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Milk production: A nutritional buffer for households in times of conflict and other stress

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Household dietary composition in Nepal, by food group, 2003 (in percentage of total calories); source: World Bank, 2003. 

A new discussion paper from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) recommends that livestock-oriented policies to improve child nutrition be designed to mitigate the harmful impacts of conflicts or related events, such as climate change or natural disasters, and that doing so will lead to healthier, more resilient children and communities.

From the abstract
‘Much policy and research attention has focused on the relationship between agriculture and nutrition. We extend this analysis to the context of Nepal’s decade-long civil conflict. Understanding how conflict or similar stress mitigates the agriculture-nutrition linkage is essential to developing impactful agriculture and nutrition policy in potential conflict zones. To our knowledge, there is no prior empirical work on the link between agriculture and nutrition in the context of conflict.

‘We find a robust relationship between milk consumption and anthropometric outcomes. We also show a positive link between milk production and milk consumption at the household level. We find significant negative relationships between conflict and milk consumption for households owning few livestock while such relationships do not exist for larger holders.

‘We attribute these heterogeneous effects to conflict-related productivity declines and milk price increases, both of which disproportionately affect households with fewer livestock and lower milk-production capacity.

‘Among rural households in Nepal, milk production could serve as a nutritional buffer in times of conflict or other stress, and thus, policies that promote households’ livestock production could be effective measures in improving resilience of the rural poor against shocks that negatively affect child health outcomes.’

From the introduction
‘As the impacts of malnutrition in the early stages of life are increasingly understood and many of the poor in developing countries are small farmers, policy and research attention is shifting toward the relationship between agriculture and nutrition. This paper focuses on this agriculture-nutrition link in Nepal in the context of the country’s decade-long civil conflict. To the best of our knowledge, there is no prior empirical work on how the relationship between agriculture and nutrition is mediated by conflict. Moreover, research on agriculture-nutrition linkages is hampered by cross-sectional data that have limited ability to account for household unobservables that may simultaneously influence consumption and production decisions at the household level (Haddad 2013; Masset et al. 2012; Webb 2013).

‘Using panel household data from the Nepal Living Standards Survey (NLSS), combined with conflict data from the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), we assess the relationship between livestock ownership, milk consumption, and child anthropometric outcomes in the context of conflict. We provide rich empirical evidence that furthers understanding of previously unexplored relationships.

‘Our paper contributes to the existing literature on agriculture, nutrition, and conflict in three ways. First, we study the relationship between livestock ownership, milk consumption, and child anthropometric outcomes in Nepal, where meat consumption is limited and milk pays a particularly important role in children’s nutritional status. Second, we fill a research gap by exploring the impacts of conflict on the production-consumption linkage between livestock ownership and milk consumption. Finally, while the INSEC deaths data are commonly used in studies of Nepal’s conflict, we know of no prior work that combines them with ICRC data on civilian disappearances, an understudied dimension of conflict intensity.

‘Our findings show a strong link between child anthropometric outcomes and milk consumption as well as between milk production and milk consumption. Households with relatively low milk-production potential see stronger negative relationships between conflict and milk consumption. Declines in milk consumption for these households during conflict may be associated with reduced livestock productivity and increases in consumer price.

These results suggest that promotion of milking herds may help rural households not only in income generation but also in directly improving child nutrition, given the strong production-consumption link with respect to milk.

Milk production also can serve as a nutritional buffer in times of conflict or other stress.

Hence, policies that promote households’ increasing livestock holdings and milk production, particularly among those with few animals, could be effective in improving the resilience of the rural poor against shocks.

From the Background
‘Empirically linking agriculture and nutritional outcomes is notoriously difficult. Indeed, Haddad (2013), Masset et al. (2012), Webb (2013), and other reviews emphasize that, despite a strong interest in the topic, most studies have significant methodological shortcomings and there is a lack of evidence of causal impacts of agricultural interventions designed to affect nutrition, such as home gardens; aquaculture; and animal husbandry. Ex post assessment of the role of household agricultural production on nutrition outcomes faces several conceptual and technical challenges. . . .

‘Until recently, little research convincingly tackled these challenges, in part due to the lack of household panel datasets in many developing countries. Several recent studies attempt to understand the relationship between livestock, agricultural production, and child nutrition using cross-sectional household data. Kabunga (2014) and Rawlins et al. (2014) both use propensity-score matching to determine that adoption of dairy breeds increases milk consumption in Uganda and Rwanda, respectively. Similarly, Hoddinott, Headey, and Dereje (2015) find a positive relationship between anthropometric outcomes of children and dairy cattle ownership in Ethiopia, all while controlling for potential income effects, thereby suggesting that the production-consumption linkage is a primary pathway between dairy cattle and child outcomes. . . .

‘In Uganda, Azzarri et al. (2015) use panel data to examine the link between livestock ownership and consumption of different animal-source foods, finding positive effects of large ruminant ownership on milk consumption, but not beef consumption, and a strong positive relationship between poultry ownership and chicken consumption.’

Overall findings suggest the existence of agriculture-nutrition linkages, particularly in livestock production, and highlight the importance of the direct production-consumption linkage among smallholder farmers. . . .

Read the whole discussion paper by the International Food Policy Research Institute: Agriculture-nutrition linkages and child health in the presence of conflict in Nepal, by Elizabeth Bageant, Yanyan Liu and Xinshen Diao, 2016.

This study was prepared as part of, and partially funded by, the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) collaborates with IFPRI and other CGIAR centres and partners in PIM.

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