South and Southeast Asia host more than half of the world’s undernourished population. Diversifying farming systems could address this issue and improve the nutrition of rural population.

The relevance of farm diversification

The second sustainable development goals states that the United Nations want to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition by 2030. Part of achieving such ambitious goals could be increasing diversification both on-field and off-field which can lead to better nourishment for farm inhabitants. Furthermore, the environmental impacts on agriculture can be reduced. Especially in South and South-East Asia the dependency on only a few high-value staples cereals like rice, maize and wheat has grown over the last 20 years. This process took place even though diversification strategies are considered beneficial to secure the access to micro-nutrients and food security. However, there are still unanswered questions we aimed to address in this study – especially with respect to benefits across multiple locations and countries. Due to the wide variety of smallholder-owned farms, there is also a wide range of strategies to be implemented. So, developing the right diversification strategies is key to reduce for example climate change impacts and improve nourishment rates in South and South-East Asia.

Statistical Approach

To empirically examine this topic, we employed generalized linear regression models to analyze the farm diversification strategies of 4,772 rural households in Cambodia, India, Laos PDR and Vietnam. In the map below all locations are illustrated, where survey data was available. We focused on the impacts of farm diversification and other livelihood strategies on dietary diversity. We also analyze drivers of farm diversification to understand how to increase diversification in locations where it has demonstrated benefits. The data used consists of a pooled dataset compiled from secondary cross-sectional data from the Rural Household Multi-Indicator Survey (RhoMIS). This data pool consists of 12 different rural household surveys conducted between 2015-2020, however not nationally representative. We classify the results of RhoMIS into three different categories, crop diversity, livestock diversity and dietary diversity. These categories are then associated with different measures of dietary diversity.

Fig. 1: Locations of RhoMIS sites in India, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Farm diversification increases dietary diversity but is less relevant for large farms

Farm diversification, market orientation and generating off-farm income are all strategies that can improve household and individual dietary diversity. However, their relative effects depends on the size of the farm. The positive effect of farm diversification on dietary diversity for example is more pronounced for smaller farms. Households with larger farms are more likely to improve their diet by increasing their engagement in off-farm activities and selling their products on markets. We find that farm diversification is mostly influenced by environmental and climate variables. Diversification increases for example with higher rainfall and lower rainfall variability. Also education, farm debt and farm income are explaining factors for the variability in farm diversity. These results can aid recommendations for increasing diversity and its benefits for diets.

Read the paper:

Tacconi, F., Waha, K., Ojeda, J.J., Leith, P., Mohammed, C., Venables, W.N., Rana, J.C., Bhardwaj, R., Yadav, R., Ahlawat, S.P., Hammond, J., van Wijk, M., 2023. Farm diversification strategies, dietary diversity and farm size: Results from a cross-country sample in South and Southeast Asia. Global Food Security 38, 100706. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2023.100706