Does improving food market access improve rural household nutritional outcome in developing countries?

Diversification of farms is often advocated for bringing diet diversity to rural households and improving nutrition, but how does it compare to market access? This blog traverses an extensive review of literature on the subject that was recently published. The review sought to determine the association between market access and dietary diversity in developing countries. Verdict: the answer lies in context and detail.

A significant number of undernourished people live in rural Asia and Africa, many of whom are in smallholder farm households that largely depend on agriculture for livelihood. Typically, farmers consume a considerable share of what they produce, mostly cereals that lack essential micronutrients; hence, increasing on-farm diversity with different types of crops, vegetable and livestock species is seen as a promising way to improve household nutrition. However, farm diversity is declining on small farms across the world due to increased market oriented production systems and is resulting in increased dependence on local markets for diverse food. Therefore, local markets have become important in supplying diverse food to rural households.

In a recently published article in the Global Food Security Journal, this blogpost’s author with ICRISAT colleagues Dr S Nedumaran, Senior Scientist-Economics and Dr R Padmaja, Senior Scientist-Gender Research, investigated evidence for relative importance of local market access over farm production diversity for a household’s dietary diversity. The researchers screened 786 empirical research publications and identified 28 studies featuring related research in 14 developing countries (5 from Asia and 11 from Africa).

A consistent positive association between access to markets and dietary diversity was noticed in the studies reviewed. A few of them reported that market access had a more significant positive effect on dietary diversity than farm diversity. However, these findings cannot be generalized as they are context-specific.

Additionally, the study, “The interplay between food market access and farm household dietary diversity in low and middle income countries: A systematic review of literature”, demonstrates complexities associated with conceptualizing market access and difficulties in measuring it. The researchers believe information about multiple market access indicators in a specific context may thus better help conceptualize and measure market access.

The authors also identified eight research/knowledge gaps for future research. A few of them along with a few policy recommendations are mentioned below.

  • Future research should focus on analyzing specific country or regional contexts, particularly in a diverse country like India, which is diverse in many aspects like agro-ecologies, socio-economics, culture, etc.
  • None of the studies addressed how safe and hygienic foods are sourced from markets compared to their farms’ produced food.
  • The use of market food price as an indicator might provide valuable insight into the roles of markets in dietary diversity. Market price as an indicator was not considered in any of the studies.
  • More studies analyzing household dietary diversity’s seasonal differences must consider both own-farm production and markets as food sources.
  • Either on-farm diversity or market access alone may not achieve the goal of improved nutrition in rural areas. That said, a policy emphasis on markets is warranted given the role they can play in complementing own production and the importance of food and nutrition security as a development goal. Food determines nutritional outcomes and therefore, nutrition-sensitive agricultural interventions that enable market access and promote farm diversity are needed to ensure nutrition sufficiency.

ICRISAT’s work in the TIGR2ESS project’s flagship-1 “Sustainable and Transformative Agrarian and Rural Trajectories (START)” is well placed to understand the relative importance of market access and farm production diversity on rural households’ nutritional outcome in semi-arid areas of Telangana, India. Empirical research is in progress to address a few of the knowledge gaps mentioned above. Through this work, it is hoped that the knowledge gaps identified can be filled by contributing to literature and providing evidence-based policy support to governments and development agencies in order to help design appropriate policies and programs to improve nutritional outcomes.

Dr Ravi Nandi
Associate Scientist-Socioeconomics/Agricultural Economics,

Project: Transforming India’s Green Revolution by Research and Empowerment for Sustainable Food Supplies (TIGR2ESS)
Funder: Global Challenges Research Fund
Partners: Cambridge University, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, PRADAN, University of East Anglia, UK, and ICRISAT
CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) and Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE)
This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
2-zero-hunger good-health 12-responisible-consumtion 17-partnerships-goals 

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