Buy or Make? Farm production diversity, market food availability and diet diversity in Afghanistan

Anecdotal evidence had debated the relative importance of markets versus on-farm production diversity for the diversification of diets, yet only recently empirical studies have started to look into this critical nexus. I am fortunate to be presenting at the ANH Academy Week Scientific Conference on Agri-Health Research a joint work with Bhavani Shankar aiming to advance this strand of literature in investigating dietary diversity and nutrition by constructing richer characterisations of food availability in the market. The research is part of LANSA’s effort to better understand how agriculture can alleviate malnutrition. The ANH Academy Week Conference provides an ideal environment to present such research and be exposed to the wide range of work currently ongoing in the field of agriculture-health-nutrition in low-income countries.

The setting of LANSA research is Afghanistan – where difficult terrain and conflict has resulted in poor infrastructure and substantial variation in market food availability, making the central question investigated in the paper particularly important. Afghanistan has been much less researched than the rest of South Asia, yet it shows under-5 stunting prevalence of 41%[1] and estimated Anaemia prevalence amongst women between 40-25%[2].

Results show that both production diversity and market food availability are important to improve dietary diversity in Afghanistan. Although, markets provide bulk of dietary diversity at present, increased production diversity can be particularly helpful in improving dietary diversity in the lean season. Increased market food availability is particularly helpful in improving dietary diversity in the harvest season.

LANSA-supported research in Afghanistan has important policy implications. The ‘agriculture for nutrition’ agenda tends to emphasise traditional interventions the nutrition community is most comfortable with, i.e. interventions at the level of individual producers/consumers – eg: home gardens. These results point out the fundamental importance of broad-based food market development in providing nutrition. The ANH Conference will provide a perfect outlet not only to discuss with academics these results and their implications, but importantly to engage with policy influencers as well.

Giacomo Zanello has a PhD from the University of Reading, has worked as a post-doctoral research fellow at Oxford, and is currently affiliated with the Global Panel for Agricultural and Food Systems for Nutrition. Giacomo joined the LANSA team to work on on production diversity, food prices and diet diversity in Afghanistan. 


[1] Source: Varkey S, Higgins-Steele A, Mashal T, Hamid BA, Bhutta ZA. Afghanistan in transition: call for investment in nutrition. The Lancet Global Health. 2015; 3: 13-14 and Ministry of Public Health and UNICEF. National Nutrition Survey Afghanistan (2013): survey report. Kabul: Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health; 2013.

[2] Source: Levitt EJ, Stoltzfus RJ, Pelletier DL, Pell AN. A community food system analysis as formative research for a comprehensive anemia control program in Northern Afghanistan. Food Security. 2009; 1: 177-195.

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