Blog Post

Multiple Pathways to Better Food and Nutrition Security: Evidence from Uganda

More than half of the adult population in Uganda is employed in the agriculture and fishery industries, with an estimated 36 percent engaging in subsistence agriculture. Despite the importance of agriculture to Uganda’s economy, however, the country continues to suffer from high rates of food insecurity. Small-scale farmers are often particularly hard hit by the cycle of poverty and hunger due to the vulnerability of their livelihoods to price shocks, extreme weather events, and other disruptions. A recent article in Food Security examines how increased market engagement and on-farm crop diversity can drive improvements in dietary diversity and food security for this vulnerable population.

The paper draws on data collected from over 5,000 agricultural households in the 2015-2016 Uganda National Panel Survey conducted by the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics and the World Bank. The variables of interest—dietary diversity, food security, crop diversity, and market engagement—are measured as follows:

  • Dietary diversity: A recall count of the number of food groups (out of a possible 11) each household consumed within the last seven days.
  • Food security: A recall count of how many months within the past year each household had sufficient food to feed its members.
  • Crop diversity: The number of crops grown by a household and the area allocated to each crop.
  • Market engagement: Total farm sales and proportion of food consumed by the household that is bought outside the household.

The results show that households with lower crop diversity tend to have slightly lower market sales, while those with higher level of diversity see higher sales. Households with less crop diversity also purchase more of their food for their own consumption from markets, while households with higher crop diversity rely more on their own production for household consumption needs.

Increased crop diversity was also found to be associated with more diverse diets, as well as with more reported food-secure months.

The report also found that the impacts of market engagement vary. Households with higher levels of market purchases tend to have greater dietary diversity; the same did not hold true for those with higher levels of market sales.  

The study also examined the surveyed households’ characteristics and demographics, including gender, age, education, farm size, region, and off-farm income, in order to determine how these factors impacted the other studied variables. Households with female heads experience both lower market sales and lower crop diversity. The authors point out that this is in line with other studies that have found women farmers have less access to land, seed, technologies, and other key resources.

More educated households were also found to have higher levels of dietary diversity and food security, suggesting that policies to prioritize education could have wider ranging positive effects.

Overall, the study results suggest that rather than focusing on encouraging either increased market engagement or increased crop diversity, policymakers should pursue a combination of both strategies to improve the food and nutrition security of smallholder farmers in Uganda.


Sara Gustafson is a freelance communications consultant.