Whether to diversify agricultural production or not can be a challenging decision for a farmer. On-farm diversification is often promoted as a beneficial strategy to adapt to climate change, increase food production sustainably or as a solution to food insecurity. But how do these claims match up with the latest research?
Our review article published in Global Food Security summarizes the evidence on diversification being a solution to food security in low- and middle-income countries. We surveyed 924 publications and the ones that meet the inclusion criteria report 314 individual diversity-food security relationships. In about two thirds of all studies agricultural diversity has a positive effect on food security. This is true irrespective of how diversity and food security are measured and for multiple countries.
If you are looking for strategies to increase food security, here are the five questions to ask yourself before advising smallholders to add another crop or mix crop and livestock production:
- Is there a missing function in the farming system that the new crop or livestock species can add? For example, nutrient deficiency can be addressed by adding a legume crop that adds nutrients to the soil.
- Would diversifying simply be a coping strategy for isolated smallholder farmers or are their other benefits? For example, it might just be the absence of alternative food sources that make households diversify their production.
- What is the current level of diversity and are there resources for further diversification? For example, some of the studies we reviewed found that there is an optimum level of diversity, and any further diversification might lead to too much complexity that is difficult and costly to manage.
- What is the expected pathway from diversification to food security and which dimension of food security are addressed? The most studied pathway is through consumption of own produce but there is also a pathway through market-based diversification.
- On what spatial scale is diversification most beneficial? For example, several households or villages in a region together can produce a large variety of products, even if each single household is specialized.