Multiple cropping alone does not improve year-round food security among smallholders in rural India

Mondal, Pinki; DeFries, Ruth S.; Clark, Jessica; Flowerhill, Nicole; Arif, Md.; Harou, Aurelie; Downs, Shauna; Fanzo, Jessica C.

Achieving and maintaining food and nutrition security is an important Sustainable Development Goal, especially in countries with largely vulnerable population with high occurrence of hunger and malnutrition. By studying a small-scale agricultural system in India, we aim to understand the current state of dietary diversity and food insecurity among the farmer communities. The study landscape has witnessed a steady rise in multiple cropping (i.e. harvesting more than once a year) along with irrigation over the last two decades. Whether this multiple cropping can be expected to improve year-round food security is not well understood. We specifically examine if planting multiple food crops within a year is associated with dietary diversity and food security. We collected information on demographic and economic variables, farming activities and livelihood choices, from 200 unique households for three seasons (monsoon/rainy, winter, summer) during 2016–2018 (n = 600). Based on both a 24 h and a 30 days recall, we calculated several indicators, including the household dietary diversity score, the minimum dietary diversity for women, and household food insecurity access scale. At least 43% of the sample population experiences moderate to severe food insecurity in all seasons. Cereals (mainly rice) remain the most important food item irrespective of the season, with negligible consumption of other nutrient-rich food such as tubers, fish, eggs, and meats. Around 81% of women in all seasons do not consume a minimally diverse diet. Multiple cropping is associated with higher food security only during monsoon, while selling monsoon crops is associated with winter food security. Households practicing multiple cropping consume more pulses (a plant-based protein source) compared to single-cropping or non-farming households (p < 0.05). We find that multiple cropping cannot be used as a cure-all strategy. Rather a combination of income and nutrition strategies, including more diverse home garden, diverse income portfolio, and access to clean cooking fuel, is required to achieve year-round dietary diversity or food security.

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Environmental Research Letters

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Academic Units
Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
Published Here
January 28, 2022