The Impact of Agricultural commercialization on Household Nutrition and Food Security: Results from 489 households in Uganda, Rwanda,Tanzania and Ghana

  • July 24, 2017
  • Posted by: Tabby Njunge

By Cara Arizmendi, Vital Signs Fellows &Scientists_DSSG 2017 and Vital Signs Team

This analysis is a result of the collaboration between the eScience Insitute Data Science for Social Good Program and Vital Signs. Learn more about this program here.

When subsistence farmers begin growing cash crops, they can generate income, and this can lead to positive outcomes in terms of health and education. However, producing cash crops can compete with subsistence crop production, within households and countries.[1]. While cash cropping is a major vehicle for economic development, cash crops have been implicated in situations with worsened nutrition and food security. One example is the "Sikasso Paradox" in Mali, where Sikasso the most agriculturally fertile region of Mali is a major producer of cotton, and also the country's malnutrition hotspot [2]. The earliest research on this specific issue examined several cases of cash cropping and nutritional changes. While this research found some cases of cash cropping leading to worsened nutrition outcomes, on the whole most cases lead to increased incomes and improved nutrition outcomes [3]. Lately, most of the conversation in development focuses on the latter cases, and the notion that agricultural commercialization necessarily leads to improved nutrition outcomes has become a common myth [4]. Nevertheless, the latest science on the issue confirms that cash cropping does not always lead to improved nutrition outcomes, and can even have ambiguous or negative effects [5].

For these initial analyses, we were interested in how crop commodification is related to food security. Ultimately, we wondered if increased levels of crop commodification impacts nutrition in children under the age of five, a time sensitive development period. Looking at data from 489 households in Rwanda, Ghana, Uganda, and Tanzania, we first ran a model relating crop commodification to food security and food security to child nutrition.

We measured food security as a function of dietary diversity, the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS), amount of food consumed per person, months of insecurity reported by households, and number of meals consumed per day. Child nutrition was measured as normalized height and normalized weight for height in relation to predetermined standards. For crop commodification, we use the Crop Commercialization Index, or the percent of the total value of a household's agricultural output that was sold [5]. Ultimately, we observe relationships between crop commodification and food security in addition to a relationship between food security and child nutrition. However, we observe no direct relationship between child nutrition and crop commodification.

In terms of food security, we see that crop commodification may have no benefit in Rwanda and benefits that level off in Uganda, Tanzania, and Ghana. Further research would be needed to confirm these leveling-off patterns, as the margin of error (indicated by dark gray shading) is large at some levels of crop commodification.

This initial exploration raises interesting questions. At this point, we cannot attribute causal relationships to the relationships between commodification, food security, and childhood nutrition. Additionally, there may be latency between the time crop commodification increases and the time we begin to see improvement in children's health. Ultimately, continuing to collect these data will provide a breadth and depth of knowledge for understanding what types and levels of commodification are beneficial, neutral, or potentially detrimental to food security and child development.

[1] Tal Lee Anderman & Roseline Remans & Stephen A. Wood & Kyle DeRosa & Ruth S. DeFrie."Synergies and tradeoffs between cash crop production and food security: A case study in rural Ghana.Food Security 6.4(2014): 541-554

[2] Cooper, Matthew William and West, Colin Thor "Unraveling the Sikasso Paradox: Agricultural Change and Malnutrition in Sikasso, Mali." Ecology of Food and Nutrition 56(2016):101-123.

[3] Von Braun, Joachim. "Agricultural commercialization: Impacts on income and nutrition and implications for policy." Food Policy 20,issue 3(1995):187-202

[4] Christiaensen, Luc. 2017. Agriculture in Africa-Telling myths from facts: A synthesis.

[5] Carletto, Calogero and Corral, Paul and Guelfi, Anita. "Agricultural commercialization and nutrition revisited: Empirical evidence from three African countries" Food Policy 67(2017):106-118.


Back to blog listing