The effects of smallholder agricultural involvement on household food consumption and dietary diversity: evidence from Malawi

This paper investigates how household agricultural involvement affects food consumption and dietary diversity in rural Malawi. Ceteris paribus, a 10 per cent increase in on-farm income share increases food consumption per capita by 2.9 per cent, calorie intake per capita per day by 1.7 per cent, and leads to small improvements in dietary diversity. There are significant differences in the relationship between on-farm income shares and caloric shares: a positive and significant relationship with the shares from energy-dense and low-protein cereals and grains, but not significant with shares from nuts/pulses and sugars. Negative relationships are found with shares from roots/tubers, vegetables/fruits, oils/fats and meat/fish/milk. While food consumption and dietary diversity increase with agricultural involvement, the quality of diets is an issue. As purchased calories are associated with richer/high-quality diets, particularly rich in protein, households with lower dependency on agriculture access those diets more easily. This highlights the importance of income diversification to dietary diversity. It also calls for the development and support of nutrition-sensitive agricultural value chains, nutrition education and crop diversification programmes to improve household food and nutrition security.