Harnessing food demand systems for improved nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa
Agricultural & Applied Economics Department, University of Georgia, USA
Program in International and Community Nutrition, University of California at Davis, USA
International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Nairobi, Kenya
Consumer preferences are a force that, if well understood, can be leveraged to magnify the impacts of crop and livestock productivity enhancements and other interventions for the benefit of improved diets for all consumers in an economy, not just for farmers. In economics, preferences describe how consumers rank different combinations of food and non-food items that they could consume. They are shaped by culture, education, individual tastes, and many other factors. If we understand consumer preferences, then we can predict how consumers will react when their incomes change or when food prices change.
Agriculture-based nutrition interventions are often promoted with limited systematic understanding of consumers’ demand. Most consumers do not select their diets primarily based on nutrient content, but rather based on their tastes and preferences for different food and non-food products, their available income, and the prices that they face in the marketplace. Because food products are the primary delivery vehicle for dietary macro and micro nutrients, food demand systems are central to understanding how diets of all consumers respond to the price incentives that consumers face, given their income constraints.
With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development, the Harnessing Food Demand Systems for Improved Nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa project will, between January 2018 and December 2020, address a gap in holistic and systematic understanding of food demand. We will model how consumers’ preferences, incomes, and food prices shape their demand for a large number of food items across multiple countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and then relate this consumer demand model to relevant diet quality indicators, such as intake of micro and macro nutrients and dietary diversity. This analytical framework will be used to address important knowledge gaps at the interface between consumers’ consumption decisions and agricultural interventions that target farmers.
Comprehensive food demand modeling has not yet been used to prioritize agricultural policies and investments based on their diet impacts. To our knowledge, no large micronutrient demand system model has been used to prioritize the crop and livestock products whose productivity enhancement would have the greatest impacts on consumers’ diet quality.
Two, parallel tracks comprise this research and policy effort. We will be driven by research questions that address the following core themes:
(1) Theme 1: Diet quality sensitivity to food prices. E.g., Which food item prices are the most important determinants of consumers’ intake of calories and key micronutrients?
(2) Theme 2: Alignment between income growth and improved diet quality. E.g., At what household income levels do we expect diet quality to satisfy recommended standards?
(3) Theme 3: Aligning crop and livestock R&D with improved diet quality. E.g., Which crops or animals are the most important vehicles for delivering micronutrients, given our understanding of how crop and livestock supply respond to technology investments and producer price signals? Addressing the above issues, MINI has three principal aims:
Track A: Modeling Demand Systems
We will develop food demand models and then pair them with additional crop and livestock supply parameters to address relevant policy questions at the agriculture-nutrition nexus. We will apply best practices in modeling large demand systems to a group of Sub-Saharan African countries using nationally representative household panel datasets in Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. Our model will include a comprehensive list of 18 disaggregated food groups, including animal-source foods. Once we have modeled a demand system that relates income and prices to food demand through consumer preferences, we will then assess diet quality using indicators aligned with the international nutrition community. Finally, to explore the implications of agricultural interventions for consumer diet quality, we will pair supply system parameters with this demand system in an equilibrium modeling framework.
Track B: Leveraging Food Systems
Within the research themes highlighted above, we will develop specific policy questions through a consultative process that will take place regionally and in several policy deep-dive countries, which include Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania. After conducting research on these specific questions, we will hold policy dialogues with relevant stakeholders at the country and regional level. We will specifically look for proposed or enacted policies that seek to mainstream nutrition objectives into agricultural (and other poverty-focused) policies and investments, which we will then use as cases for exploring the opportunity to leverage demand systems for improved consumer diets.
Demand modeling is underway, and we are currently preparing a research manuscript describing food demand in Tanzania, while also continuing to prepare data and estimate demand models in Malawi and Nigeria. We are in the process of engaging stakeholders at the agriculture-nutrition research and policy nexus in Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania. We will begin posting research manuscripts in working paper form beginning in July 2019. We plan to hold a workshop to train African researchers in demand systems modeling techniques in Abuja in late September, 2019.