Home / Thought for food monthly meetings: Relax

Thought for food monthly meetings: Relax

The Relax [Promoting resilience in the African rural households_ food systems at a crossroads] research project, funded by Agropolis Fondation, Carasso and Cariplo foundations, aims to explore the links between agricultural diversity, the diversity of wild resources and the diversity of food consumption (agriculture/nature/food link).

Interview with Sandrine Dury, who is co-directing the project.

  • What are the main strengths/results of your project?

The main results of the project concern:

The very low diversity of women’s diets in agricultural households. A survey over 12 consecutive months in a cotton-growing region in western Burkina Faso (le Tuy) among about 300 women shows that 80% of women have a high probability of deficiencies in essential micronutrients (minimum individual diversity score for women <5). This percentage rises to 90% between August and October and falls to 65% between March and June. These seasonal variations are explained by fluctuations in agricultural incomes and the availability of important products in the diversity: fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, consumption of land animal products (meat, offal, dairy products and eggs) is extremely low and concerns less than 12% of women. Finally, legumes are consumed by only 10% of women! This very low dietary diversity is confirmed by the decadal monitoring for one year of the composition of meals in 42 farming households (very little animal protein, few dishes containing mostly pulses), regardless of the ethnicity of the household and the type of farming (with or without cotton, importance of livestock, etc.). The work carried out on qualitative surveys shows that the low dietary diversity observed can be explained by cultural and social logics based on people’s perceptions of food and its implications (production logics, consumption logics, what farmers think of food).
Food insecurity due to a lack of cereals remains a key concern, and the nutritional diversity of the diet is not thought of as such, even though variety (e.g. changing the basic dish, maize, rice or pasta) may be presented as an objective by heads of households and their wives.

Women can achieve a given level of dietary diversity by different, more or less complementary means, which vary from household to household: self-consuming agricultural production, buying in markets, and gathering. Different sources of supply provide access to different foods at different times of the year.

Resilience: Different events and changes in the territory of Tuy have changed the way each farm household ensures its food supply and its ability to cope with adversity. Depending on the periods and events in their lives, farm households have ensured a minimum food diversity although this is not an explicit objective. Their adaptation strategies are varied and complementary: through the diversification of agricultural production for self-consumption, through increased production, sale and recourse to the market, through the gathering of wild products or through the development of extra-agricultural activities.

Uncultivated trees contribute to food diversity through products collected and consumed or sold by often vulnerable people (children, women). Nevertheless, the biodiversity of these trees is being eroded due to agricultural extensions and logging. As a result of this scarcity and the external demand for certain products (shea, néré), access rights to uncultivated trees growing in fields or fallow land are becoming increasingly exclusive (privatization of former common property) and less and less accessible for the most fragile.

Consumer markets have an ambivalent role for farm families from a food point of view: they allow food purchases of important products (fresh or dried fish) and or which cannot be produced by families (pasta), but also of products of poor nutritional quality (maggi cubes, sodas, sugar).

Food diversity is beginning to be an issue for agricultural policies and food security. Greater attention paid to this issue implies continuing to bring together agricultural and nutrition stakeholders, in terms of vision of the interests of agricultural diversification, intersectoral coordination and implementation of the country’s commitments to nutrition-sensitive agriculture.

  • In what respect is your project innovative?

The project is innovative in terms of multidisciplinarity (agronomy, economics, nutrition, sociology, political science) and integration of the social (from the individual to the village community, including consumption, production and farming units), spatial (from the plot to the village territory) and temporal (from ten days to the year) scales.

The project is methodologically innovative because it has made it possible to articulate in a common and coherent framework different units of social analysis (from the individual to the village community through the consumption or exploitation units), spatial (from the plot to the village territory) and temporal (from ten days to the year, or to the life span of the households).

It is also innovative in its approach: introduction of eight speculations of high nutritional value in agricultural practices for the dual purpose of diversifying production and consumption. Training of 90 women in three villages (Wakuy, Gombélédougou and Makognadougou) on the transformation of Soya into soumbala, doughnut and brochette. The evaluation made it possible to understand that some of them have nowadays integrated certain speculations in their diet. These are two legumes: mung peas and soybeans. This shows the ability to incorporate novel foods into the food repertoire.

It has made it possible to integrate a questioning of food consumption, and in particular food diversity, into different disciplinary approaches and in connection with different themes: modelling of socio-ecosystems (village or farm household), farm household functioning, farm management and performance, and public policy analysis. The rural landscape, agriculture, animal husbandry and natural resource management, as well as markets are analysed in terms of their capacity to supply not only basic products, but also diversified products, especially for the most vulnerable.

The results highlight the complementary nature of the levers for improving food diversity, which are often presented as antagonistic: diversifying or specializing agricultural production; promoting access to food diversity through self-consumption or food purchase.

In terms of policy recommendations, it is equally important to improve the diversity of agricultural supply, market supply and to preserve biodiversity related to uncultivated trees. Above all, it shows that solutions to improve food diversity also depend on households and their different economic, social and cultural resources.


Sandrine Dury, Deputy Director of the Environments and Societies Department, Agricultural and Food Economist (HDR), Associate Researcher at UMR Moïsa