In this issue
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This issue of Food Security contains three review papers, 11 original papers, a special section, which is formed of a report of a conference that took place in Kathmandu, together with three papers arising from the conference and two book reviews.
The first of the reviews by Roger Leakey describes how land degradation, extreme poverty and social deprivation are the main constraints to food production on smallholder farms in Africa. He proposes a three-step solution to reverse “the downward spiral which traps subsistence farmers in hunger and poverty”. This includes increasing the yield of staple crops by restoring soil fertility, cultivating, domesticating and commercializing “traditionally-important, highly nutritious, indigenous food products for income generation and business development”.
Piverjeet Dhillon and Beenu Tanwar, in the second review, extol the benefits of Rice Bean (Vigna umbellata), a minor crop in India and Nepal, as a high yielding legume with good nutritional properties and capable of growing in poor soil. However, little has been done to improve its performance. The authors suggest that further research is required to develop high yielding varieties so that the crop can take its place among those crop plants which are helping to alleviate the global problem of protein and energy malnutrition.
In the third review, Patrick Keys and Malin Falkenmark discuss green water and African sustainability. Green water is the water that comprises evaporation and precipitation flows rather than blue water, which is the liquid water in rivers, lakes and aquifers. Management of green water, which is primarily used for food production at the landscape scale, is the best entry point for providing leverage at both smaller and larger scales in terms of time, space, and policy. The authors point out the urgency of action as the time horizon for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is only 12 years away (2030).
In the first of two papers dealing with the raw materials of diets, Sékou Traoré and co-authors discuss the contribution of different cattle breeds to food security in Southern Mali. These are the endemic N’Dama breed, the Fulani Zebu breed and their crosses. The authors found that the ongoing displacement of the N’Dama breed by the Fulani Zebu breed and their crosses improved food security.
A rather different food source was investigated by Faith Manditsera and co-authors – insects! They point out that insects are commonly consumed in many countries and made a study of the practice in rural and urban Zimbabwe. There was greater consumption of insects in rural areas than in towns, where it was negatively related to education, main livelihood source and monthly income. The authors suggest that entomophagy should be promoted in towns by marketing, maintaining traditional knowledge on insect processing, providing tasty products and communicating their nutritional benefits.
The next two papers are concerned with plants and their husbandry. Megan Mucioki and co-authors developed a Household Seed Insecurity Assessment Scale (HSIAS) and applied it to the semi-arid region of Eastern Kenya. They found that mild and chronic seed insecurity persists in the area and suggest that the HSIAS, with further development, has the potential for monitoring seed systems and seed policy responses of governments.
Countries of West Asia and North Africa (WANA) are highly dependent on imports of wheat, as exemplified by the bread shortages in Egypt in the early months of 2008, which led to food riots (see paper by Naomi Hossain and book review by Norman Clark in this issue). Accordingly, reduction in this dependency by increased production is to be welcomed. Jeffrey Alwang and co-authors report successful wheat production on mechanical raised-beds in Egypt. They found that the technology was associated with a 25% increase in productivity due to higher yields, 50% lower seed costs, a 25% reduction in water use, and lower labor costs. It is estimated that by 2025 wheat imports into the country will have been reduced by more than 25%.
Uttam Khanal asks, ‘Why are Nepalese farmers keeping cultivatable land fallow although there is food scarcity in Nepal?’ He found in his sample of 240 farming households in the Kaski district of Nepal that about 28% of the farm plots were fallow, although households only produced enough food for their families for 7 months in the year. The author lists several causes for land abandonment, which include out-migration of family members and therefore reduction of available labour, insecurity of land tenure, political instability, increased costs of agricultural inputs, damage from wild animals and vulnerability to land erosion. He concludes that it is imperative for smallholder farmers to be assisted by the setting of price floors for their products and that food security should be improved by better access of farmers to agricultural inputs and better marketing mechanisms for their agricultural products.
In a second study from Nepal, Nasim Akhter and co-authors studied the cost and affordability of traditional and adequate diets among socio-economic groups in Dhanusha, a rural area of the country, in 2005 and 2008. During the 3-year interval the prices of four typical food baskets had risen 19–26% and that of the nutritionally adequate diet by 28%. Poorer households were unable to afford the nutritionally adequate diet in either year.
Eucabeth Majiwa and co-authors, quoting another source, point out that about 95% of research investment in agriculture over the last 30 years has been directed to increasing farm productivity but only 5% to reducing post-harvest losses. These, in some instances, can be as much as 30%. The authors employed a two-stage Network Data Envelope Analysis (NDEA) to study Kenya’s rice processing industry. This involved measuring drying in the first step and milling in the second step. They concluded that drying efficiencies should be improved by investing in drying technologies and storage and, in the second step, millers should have access to better technologies and reliable sources of energy. They also advocated post-harvest workshops in order to reduce losses.
Shannon Doocy and co-authors point out that long-term approaches to improving household food insecurity have not been widely studied. They evaluated a five-year Development Food Assistance Program in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, which investigated the effectiveness of four interventions: Women’s Empowerment Groups (WEG); Prevention of Malnutrition in Children under 2 Approach (PM2A); Farmer Field Schools (FFS); and a Farmer to Farmer approach (F2F). There were significant improvements in Household Dietary Diversity Scores (HDDS) for three interventions, FFS, WEG and PM2A and all four interventions significantly improved scores on the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) i.e. they were lower although F2F was the least effective.
Interdisciplinary research is required to improve health outcomes from agriculture for rural communities according to Jenny-Ann Toribio and co-authors. They found many barriers to this approach, ‘including isolated and fragmented organisational cultures and capabilities, discipline-focused approaches, lack of multisectorial cooperation in programming, limited evaluation of how impact is measured beyond scientific output, poorly integrated monitoring and evaluation approaches and the failure to address economic empowerment of women and youth’. In order to overcome these barriers they suggest development of organisational capability, interdisciplinary approaches, multisectorial cooperation in program planning, and integrated impact evaluation approaches.
Naomi Hossain discusses how the international media framed food riots during the global food crisis period of 2007–12. She draws on a large news database to show that the concept ‘a hungry man is an angry man’ is over simplistic. However, she makes the point that there are differences within the media depending on whether articles are designed to inform, analyse or advocate. Overall, however, the reporting of food riots drew attention to a global problem requiring global action.
Joe Yates introduces the special section with a report on the conference of the 5th Annual Feed the Future Nutrition Innovation Lab Scientific Symposium and the 2nd Annual Agriculture, Nutrition and Health (ANH) Academy Week under the title of “Building Bridges and Deconstructing Pathways in Agriculture, Nutrition and Health”. This is followed by three papers from the conference.
The first of these is by Abu Islam and co-authors and is concerned with farm diversification and food and nutrition in Bangladesh. The authors used two rounds of nationally representative panel data from the Bangladesh Integrated Household Survey (BIHS), collected in 2011/12 and 2015. They found robust evidence for a positive association between farm diversification and diet diversity. Other factors suggest that it will be important to couple women’s empowerment with market access, farm commercialization and income diversification.
Brian Chisanga found that the changing pattern of food expenditure in Zambia was related to rising incomes and rapid urbanization. There were major declines in the share of food expenditure on maize in 1996 and 2015 in both rural and urban households. However, there were disparities among food items purchased by the two types of households with wealthier ones increasing their purchase of meat and poorer ones increasing their expenditure on vegetables.
The consumption of animal source foods (ASF) in Timor-Leste was investigated by Johanna Wong and co-authors. This country attained its independence from Indonesia in 1999 after 24 years of occupation. Although there was a desire to consume more ASF, this was often prevented by factors such as low income, morbidity and mortality in small livestock, and reserving livestock for sale and ceremonies. In contrast, villages located near forested areas with wild animal populations that could be hunted, promoted ASF consumption. In addition, villagers who attended many lengthy ceremonies and households with a considerable number of small livestock favoured ASF consumption, particularly where women were able to make autonomous decisions about livestock assets. It is suggested that improvements in household nutrition should include a focus on women and improving the production and health of small livestock.
In the first of the two book reviews, Norman Clark discusses Food Riots, Food Rights and the Politics of Provisions, which is edited by Naomi Hossain, one of the contributors of a paper to this issue of Food Security, and Patta Scott-Villiers. Clark found that the book contained a great deal of academically useful information but thought it a pity that it was not made more accessible: in particular to the staff of governmental, aid and related institutions. These are the people who require help to deal with on-the-ground practical problems that confront their agencies from day to day.
Malcom Blackie found the book, International Trade and Food Security: exploring collective food security in Asia, edited by Michael Ewing-Chow and Melanie Slade, a timely and comprehensive analysis of the links between trade and food security and relevant to all concerned with food policy and nutrition.