Paula Dominguez-Salas, above, is a post-doctoral scientist of ILRI and the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH) researching gender and nutrition issues in Nairobi slums (photo credit: ILRI).
Written by Paula Dominguez-Salas
To improve interventions in food systems of the urban poor, scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are investigating urban food and nutritional choices in two slums in Nairobi, Kenya. Their aim is to develop interventions that help people make food choices that improve their nutrition while staying within their low household food budgets and access.
Access to healthy diets is at the heart of good nutrition and the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Foods of animal origin are the only source of vitamin B12 and have good quality protein, preformed vitamin A, highly bioavailable iron, and zinc, in addition to good profiles in other micronutrients. Animal-source foods are therefore good nutrient-dense products. Consumption of even small amounts of milk, meat and egg is particularly valuable for people who subsist largely on cheap, starchy diets with little diversity.
Most of the world’s population is now urban but critically dependent on food produced in rural areas. We studied animal-source food value chains in two slums of Nairobi, Kenya, where both stunting and anaemia rates are very high—in our study areas 42% and 74% of children, respectively. We found low-income urban households on average spend 38% of their income on meat, milk, fish and eggs, of which 48% is spent on dairy products.
We used linear programming (in Optifood, a specialized software package) to explore how, staying within low food budgets and food access, people’s choices could increase their intake of critical nutrients. On current diets, women’s iron intake was found to be less than one-third of their requirements. With the linear programming, adding vegetables or dairy did not increase it much, but consumption of locally available meat and fish products seemed to double the iron intake.
Combining data on the availability, affordability, accessibility and preferences for animal-source foods contributes to a better understanding of the upscaling potential of each of these foods.
Milk was the most consumed animal-source food: 98.5% of the poor households consume milk an average of 5.5 times a week.
Demand for beef was the least sensitive to changes in its price and its supply chain had limited expansion potential, making beef a less attractive target than other animal-source foods for interventions aiming to serve Nairobi’s low-income communities. Demand for chicken was more responsive to changes in its price while its supply chains could be expanded quickly.
Consumption was often based on ‘taste’ and ‘nutrition’, while reasons not to consume animal-source foods also included ‘tradition’ and ‘hygiene perception’, indicating a potential role for nutrition education.
Such integrated assessments, combining nutrition, food safety and economic information, can help us design practical ways to improve urban diets with available, safe and accessible food.
This project is funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, which is led by the International Food Policy Research Institute, and the Environmental & Social Ecology of Human Infectious Diseases Urban Zoo project.