Agricultural Intensification, Dietary Diversity and Markets in the Global Food Security Narrative

Over the last half century, agricultural intensification has accelerated rapidly, enabling the production of sufficient quantities of cereal crops to feed billions of people across the globe. There is little doubt that this is an important part of the reason why there is a smaller percentage of people who are hungry than ever before in modern history. But while more people now have access to adequate calories, the quality of diets has not been improving at the same rate and, in many cases, has actually deteriorated. Despite advances in the production of staple crops, there remain around 800 million people in the world who do not consume enough calories, 2 billion people globally who suffer from micronutrient deficiencies and 2 billion adults who are overweight or obese.

Though the number of people suffering from poor quality diets outnumbers the number suffering from lack of food, narratives addressing food security and agriculture are still dominated by productionist paradigms focused on producing more staple crops and calories, albeit with increasing attention to doing so sustainably. In this paper, we argue that a narrow focus on intensification of staple crop production in agricultural and food security policy may lead to unintended negative consequences for the dietary quality of millions of rural communities. We advocate for broadening the focus of agricultural policies and funding to take into account dietary diversity and quality.


  • Many food security experts have been calling for agricultural intensification in developing countries to feed a growing global population
  • This narrative is based on a narrow view of food security focused on calories and neglects issues of dietary quality
  • Encouraging small farmers across the developing world to grow more staple crops more intensively may have unintended negative consequences on dietary quality
  • A more nuanced approach sensitive to local contexts and appreciative of foods other than staples may lead to alternative policy choices in many places

Author: A. Ickowitz, B. Powell, D. Rowland, A. Jones and T. Sunderland

Publisher: ScienceDirect

Language: English

Year: 2018

Ecosystem(s): Agricultural Land

Location(s): Global

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