Producing nutritious food: Journal Club with Cecilie Dyngeland

At this week’s Journal Club, Grantham Scholar Cecilie Dyngeland led a discussion on the challenges of developing a global food supply that is not just sustainable, but which has nutritious diversity. You can read her take below.

This week’s paper

‘Measuring nutritional diversity of national food supplies’ by R. Remans, S. Wood, N. Saha, T.L. Anderma and R.S. DeFries

cecile-dyngelandThe paper I chose for this week’s journal club was ‘Measuring nutritional diversity of national food supplies’ by R. Remans, S. Wood, N. Saha, T.L. Anderma and R.S. DeFries, published in the journal of Global Food Security in 2014.

As the fifth of “the Granthams” choosing a paper I felt this article was a nice continuation of previous discussions we have had on sustainable diets, global agricultural production and farming practices. It also showed an example of a type of analysis which I will use myself in my research on food security in Brazil. My hope was that we would be able to find aspects of the paper relevant to all of our research, and perhaps also shed even more light on the complexities of food security.

What the article tries to do is go beyond the pure focus on agricultural production and apply a nutritional lens to look at how production and nutrition combine on a global scale. More specifically it looks at how national production diversity relates to nutritious diversity and how both measures of diversity affect nutrition and health.

Our discussion was very interesting and many drew upon own knowledge and examples which further enriched it. From the paper, we gathered there is an important distinction to be made between production diversity and nutritional diversity. In West Africa, for instance, production diversity is high, yet because a large amount of the food grown is staple crops like rice, maize and sorghum they score low in nutritious food supply. We also found that income appears to play a large part in diversity of nutritional diversity. Wealthier countries, regardless of domestic production, can just import the food they need, whereas poorer countries lacking that ability have to rely more on their national production. This brought about an interesting discussion on how globalisation and international trade affect which products are most profitable to produce for a country, regardless of their nutritious value.

The paper also brought up the issue of food reliance. We considered a future world where trade is made more difficult, and wondered if wealthier countries who are now overly dependent on importing nutritious food from elsewhere will be the ones suffering most if trade becomes restricted. Likewise, we discussed the current global food system and examples from around the world where the reduction in biodiversity in crops has caused negative outcomes in yields, threatening the ability of future agricultural production and the supply of nutritious food.

Lastly, we acknowledged the gaps and limitations of the article and thought especially about the fact that food production for household consumption and subsistence farming is not included, although for the developing countries especially this production can make up a substantial part of daily diets, providing important nutrients. Had this data been available perhaps it would paint a different picture of national food diversity.

I daresay we all agreed that monitoring the nutritious value of the food produced is important and there is a need to consider this fact when decisions on food productions are made. We are, however, questioning whether it will be emphasised as much as profit does in today’s system, thinking trade will still be a main driver over which type of food is produced and consumed where.