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Food Markets and Nutrition
Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019
12:30 PM - 2:15 PM
Agricultural and Applied Economics Association
Where are nutritious diets most expensive? Evidence from 195 foods in 164 countries
Food prices vary widely around the world, depending on the local cost of retail services and supply chains as well as farm supply and the border prices of tradable commodities. This study measures the cost of the most affordable nutritionally adequate diet in each country, relative to the cost of dietary energy and other benchmarks such as national income and poverty lines, so as to identify development paths associated with lower cost access to the nutrients needed for a healthy and active life. We use prices for 195 standardized food and beverage items across 164 countries in 2011 collected by the World Bank's International Comparison Project (ICP), matched with data on these items' composition in terms of 21 essential nutrients and each nutrient's lower and upper limits for a healthy adult woman. Using a subsample of 134 countries for which economic structure data are available, we find that the cost of nutrient adequacy is highest in poorer and middle-income countries, and is higher in countries with a smaller share of workers in the service sector, less urbanization and longer rural travel times to cities, at each level of national income within ICP regions. These results reveal how, controlling for income and region-specific factors, agricultural transformation towards off-farm activities is associated with lower retail prices for nutrient-rich foods. Items such as milk and eggs or fruits and vegetables are often perishable and use specialized supply chains, revealing the important role of post-harvest food systems in the cost of nutritious diets. Results presented here address variation across countries using a standardized global food list, pointing to opportunities for research on temporal and spatial variation as well as the role of additional foods that might fill nutrient gaps at low cost in particular settings.
Dairy markets and child nutrition in the developing world
Dairy is an exceptionally nutrient-dense food of immense importance to healthy growth in early childhood. However, dairy consumption among young children is strikingly low in many parts of Africa and Asia. This paper attempts to explain this puzzle, focusing on the obvious roles of income/wealth and prices, and the less well understood roles of lactose intolerance, cattle ownership, nutritional knowledge, water quality, and refrigeration. We find evidence suggesting that all of these factors might account for differences in dairy consumption across countries,although the disparity in dairy prices between low and high consumption countries is particularly large and puzzling, given the tradability and relative affordability of powdered milk. We therefore develop a novel trade analysis to understand why dairy prices are so high, especially relative to staple cereals, and illustrate how comparative (dis)advantage in dairy is often poorly aligned with pricing policies. We conclude the paper by highlighting unresolved research questions in this complex puzzle, including the need to learn from countries that have been able to drastically improve dairy consumption, including those with little tradition of dairy consumption such as Thailand and Vietnam.
Rural food markets and child nutrition
Child dietary diversity is poor in much of rural Africa and developing Asia, prompting significant efforts to leverage agriculture to improve diets. However, growing recognition that even very poor rural households rely on markets to satisfy their demand for nutrient-rich non-staple foods warrants a much better understanding of how rural markets vary in their diversity, competitiveness, frequency and food affordability, and how such characteristics are associated with diets. This paper addresses these questions using data from rural Ethiopia. Deploying a novel market survey in conjunction with an information-rich household survey, we find that children in proximity to markets that sell more non-staple food groups have more diverse diets. However, the association is small in absolute terms; moving from three non-staple food groups in the market to six is associated with an increase the number of non-staple food groups consumed by ~0.24 and the likelihood of consumption of any non-staple food group by 12 percentage points. These associations are similar in magnitude to those describing the relationship between dietary diversity and household production diversity; moreover, for some products, notably dairy, we find that household and community production diversity is especially important. These modest associations may reflect several specific features of our sample which is situated in very poor, food-insecure localities where even the relatively better off are poor in absolute terms and where, by international standards, prices for non-staple foods are very high.
Eggs before Chickens: Poultry, Poverty and Nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa
In the late 1990s a ‘livestock revolution’ literature documented rapid increases in the consumption and production of animal-sourced foods (ASFs) in transition economies, particularly poultry meat. In Africa, however, ASF consumption growth has been heavily driven by imports, suggesting a missed opportunity to promote domestic agricultural growth and rural poverty reduction. Moreover, a recent focus on nutrition-sensitive agriculture’ has catalyzed a growing interest in eggs, which are exceptionally rich in multiple nutrients and highly efficacious in reducing stunting. Yet being largely non-tradable, eggs are typically very expensive in Africa due to low productivity in the layer sector and high feed costs. These issues raise important but thus far unanswered questions surrounding agricultural development strategies in Africa. Should African countries pursue infant-industry policies to reduce their dependence on poultry meat imports, or should they instead focus on improving productivity in the domestic layer sector by addressing high feed costs? And would efforts to improve productivity in the layer sector yield any economic or nutritional benefit for the rural poor, or is agricultural commercialization inevitably urban biased? In this paper we assess these complex issues, first by documenting the more trade-dependent nature of Africa’s livestock revolution and its root causes, before turning to an economywide simulation analysis of Ghana. We show that protecting the poultry sector does more harm than good, whereas an ambitious focus on maize productivity renders the layer sector more competitive and improves the affordability of eggs and other ASFs, though more so for urban than rural populations.
University of Oxford