Does subsidizing fertilizer contribute to the diet quality of farm women? Evidence from rural Mali

November 12, 2020 - Author: Melinda Smale, Veronique Thériault, and Nicole M. Mason

Smale, M., Thériault, V., & Mason, N. M. (2020). Does subsidizing fertilizer contribute to the diet quality of farm women? Evidence from rural Mali. Food Security, 1-18. Published online 2 Sept. 2020. 


Agricultural policies can change incentives to grow one crop versus another, affecting farm family nutrition. Governments in Sub-Saharan Africa have implemented fertilizer subsidies with the aim of boosting agricultural productivity and enhancing food security. Yet, little is known about the intrahousehold nutritional consequences of fertilizer subsidies that often favor the production of starchy food staples—supporting calorie consumption but not micronutrient intake. We test the effects of fertilizer subsidies on gender-differentiated value of production and sales of target crops and the diet quality of female plot managers in Malian farming households. We find positive effects of the subsidy on production and sales whether plots are managed by men or women. However, more than half the women in our sample do not consume the minimum number of food groups needed for an adequate diet. Subsidized fertilizer significantly contributes to the chances that female plot managers will meet this threshold, and to consumption of iron-rich foods. Positive effects appear to be offset by the negative association of diet quality with all subsidized fertilizer received by other plot managers—perhaps because it leads to greater farm orientation toward targeted cereals and cotton. Disaggregating data by gender provides policy insights. Observing the low use rates of female plot managers for subsidized fertilizer that is obtained 51% of the time through others, ensuring that they have direct access may support higher application rates. If the subsidy program is to continue, considering nutrient-rich crops as part of the subsidy package might enhance nutritional outcomes.


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