Nutritional benefits of improved grain legume cultivation in Ghana and Kenya

My first paper ‘Grain legume cultivation and children’s dietary diversity in smallholder farming households in rural Ghana and Kenya’ was just published in Springer’s journal Food Security! Currently, I am finalising my second paper sharing results of our dietary gap assessment in northern Ghana. I analysed whether the dietary requirements of Ghanaian households were met by their own households’ production, both on the basis of total nutrient requirements based on gender, age or physiological status (pregnant or breastfeeding) of individual household members (comparing quantity of nutrients needed with nutrient produced) and on the basis of local dietary guidelines (comparing quantity of foods needed with foods produced). We found that household production covered macronutrient needs (except for fat) but did not cover most micronutrient needs (especially calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and vitamin C). Many households did not cover their grain and legume needs (40% of the households covered less than 100% of their needs) and no households covered their vegetable needs by their own production. Comparison of the monetary value of a household’s total production with the costs of that household’s total food needs, showed that more than one third of the households were not able to cover their food needs if all farm income was spent on food.

In addition, we identified the percentage of food group requirements covered by their production at district level in Karaga district and national level in Ghana. At household level, we used the median instead of the mean because of a few strong outliers. At district level, we used the mean as it does represent the potential coverage at district level (high production levels of foods from the different food groups of a few households may be available at local markets). At national level, we used kg of national food availability per capita in relation to the recommended food per capita (based on South African food-based dietary guidelines as there are no national guidelines for Ghana). We found that grain needs were amply covered overall at household (a median (IQR) of 150 (244) but with 40% of individual households with a coverage below 100%), district and national level, see Figure. Legume needs were also covered at household and district level but not at national level. Vegetable needs were not covered at all of these levels.

Figure. Percentage of food group requirements covered by their production at household and district level in Karaga district and national level in Ghana. Values at household level are in median (IQR) (median is used instead of the mean because of a few strong outliers); values at district level are in mean (SD); and values at national level are percentages coverage (kg national food availability per capita/recommended food per capita (South African food-based dietary guidelines)*100).


The assessment of dietary gaps may help to identify key crops that require a boost in terms of production and market development to make them better available and more affordable. The availability of diverse, nutrient-dense food is an essential first step towards meeting dietary goals. It should ultimately be reinforced by improvements in food distribution, accessibility and utilization. In October, I will present both papers at the 21st International Congress of Nutrition in Argentina.

Ilse de Jager, Wageningen University & Research, The Netherlands (Click here for her 2016 update)

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