Agricultural diversification as an important strategy for achieving food security in Africa
This research article (PDF) in the Global Change Biology journal explores the relationship between farming diversity and food security and the diversification potential of African agriculture and its limits on the household and continental scale. The study has demonstrated that diversification does have an essential role to play in ensuring food security and stabilizing food production in Africa where possible. On the household scale, it shows that households with greater farming diversity are more successful in meeting their consumption needs. However the limits to diversification are at around 3-4 crops per ha cropland, or 4-7 crop and animal types per ha cropland. Furthermore, the most food secure households have only half of that farming diversity on average, other food can be purchased from off-farm income or income of farm sales. This highlights the importance of market access and employment options outside agriculture. At continental level, rain and rainfall variability have explanatory power in relation to current distribution of crop and livestock production in Africa. These robust relationships provide opportunities to rapidly assess feasible diversification options for different regions, thus offering a valuable input into policy and investment formulation. However, households might still be limited in their ability to diversity because of unfavorable soils, labor, input and land constraints. So, there is a need to shift policy and research funding space so that it accommodates explicitly investments in diversification as well as improvements in the varieties of major staples that are more resilient to climate change. This shift will require acknowledgement that “different” can be an equally important solution as producing “more of the same”. Crop and farming diversification strategies need to be understood as a critical component of farmers’ adaptation to changing climate.