Malnutrition in developing countries is best tackled not by increasing the diversity of crops grown on smallholder farms, but by improving access to markets.
This is the result of a recent study in East African countries Study .
The study by the Mwapata Institute in Malawi and the University of Bonn in Germany, published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal, evaluated data from Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia, where 30 percent of children are alive and young people are stunted. Up to 28 million children in Africa, mainly in rural areas, suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition, says the UN Development Program.
“Not only too little food, but also an unbalanced diet can have serious negative effects have health consequences, so a varied diet is an important tool to prevent malnutrition,” said Mwapata Institute researcher Makaiko Khonje.
“We found that improved market access has a particularly positive impact on nutritional status. ”
Researchers found that those who could sell their produce at the market and in return buy the missing groceries had more variety on their plates, thereby improving the nutritional profile.
In general, being far away from the market had a negative effect on malnutrition.
“In many places, however, there is a lack of the corresponding I nfrastructure takes a long time and some products spoil or are damaged along the way,” adds Prof. Martin Qaim from the Center for Development Research (ZEF) at the University of Bonn.
The researchers analyzed data from more than 50,000 children and young people from over 20,000 farms and linked these measurements to production diversity at farm level. Increasing the diversity of production at the agricultural level helps improve child nutrition and nutrition. Keeping a wide variety of animals also had a positive effect.
“Keeping goats or a cow, perhaps in addition to chickens and other animals, can therefore improve nutritional status,” said Dr. Khonje.
Small farmers in Africa have always been encouraged to cultivate more diverse crops to produce a variety of foods for their own consumption. However, given shrinking areas, further diversification of farms is a challenge. In the study, most farms had less than two acres of land and produced an average of 3.96 different species.
Dangers of specialization
The researchers therefore recommend a focus on better market access, to improve nutrition.
Finally, producing additional crops for subsistence could cause households to lose efficiency gains from specialization and reduce income potential, worsening economic access to food.
“It’s better to focus on the species that thrive locally and sell the surplus,” the researchers say.
However, it’s not advisable to overdo it either to specialize the negative effects of monocultures.
“A certain level of diversity also makes sense from an ecological point of view and to reduce risk for small farmers,” said Prof. Qaim.
” Pure monocultures are safe rally not the solution.”