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Food Security: Understanding Seasonality and the Role of Multiple Cropping

~ by Satvik Parashar

​A recent study by interdisciplinary researchers ( from McGill University, Rutgers School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University and Deshpande Foundation, including some NCCI members from the University of Delaware, Columbia University, Foundation for Ecological Security (FES)) explores the efficacy of multiple cropping, seasonality and the socio-economic factors with respect to food security and especially dietary diversity. Specifically they explore the seasonal variation of dietary diversity and food security as well as the associations with multiple cropping and income sources in the region.​

Credit: Amrita Neelakantan – NCCI coordinator

Food insecurity is a global problem, as 690 million people worldwide were still undernourished in 2019. Apart from this, the lack of diversity in dietary intake is responsible for chronic deficiency of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals, such as iron, vitamin A, and zinc). This deficiency is known as ‘hidden hunger’, and it affects around a quarter of the world population, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. This calls for intensive agriculture strategies such as multiple cropping, which involves harvesting crops more than once a year. The study tests the efficacy of this cropping in increasing food security as well as dietary diversity among the households.  200 households were surveyed from 40 villages within five districts of Madhya Pradesh (see map below). Same individuals from each household were surveyed for the three seasons (summer, monsoon and winter), resulting in 600 surveys.

Map of study area showing location of the 40 study villages within the five study districts at the boundary of the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, along with the spatial distribution of winter cropping (the second crop) in 2016 (cropped area data source: Jain et al 2017).

Role of Seasons As far as food security across seasons is concerned, around 43% of the respondents were found to be moderate to severe food insecure in all seasons. The largest fraction of food secure population was found in winter (44%), followed by monsoon (40%), and the least number of food secure households were found in summer (28%). Staples such as cereals, oils and spices were found to be consumed in almost all (>96%) of the households throughout the year, while other more nutritious foods such as vegetables, pulses, tubers etc. varied across the seasons. The least consumed foods were milk and animal-source protein. ​

Credit: Amrita Neelakantan – NCCI coordinator

Role of Multiple Cropping: Multiple cropping was found to be highly associated with food security in monsoon, but the sale of monsoon crops correlated with higher winter food security. Such correlations were absent in summer and winter. On similar lines, higher number of crops correlated with higher dietary diversity only during the monsoon. The number of crops in multiple cropping was specifically positively correlated with the share of pulses in the diet of households, helping address protein requirements. However, assets owned by households were the only factors that helped in providing year-round food security.

Top panel: seasonal variations in consumption of different food groups plotted by the percentage of respondents. A full circle denotes 100% respondents consumed that particular food group. Middle panel: the status of nutritional inadequacy among women population. Numbers denote proportion of women respondents with nutritional inadequacy. Bottom panel: the household food insecurity access (HFIA) prevalence status where HFIA 1 is the food secure group and HFIA 2–4 are mildly, moderately and severely food insecure groups.

Role of Income Sources: Smallholders were found to be food insecure during monsoon, irrespective of their income sources. However, smallholders dependent on farm incomes were found more likely to be insecure than those dependent on non-farm income. The dependence on farm incomes was also negatively correlated to the food diversity of households. On the other hand, households that could sell crops in the monsoon were most likely to be food secure during winter. ​Although multiple cropping contributes to better food security and dietary diversity, it only provides a seasonal relief and needs to be complemented with additional strategies. Simple strategies like home gardens can help increase both dietary diversity and food security. The introduction of LPG in the study area has increased the dietary diversity among villagers. Facilitating local markets for specific suitable crops in summer and winter seasons, similar to that of monsoon, can help provide all-season income to households, which will consequently promote food security and diversity. Conclusively, agriculture intensification alone cannot cater to the nutritional needs of a community, rather, a holistic approach is required to promote food security and dietary diversity.

​Original Paper: Mondal, P., DeFries, R., Clark, J., Flowerhill, N., Arif, Md., Harou, A., Downs, S., Fanzo, J. 2021. Multiple cropping alone does not improve year-round food security among smallholders in rura l India. Environmental Research Letters, 16: 065017. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/ac05ee Cited in text: Jain, M., Mondal, P., Galford, G.L., Fiske, G. and DeFries, R.S., 2017. An automated approach to map winter cropped area of smallholder farms across large scales using MODIS imagery. Remote Sensing, 9(6), p.566. doi: 10.7916/D8989KHR[SP1]

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