Agricultural Diversity and Nutritional Intake
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Despite decades of rapid economic growth, India is experiencing a relatively slow decline in undernutrition. Regardless of the clear importance and potential of agriculture in improving nutrition in India, especially in rural areas, the understanding of linkages between agriculture and nutrition is limited.

A recent paper in Agricultural Economics Research Review investigates the relationship between agricultural diversity, dietary diversity and nutritional intake at the household level in India with the aim of informing policy on reducing undernutrition in India.

The study uses continuous panel data from 2010 to 2015 covering 12 villages across three states in Eastern India (Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha), collected through the Village Level Studies of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Forty households were selected in each village and monitored on a sustained basis providing comprehensive records on households’ agriculture production patterns, consumption patterns and nutritional indicators. Through a series of equations the study uses this data to estimate household dietary diversity, agricultural production diversity, and the relationship between dietary and production diversity.

The study finds significant variations in food consumption and expenditure patterns across different states and different farm-size classes. For instance, the average monthly per-capita consumption expenditure for sample households was 417, 713 and 1022 rupees in Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha respectively. The study found a positive correlation between expenditure and farm-size, with larger farm households spending higher amounts on their consumption as compared to other households. Dietary diversity varied across the three states but on average indicated a moderate level of dietary diversity amongst households. Surprisingly, the households that were most dependent on wage labour had the highest dietary diversity scores. This could be attributed to the labour households’ dependence on markets and other sources for food consumption. Regarding production diversity, the study finds that the average level of agricultural diversification was found to be low across all three states with households in Bihar showing slightly higher levels of production diversity as compared to households in the other two states.

Significantly, the study finds that that household dietary diversity is positively and significantly associated with production diversity. The study also finds that households that have one or all of the following factors: more members, a higher educational level, and access to the PDS tend to have higher levels of production and dietary diversity. The paper also finds that higher dietary diversity ensures higher nutritional intake among household members (the levels of calorie and protein intake by household members).

In conclusion, the paper highlights a number of policy implications. The findings suggest that efforts to promote agricultural diversification will likely enhance food and nutrition security in the country. Agricultural programmes and policies oriented towards reducing under-nutrition should therefore promote diversity in agricultural production rather than placing emphasis on increasing production of a few selected staple crops. Furthermore, the paper argues that the large fertilizer subsidies and government procurement programme provide little incentives for farmers to diversity their production portfolio, suggesting that these need to be reformed. A better understanding is needed into how agricultural production portfolios impact diet quality, and further research is needed to explicitly identify the precise nutritional benefits (in terms of stunting, wasting, obesity, BMI) of household agricultural production diversity.

By: Bas Paris

Photo credit:Flickr, IFPRI