Seasonality and Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture in Kenya

Subjects: Accounting View times: 139
Created by: Maria Sassi

Abstract: This study investigates the impact of seasonality within the debate on nutrition-sensitive agriculture focusing on rural Lake Naivasha Basin in Kenya, which presents an interesting case study of the food system in East Africa. Seasonality shapes food and nutrition security in sub-Saharan Africa, dominated by a rain-fed system; however, lack of monthly data hampers understanding. Using mixed methods, this study constructs a monthly dataset of a representative sample of households from February 2018 to January 2019. A fixed-effects analysis highlights the association between three pathways from agriculture to nutrition while controlling for the hunger and harvesting seasons by crop. Supported by qualitative information from focus groups, the results suggest that seasonality is an important dimension of the agriculture–nutrition link and promote understanding of the complexity of the pathways suggested by the literature, including the association between crops and dietary diversity, with relevant policy implications.


A growing number of governments, donor agencies, and development organisations are recognising nutrition-sensitive development as a key approach to improve food and nutrition security [1]. In this context, agriculture makes a vital contribution, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where a large part of the population depends on the sector as a major source of food and livelihood. Nutrition-sensitive agriculture is a food-based approach to the development of the sector that seeks to maximise agriculture’s contribution to nutrition, going beyond food production to address underlying and basic causes of malnutrition [2].

At the global level, the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development [3] has recognised this role of the agricultural sector with the Zero Hunger Challenge. At the regional level, a growing number of initiatives, such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme Investment Plans, support nutrition-sensitive agriculture in sub-Saharan African countries [4,5]. Moreover, an extensive body of literature that links agriculture to food and nutrition security has also developed in recent years. However, while there is consensus on the conceptual frameworks that identify the multiple pathways by which agriculture can affect nutrition, empirical evidence remains weak and presents several gaps [6]. This evidence would be of special importance when seeking a strategy to improve food security.

Our study covers some of the gaps in the available empirical studies. Among them, one of the most important is the need for a longitudinal design [7,8]. The majority of studies use cross-sectional data. Therefore, results may be over- or underestimated due to confounding bias. The inclusion of time-variant factors is especially important in sub-Saharan countries where seasonality shapes food and nutrition security [9,10]. In these countries, most crops are grown using a rain-fed agricultural system while irrigation is limited to a small minority of households. Moreover, children experience food shortage and decline in caloric consumption during the lean season [10,11]. There is also evidence of an increase in household dietary diversity during the hunger season and of considerable variability in dietary diversity between the post- and pre-harvesting periods [12,13]. Despite these studies, the evidence on nutrition-sensitive agriculture generated from panel data is scant and, to the best of our knowledge, no empirical investigations use monthly data. The scant panel models in the literature refer to rounds administered over a one-year period and very few consider the pre- and post-harvest periods. These studies do not reflect the household situation throughout the year. On the other hand, the pre- and post-harvest studies select the seasons based on the most important staple food produced; as such, they neglect the role of other food items in food and nutrition security. Therefore, the association of food and nutrition security with increasing food production diversity and availability over the year is not fully investigated, thereby resulting in loss of important information for redesigning policies and interventions related to food security.

This study attempts to uncover these areas and to present a more accurate investigation of the pathways that link agriculture to the household food consumption status based on a panel data with monthly observations over a period of a year. Our observational study aims to unveil or confirm associations between three of the pathways through which agriculture affects nutrition as hypothesized by the literature, namely food, income, and women’s empowerment, while controlling for two types of seasonality, that is, the hunger season and the harvesting season by crop.

The fixed-effect model used in this study also addresses potential endogeneity problems arising from two unobserved issues: the possible time-constant heterogeneity across observations and time-varying factors that affect all households similarly [14]. Cross-sectional studies do not consider these problems with possible estimation bias.

Our mixed-methods research includes the construction of a rare monthly dataset, comprising a statistically representative sample of 606 households from February 2018 to January 2019 in the lower and middle basin of Lake Naivasha in Kenya, and integrated with qualitative information collected through focus group discussions. The rural area surrounding Lake Naivasha offers an interesting case study because it presents the features of the food system promoted in East Africa: market-based commercial agriculture in areas where poverty and food insecurity are widespread and where agriculture is the major source of food and livelihood for the population [15]. In the Lake Naivasha Basin, a dominating large floriculture sector coexists with a system of smallholder farms, mainly owned by Kenyans, which produces vegetables for the local market with low technology [16].

Therefore, this study, while contributing to the general literature on nutrition-sensitive agriculture, is a useful case study on an under-researched area of the food system. Moreover, this level of investigation, which is rarely undertaken by empirical studies, is of specific importance for policymaking. As noted by Ruel et al. [5], the local context plays a key role in understanding pathways from agriculture to nutrition due, for example, to the influence of diversity in the local market on these transmission channels, an aspect that the majority of the literature refers to as country-level masks.

The structure of the paper is as follows. Section 2 presents the theoretical framework adopted and the variables selected. Section 3 illustrates the methodology used for data collection and estimation. Section 4 presents and discusses results. Section 5 concludes.