Fertilizer Subsidy Effects on the Diet Quality of Farm Women in Mali


February 22, 2019 - Smale, M., V. Theriault, and A. Assima

Smale, M., V. Theriault, and A. Assima, 2018. Fertilizer Subsidy Effects on the Diet Quality of Farm Women in Mali. Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research Paper 121. East Lansing, Michigan State University.

Agricultural policies affect the diets of rural households through various channels, including changes in the structure of farm costs and benefits, returns to family labor within and outside the farm, and product prices that generate incentives to grow one crop vs. another, or purchase one consumption commodity rather than another. Here, we take the example of a policy that has been widely promulgated across nations of Sub-Saharan Africa—the fertilizer (input) subsidy.

Although an impressive body of literature has measured the impacts of fertilizer subsidies in Sub-Saharan Africa since their revival in the form of “smart subsidies,” we find less than a handful so far that examine nutritional implications. These include studies conducted in Malawi, where the smart subsidy was initiated in the 1990s, and Tanzania (unpublished, to our knowledge). Further, documenting effects within male-headed households have not been the primary aim of the studies, although many of them report differentials by gender of household head.

It is also the case that relatively few studies have been conducted on the effects of the fertilizer subsidy in Mali. We focus our analysis on measuring the association between the amount of subsidized fertilizer received and the diet quality of women of reproductive age who manage plots within male-headed households in Mali. This analysis thus contributes both to the knowledge base in Mali and to the general literature on the topic of fertilizer subsidies in Sub-Saharan Africa.

We utilize survey data collected by a team of the Institut d’Economie Rurale and Michigan State University during the crop year 2017-8. The dataset includes 2400 households whose plot managers were interviewed about their fertilizer use and other management practices. Within these households, 5900 women of reproductive age were interviewed regarding their consumption in the preceding 24 hours. We constructed two currently recommended indicators of the diet quality of women: 1) the minimum adequate dietary diversity score, and 2) the women’s dietary diversity score. These are shown to be correlated with anthropometric measures and associated with the diet quality of the respondent’s children.

We find a disturbingly low proportion of women (43%) who meet the minimum adequate score of consuming foods from 5 or more of 10 key food groups in the day preceding the survey. This proportion was considerably lower among households in the agroecological zone of the Koutiala Plateau than in that of the Niger Delta. Sample statistics suggest that women managing plots planted to crops targeted by the subsidy were more likely to consume sources of food rich in iron, but also to consume snacks or meals outside the home and sources of sugar than other female plot managers. However, overall consumption of sugary foods appears to remain low—by far the largest source of sugar was sugar added to tea or coffee and on average, even this was not consumed on a daily basis. Finally, we found that the overall effect of the fertilizer subsidy on the diet quality of women who manage plots of targeted crops was likely to be very small in magnitude, although the association between kgs per ha and the count of food groups is statistically significant. Further work will examine hypotheses and findings in greater detail.


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