Interventions in cash crop value chains can improve nutrition: Evidence from a natural experiment in rural Sierra Leone

PROACT training group in Sierra Leone, photo: Isaac Bonuedi

May 06, 2020.  

The production of cocoa, coffee and non-food cash crops is central to the livelihoods of many smallholder farmers in parts of rural Africa. These high-valued crops are also important to processors and end consumers in advanced and emerging economies. However, high rates of food insecurity and malnutrition prevail among producing families at the base of value chains in major cash-crop growing areas.

Sustainability of cash crop sectors in peril

Widespread hunger and malnutrition threaten the sustainability of these sectors with productivity losses from diminished work capacity, increased health expenditure and reduced educational attainment. Sustainability standards, certification schemes, and other interventions and programs have mainly focused on increasing yields and incomes as well as addressing concerns related to the social and environmental sustainability of production methods. Nutritional considerations have hitherto been neglected.

The PROACT intervention in Sierra Leone

In a bid to achieve food security and end all forms of malnutrition by 2030, policy makers are increasingly pushing for integrated interventions and investments. However, there is lack of evidence on the impact of interventions which combine the conventional promotion of market-oriented production with nutritional training. The Pro-Resilience Action 2015 (PROACT) program was implemented by Welthungerhilfe (WHH) and its project partners in Sierra Leone. a post-conflict and least-developed country in West Africa. PROACT integrated a nutrition-based component into a tree crop value chain intervention. It provided additional farm inputs and training to smallholder cocoa, coffee and cashew farmers. The goal of the project was to improve the livelihoods as well as the food security and nutrition situation of the farmers.

Research results

Combining both value chain and nutrition training significantly improved dietary diversity and the consumption of nutritious food at household and individual levels. However, compared to households who were not part of the program, no positive impact was found on the dietary diversity of those households who only received support for cash crop production through the value chain intervention. The nutrition intervention alone improved the maternal intake of micronutrient rich food groups. The results show that improvements in caregivers’ nutrition knowledge and confidence are the potential channels through which the combined intervention improves dietary outcomes. Nutrition-sensitive investments in cash crop sectors promise to be an effective way to increase dietary diversity and reduce micronutrient deficiencies among nutritionally vulnerable smallholder families.


About the author

Isaac Bonuedi is a junior researcher at ZEF
Contact: s7isbonn[at]


This article is from ZEFnews 40. For the full issue see:


Isaac Bonuedi

Dr. Isaac Bonuedi


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