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How much would an average family need to plant annually to achieve food security?

This question was posted the Livelihoods interventions forum area and has 6 replies. You can also reply via email – be sure to leave the subject unchanged.

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Nicki Connell

Emergency Nutrition Advisor, Save the Children

Normal user

12 Dec 2012, 14:10

I wondered if anyone had any information on how much an average family would need to plant annually to achieve food security? Our team in Uganda are trying to investigate this potentially for use in livelihoods programming moving forward. I appreciate there are many variables to consider with such a question, such as what is planted (macro/micronutrient content), what conditions exist in the context, how successful the harvest is, the constitution of the average family in question (number of children in which age groups, number of pregnant/lactating women) etc., but has anyone tried to do this yet?

We have data from the FAO home gardening manual saying that a family of 6 needs approximately 2.3 kg of maize, 1.1 kg beans and 0.7 kg green vegetables daily to meet requirements. Is it possible to just multiply those amounts by 365, i.e. a family would need 840 kg maize, 400 kg beans and 255 kg vegetables per year?

From there is it possible to convert these amounts into the amount that needs to be planted to get these yields, splitting the amounts up to achieve variety/dietary diversity?

Or are there simply too many variables to consider to get a worthwhile figure in the end?


Friedman School of Nutr Science & Policy, Tufts Un

Normal user

12 Dec 2012, 16:54

Hello Nicki,

People have tried all sorts of formulas for this, but I'm always very skeptical of them, and I've rarely seen them to have more value than to justify a request in a proposal. Approaching it the route you suggest would, as you say at the end of your question, leave you with too many variables to consider. There are questions like, variations in yield, portions of crops sold for other needs, post harvest losses, price fluctuations, alternative sources of income, chronically ill family members that need additional nutrients...

Another route, if you're up for it, might be to form a few focus groups with what are considered food secure families with healthy children and see what they do. How much do they plant, harvest, sell, lose to insects and pests, purchase in the market, etc.? They are essentially the positive examples of what you are trying to achieve with the rest of the community so might be able to guide you a bit.

Hope that helps,


Sonya LeJeune

Normal user

12 Dec 2012, 21:27

Hi Nicki

I think that MINAGRI in Rwanda may have tried to come up with some sort of figures linking crop losses, typical yeilds and calories for 'typical households', probably consisting of five people. Of course you'd need to consider typical energy expenditure as well as household composition. But if you can get hold of the documents they might give you some sort of indication..

However, as Merry also pointed out - there are a lot of variables to consider. If you take forward the idea of focus groups, the information would need to be differentiated by wealth, as there are likely to be important differences in terms of soil fertility, ability to pay for inputs, access to manure / animal traction, household labour capacity, ability to cultivate on time etc. Plus, of course, the ability to take certain 'risks' such as planting crop varieties which may be high yeilding, but eg only when weather conditions are right.

You don't mention whether or not this has arisen from a livelihoods analysis? While crops may make up an important proportion of food needs for households in rural areas, crop sales are also an important income source and allow households to pay for essential other expenses such as health care, education, clothing, additional foods to make what they grow more palatable, to provide micronutrients etc etc. Thus it would be unreasonable to expect all crops produced to be consumed within the household.

Which type of household is the team trying to target? Poorer households very often buy more food than they can produce. For such households, their food access depends on their ablity to find labour or other income earning opportunities, and on market prices. Thus concentrating on agricultural improvement often doesn't make as positive an impact on the food security of poorer households than, for example, some sort of market intervention etc.. Especially as donors these days want to see more 'impact' in return for money spent, this is definitely something to take into account.

I hope that these thoughts have not confused things!

Anonymous 432


Normal user

13 Dec 2012, 05:46

It is a very interesting discussion. However, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that food security does not equal nutrition security. And I assume that this is what your are interested in?! So, if you want to make this calculation, your are looking only at one pillar of underlying causes of nutrition security.
Another point is the fact that the calculation you are doing is based on a non-animal source protein diet which will be not the most appropriate diet for children under five.
There are attempts to link food security and nutrition security by linking Household Economy Assessments with Cost of Diet calculations. Maybe you should try this one.
In case you want to go in the direction of Behaviour Change Communication you might follow the previous suggestion and looking for positive deviance - what makes some households with similar conditions coping better than others.
Hope this helps.

Basil Kransdorff - e'Pap Technologies


Normal user

13 Dec 2012, 06:26

This discussion is important but also a little complex when one looks at it from a NUTRITION perspective. What we know from a micronutrient perspective is that the current food chain has been drastically compomised and there is lots of scientific data that indicates that nutrient density of fruit and vegetables for example have dropped up to 75% over the past 50 years. Modern Agriculture methods and food processing refining focused only on yield are to blame because nutrient content is not on their radar sreen. Policy makers and politicians are only focused on yeild and stomach filling. The problem highlights the important distinction between food security and nutrition security. Trying to do the calculation based only on macro nutrients of carbohydrates and protein is an excercise in futility because human being will still remain dysfuntional if they do not receive the micronutrients. What this means is it is not only important to calculate the quantity of food required but also how it is grown and and what the nutrient content of the food is.

Nicki Connell

Emergency Nutrition Advisor, Save the Children

Normal user

13 Dec 2012, 09:31

Thanks all for your useful insights.

In relation to the comment from ECHO, it is not nutrition security that is the objective of this idea as, as you rightly say, that relies on so many other underlying causes being addressed. It is merely to try and look at the contribution of crop-based foodstuffs to achieving food security and what that would entail. If possible!

Many thanks,

ken hargesheimer

gardens/mini-farms network

Normal user

17 Nov 2014, 15:37

That is nearly impossible to determine. The biggest factor is how are they going to garden. If they will use organic, no-till method, it takes little land. I will email info to anyone who will email to me their address. I have a free dvd. I volunteer to teach workshops when expenses are paid.

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