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Agricultural Diversification for Nutrition

Agricultural diversification is one of the best ways to improve nutrition, while also increasing resilience to market turbulence and climate change. This involves farmers growing many different types of crops which are adapted to their soil and climate, such as:

Agricultural diversification is one of the best ways to improve nutrition, while also increasing resilience to market turbulence and climate change.

This involves farmers growing many different types of crops which are adapted to their soil and climate, such as:

  • cereals
  • legumes
  • potatoes and other tuber crops
  • many types of horticultural crops (fruits and vegetables)
  • nut trees.

This isn’t easy to achieve, but governments can incentivise diversification through growing scheme incentives and support.

The ATONU project

The Agriculture to Nutrition (ATONU) project was a large research programme that aimed to improve the nutrition of women of child-bearing age and young children in rural areas of Ethiopia and Tanzania. In these places, the high nutritional demands of pregnancy and early development are largely met through farm food production.

The ATONU project took a holistic approach to meet its aims, which were:

  • to improve dietary diversity
  • to improve infant feeding practices
  • to improve hygiene and sanitation associated with food storage and preparation
  • to increase women’s participation in decision making on resource use

Vegetable Gardens

One of the interventions of ATONU was through vegetable gardening. The project provided women with seeds, resources, information and support to set up vegetable gardens within their communities. This was complemented with cooking demonstrations, nutrition and hygiene education and theatre performances to encourage changes in social behaviour.

The key lessons from this intervention were:

  • Engage the community in designing and implementing interventions. Use and build on local and indigenous knowledge
  • Local leadership and advocacy are key, as they create accountability
  • Behaviour and dietary change will not happen overnight. It takes a long time for people to trust and adopt new practices. People need ongoing support until habit takes root
  • Be transparent about potential negative impacts of interventions.

You can find out more about the ATONU project in the About ATONU document in the Downloads section.

How to Support the Diversification of Agriculture

There are a number of ways to effectively support the diversification of agriculture. Some examples are given below.

Soya: sustainable protein

From a nutritional perspective, soya has the potential to help populations meet their protein and amino acid requirements, complementing cereal proteins with essential amino acids, particularly lysine. It is a good source of protein for people who don’t consume animal foods.

Soya is a legume that produces protein and oil-rich seeds. It grows well in the sub-Saharan climate. Like other legumes, the roots of the soya plant have the ability to convert inorganic nitrogen into the organic form. This biochemical process is called ‘nitrogen fixation’. It means soya and other legumes needs less fertiliser input, but they also leave some nitrogen in the soil for other crops.

Soya is not often consumed directly as a seed, but processed into soya bean oil and protein-rich flours, which are used to produce many types of foods. Below is a table showing the lysine content of different foods.

Food Lysine content range (mg per 100g)
Beef and veal 531-591
Soya bean 313-477
Maize grain 100-214
Cassava root 208-354
Spinach leaves 344-516

Find out more

You can find out more about soya in another University of Leeds FutureLearn course, Climate Change and Resilience in Food Systems (accessible in the See also section below). In this course, you can watch a video of doctoral researcher Ndashe Kapulu discussing the costs and benefits of diversifying to soybean and exploring the impact this has in Zambia.

Community Gardens

Community gardens are nutrition-sensitive solutions to increase diet diversity and the micronutrient intake of people in rural and urban Africa.
In community gardening schemes, households are given starting seeds and training on cultivation techniques. Women are often involved in the schemes and can produce fresh produce for sale in the market or for consumption.

Growing Crops in Communities

Technology-driven solutions are growing in popularity in urban and peri-urban areas. These include:
Hydroponics Hydroponics
Vertical farming Vertical farming

Rooftop gardening Rooftop Gardening

These types of solution also tend to be community-driven and have similar issues as soil-based community gardening, in that they are labour and resource-intensive. There are also questions surrounding governance. For example, who owns the produce? Who is responsible for maintaining them?

Have your say:

What are the advantages and disadvantages of community gardening?
In your response, consider the following elements:
  • scale
  • yield
  • ownership
  • benefits and downsides for women.
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A Nutritional Approach to Agriculture and Food Security

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