“Food quality could be more problematic than food quantity for sub-Saharan countries over the coming decades”

A summary of my PhD findings, by Charlotte Hall

Providing the global population with sufficient and nutritious food, while also trying to minimise and reverse damage to the natural environment, is a major societal challenge. Nowhere is this challenge greater than in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where one in four people are currently undernourished, and micronutrient deficiencies are widespread. The results of my PhD findings suggest that food supply quality (in terms of micronutrient provision) could be more problematic over the coming decades than food supply quantity (in terms of dietary energy provision) in SSA, using Malawi as a case study. Using a novel modelling framework (FEEDME), supplies of energy, protein, iron, zinc and vitamin A were assessed under a range of future climatic and socio-economic scenarios. In all future scenarios, supplies of energy and protein were adequate, whereas supplies of the three micronutrients were inadequate to meet population-level requirements (with the exception of zinc in a ‘best-case’ future scenario) (see Figure 1). These results are novel as the majority of studies to date have focused on impacts on yields of staple crops and the resulting impact on undernourishment prevalence. The suggestion that nutrient supply may be more problematic in the future than energy supply highlights the need to move beyond the traditional focus on the production of staple crops towards a more holistic view of nutrition security whereby dietary diversity and consumption of micronutrient-dense foods are promoted. Indeed, until very recently, Malawian households were considered to be food secure if they had adequate access to maize with little to no emphasis on dietary diversity. This situation is reflected in (and exacerbated by) national development agendas whereby food security is a key priority for agricultural policies, but nutritional issues (such as stunting and wasting) are considered a health issue. This lack of nutritional consideration within agricultural systems can be considered one of the main causes of food insecurity and malnutrition in today’s society. It is essential that agricultural and nutrition sectors work together in order to form food security strategies that tackle not only undernourishment, but micronutrient deficiencies and their associated health consequences.

In an attempt to explore solutions and adaptation options for Malawi, my PhD research also examined the linkages between land use and dietary quality. The results showed a positive relationship between households located in more forested areas and vitamin A adequacy. Indeed, households who reported consuming wild foods had a 54% higher intake of vitamin A than households who did not consume these foods (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12571-019-00923-0). These results are supportive of a wider literature which shows forests can have a multitude of benefits for human health. The implications of these results are strongly linked to the earlier findings surrounding dietary quality, as the focus on increasing yields of staple crops via agricultural expansion has often come at the expense of natural landscapes such as forests. Given the growing body of research which shows the importance of forests for nutrition in many low- and middle- income countries, careful consideration must be given to the types of food production systems we adopt in the future. Forest conservation and restoration is likely to not only be critical for ensuring nutrition security for some of the world’s poorest people, but also for tackling climate change and biodiversity loss, which are all key outcomes of the global Sustainable Development Goals.

Figure 1. Micronutrient supply in all future scenarios was inadequate to meet population-level requirements, except for zinc in a “best-case” scenario (SSP1/RCP 4.5).

Do trees on farms improve household well-being?


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Based on analysis of household-level data from the 2005–2006, 2010–2011, and 2013–2014 Ugandan National Panel Surveys, we found that growing trees especially fruit trees, was associated with improvements in both total household consumption and nutritional outcomes.

Welcome to new team members

Welcome to PhD Fellow Rasmus Skov Olesen and Postdoctoral fellow Charlotte Hall. Also joining us later this spring is Emilie Vansant, who will be starting a PhD (June 1). In the fall, we will be welcoming Bowy den Braber, who will be joining the lab as a postdoc (from September 15).

Presentation at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

Gina Kennedy, Sarah Gergel, and Laura presented the results from a multi-country assessment across sub-Saharan Africa that aimed to understand how forests are associated with multiple indicators of dietary quality, including dietary diversity and the consumption of fruits. The study was developed as part of the project ‘Food & Landscape Diversity’ led by S. Gergel and T. Sunderland, funded with support from the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). The research was published as an article in Global Food Security in October 2019

IUFRO Expert Panel on Forests and Poverty

Laura is at the second IUFRO Expert Panel meeting in Nairobi on Forests and Poverty.  The task of the panel is to carry out a comprehensive global assessment of available scientific information about the interactions between forests and poverty  – and to prepare a report to inform the discussions on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and related SDGs. https://www.iufro.org/science/gfep/forests-and-poverty-panel/

Welcome to new team member

Mapping ecosystem services in the Mayan region

Welcome to PhD fellow Yair Asael Alpuche Alvarez. He will be working on the co-production of ecosystem services at the landscape level in Mexico, and the role of policies as drivers of landscape change.​​