Research News

Assessing Nutritional Diversity in African Villages

What is the nutritional diversity provided by this system?

What is the nutritional diversity provided by this system?

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 40% of children under five years in age are chronically undernourished. As new investments and attention galvanize action on African agriculture to reduce hunger, there is an urgent need for metrics that monitor agricultural progress beyond calories produced per capita — they also need to address nutritional diversity essential for human health.

A new research paper, “Assessing Nutritional Diversity of Cropping Systems in African Villages,” demonstrates how an ecological tool, functional diversity (FD), has the potential to address this need and provide new insights on nutritional diversity of cropping systems in rural Africa. The nutritional functional diversity metric is based on species composition on the farm and the nutritional composition of these species for nutrients that are critical for human health.

While in the past, food-based interventions have focused mostly on a single nutrient, this novel approach can help guide agricultural systems to provide a diversity of nutrients and enhance nutrient resilience of the system. The study generates new hypotheses on the link between agro-diversity, food security and human nutrition and suggests strategies for future research calling for integration of agriculture, ecology, nutrition, and socio-economics.

Roseline Remans, co-author and Associate Research Scientist at the Earth Institute explained, "There is a real need for new tools and indicators to measure the associations between agro-biodiversity on the farm, and what that could translate into on the plate. This indicator, nutritional functional diversity, measures the capacity of ecosystems to provide the diversity of elements required for complete human diets resulting in healthy and productive lives. There is no reason to think that lessons learned by ecologists on the functional consequences of species losses should not apply within a nutritional framework. With this paper, we want to trigger new questions of agricultural systems, so that when people visit or explore agricultural landscapes, they don’t only think about yield and value/ cost ratios but also wonder ‘What is the nutritional diversity that this system provides?’ "