Date Published: March 12, 2019
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Kaleab Baye, Kalle Hirvonen, Mekdim Dereje, Roseline Remans, Yacob Zereyesus.
Agricultural sector plays a key role towards achieving healthier diets that are deemed critical for improving health and nutritional outcomes. To what extent the current food supply systems support healthy diets remains unknown. Using annual and nationally representative data on crop and livestock production in Ethiopia, we assess the national agricultural sector from a nutrition lens and its role in supporting healthy diets in the country. We do so by converting the agricultural production into energy and nutrients for the period of 2011–2015. These data show that the national food production has increased dramatically over the 5-year period to supply more than 3,000 calories per capita in 2015. Moreover, nutrient production gaps have substantially decreased (2011–15), but deficits in energy (5%), vitamin C (16%), and calcium (9%) production remained in 2015. However, this production growth–coming primarily from the cereal sector and at the expense of other food groups–led to a decrease in production diversity as reflected by a drop in the Shannon index between 2011 and 2015. Together these findings imply that the production increases in Ethiopia would need to be sustained to feed the rapidly growing population but more emphasis should be given to diversification to support healthy and nutritionally diversified diets.
One in three people worldwide is affected by one or more forms of malnutrition. Nearly 800 million are undernourished, 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese . About two billion people worldwide are anemic and suffer from micronutrient deficiencies . Globally, three billion people have poor quality diets. Poor diets are now considered as the leading causes of morbidity and mortality putting people at a greater risk than unsafe sex, tobacco, drug and alcohol use combined . Although what constitutes a healthy diet is context-dependent, there is a strong evidence that diverse diets which include nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts along with moderate consumption of animal source foods are associated with healthier outcomes, ranging from decreased risk of heart disease, cancer and obesity [3–5].
Table 1 shows how the total food production in Ethiopia increased by 56 percent from 301 million quintals in 2011 to 469 million quintals in 2015. We also see that the three largest regions in terms of population and arable land–Oromia, SNNP and Amhara–together produce more than 90 percent of the annual food production in the country. A closer look at the total food production by food group is provided in Table 2. This reveals that apart from dairy and flesh foods, the production of all plant-based food groups has considerably increased over the five-year period. Staple crop production increased the most (12 percent/year), while other plant-based food groups increased between 3.7 and 7.6 percent per annum. Apart from eggs, the production of animal source foods remained stagnant.
The present study indicates that Ethiopia’s food production sector has grown substantially between 2011 and 2015. Importantly for food security, this increase in production has kept pace with the rapidly growing population over the same period. The estimated energy and nutrient gaps decreased over the period, but mainly because of increases in the production of starchy staples. Consequently, a considerable decrease in the diversity of food production was observed.