How malnutrition can co-exist with high cereal production

November 3, 2015

A film by Alissia Lourme Ruiz and Eric Maugerard, CIRAD

It is a paradox: in some regions of Africa, cereal production is theoretically sufficient to feed the population, yet children are malnourished and often die from malnutrition. How is this possible? By means of a survey, recounted in a film, researchers from CIRAD have shown that many indicators have to be taken into account in addition to cereal production, when estimating the food and nutritional security of a given population.

Although it is vital, agricultural production alone cannot guarantee food security. One example is the paradox by which some African regions, in Mali and Burkina Faso, are characterized by both surplus cereal production and chronic food insecurity. In those regions, almost 40% of children under five suffer from delayed growth.

How can we explain this paradox? To answer that question, CIRAD researchers conducted a survey. They recorded a range of factors, in addition to cereal availability, that had not previously been fully taken into account in analyses: income levels, composition of children’s meals and any other food eaten daily, mothers’ status and the diversity of their activities. For instance, while husbands generally manage the harvest and give their wives the cereals they need to feed the family, the wives have to supplement this with market garden products. However, at times when they are out working in the fields, they donot have much time to prepare nutritious, balanced meals for their children.

The possible solutions to this paradox suggested in the film are currently being scientifically tested. The researchers suggest some improvements. They estimate that in these regions of Africa, tackling gender issues can have a major influence on children’s diet and child nutrition. Giving women access to credit would also give them greater financial independence and allow them to manage their budget. But above all, an integrated approach to public policy would be the best way of overcoming the separation between nutrition and agriculture, education and health and taking a step towards resolving this paradox.

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