
Powell, B., Maundu, P., Kuhnlein, H. V., & Johns, T. (2013). Wild foods from farm and forest in the East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania. Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 52(6), 451–478.
Qaim, M. (2017). Globalisation of agrifood systems and sustainable nutrition. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 76(1), 12–21.
Remans, R., Wood, A. S., Saha, N., Anderman, T. L., & DeFries, R. S. (2014). Measuring nutritional diversity of national food supplies. Global Food Security, 3(3–4), 174–182.
Remans, R., Flynn, D. F. B., Mudiope, J., Mutuo, P. K., Nkhoma, P., Siriri, D., Sullivan, C., & Palm, C. A. (2011). Assessing nutritional diversity of cropping systems in African villages. PLoS One, 6(6), e21235.
Rowland, D., Ickowitz, A., Powell, B., Nasi, R., & Sunderland, T. (2016). Forest foods and healthy diets: quantifying the contributions. Environmental Conservation, 1–13, doi:https://doi.org/10.1017/S0376892916000151.
Ruel, M. T., & Alderman, H. (2013). Nutrition-sensitive interventions and programmes: how can they help to accelerate progress in improving maternal and child nutrition? Lancet, 382, 536–551.
Ruel, M. T. (2003). Operationalizing dietary diversity: A review of measurement issues and research priorities. Journal of Nutrition, 133(11), 3911S–3926S.
Sibhatu, K. T., & Qaim, M. (2017). Rural food security, subsistence agriculture, and seasonality. PLoS One, 12(10), e0186406.
Sibhatu, K. T., Krishna, V. V., & Qaim, M. (2015). Production diversity and dietary diversity in smallholder farm households. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 112, 10657–10662.
SMILING (2013). Food composition table for Indonesia. South East Asian Ministers of Education Organization, Indonesia Ministry of Health, Indonesia, Wageningen University, The Netherlands. http://www.fao.org/infoods/infoods/tables-and-databases/asia/en/. Accessed 20 July 2015.
Snapp, S. S., & Fisher, M. (2015). “Filling the maize basket” supports crop diversity and quality of household diet in Malawi. Food Security, 7(1), 83–96.
Swindale, A., & Bilinsky, P. (2006). Household Dietary Diversity Score (HDDS) for Measurement of Household Food Access: Indicator Guide (v.2). Washington, D.C.: FHI 360/FANTA.
Torheim, L. E., Ouattara, F., Diarra, M. M., Thiam, F. D., Barikmo, I., Hatloy, A., et al. (2004). Nutrient adequacy and dietary diversity in rural Mali: association and determinants. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 58(4), 594–604.
USDA. (2005). Composition of foods, Raw, processed, prepared, national nutrient database for standard references, release 18. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture.
Verger, E. O., Dop, M.-C., & Martin-Prével, Y. (2017). Not all dietary diversity scores can legitimately be interpreted as proxies of diet quality. Public Health Nutrition, 20(11), 2067–2068.
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.
Electronic supplementary material
About this article
Cite this article
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