Legumes for Households Food Security in Zimbabwe's Semi-arid Areas - Implications Child Nutrition

Food and nutrition security have become an increasingly important area of policy debate in developing countries. Children in the semi-arid areas of Africa are most vulnerable because of the poor socio-economic status of their parents especially their mothers. In Zimbabwe, frequent droughts, the decreasing performance of the agricultural sector since the onset of the land reform program and severe economic underperformance have resulted in high levels of child malnutrition. Because legumes are protein and calorie rich, are cheap to produce (do not require heavy input use), are drought resistant and increase soil fertility through biological nitrogen fixation, they have often been considered as the best cropping innovation for increasing food and nutrition security for the most vulnerable children in the country. However, no comprehensive studies have been carried out in the country to estimate and ascertain this contribution. In this study, using household farming data from the Department of Agricultural and Extension Services (AGRITEX) and from community level health institutions, a two stage instrumental variable probit model was developed to establish the factors affecting the level of legume production at farm level and to estimate the contribution of legume cultivation to child nutrition in Zimbabwe. Results from the study show a significant positive increase in the chances of a household not having a malnourished child as the level of legume cultivation increases. By instrumenting legume production levels by the aggregated quantity of legume seed available for planting, the study found that a 1Kg increase in the quantity of legume seed cultivated was found to have an 11.6% marginal increase in the chances of a household not having a malnourished child. The results, backed by focus group discussions and key informant interviews also show that, lack of legume producing inputs especially seed and land heavily constrain the production of legumes at a larger scale. Formal education and agricultural extension (both government and private sector provided) generally discourage legume cultivation in favour of livestock and other crops. Markets were found to be week in driving legume production because legume markets are not well developed and organised in the study areas. Policies that seek to achieve better child nutrition through legumes should aim to increase availability of legume production inputs especially seed and land to women and to sensitize men, extension workers and school agricultural education curriculum developers on the value of legumes in reducing child malnutrition. Also, women empowerment projects that focus on agricultural resource allocation between men and women have a potential to improve legume production and thus child nutrition. Legume production can be stimulated by the creation and development of legume markets through a value chain system.