Exploring the effects of increasing underutilized crops on consumers’ diets: the case of millet in Uganda
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Abstract Known in the literature as underutilized, neglected or orphan crops, these crops have been cited as having the potential to improve food and nutritional security. The literature also highlights however that consumers in developing countries are increasingly abandoning their traditional diets that these crops are part of, and are replacing them by western diets. In this context, the purpose of this paper is to investigate the consumption and nutritional implications of expanding the participation of underutilized crops in current diets. This was done using a modified version of the microeconomic consumer problem. This was augmented with a linear constraint using generalized rationing theory that can be found in the economics literature. The method was applied to the case study of the consumption of millet (finger millet, botanical name: Eleusine coracana) by rural, urban-poor and urban-affluent Ugandan socioeconomic groups. The results indicated that millet could contribute to improving the intake of macronutrients and of some micronutrients, though the overall picture is complex. However, under current preferences and given its demand inelasticity, to achieve a substantial increase in the quantity of millet in the diet will require a significant reduction of its price. Otherwise, the net impact on nutrition as measured by the mean adequacy ratio will be only slightly positive for rural and urban-poor households. Our findings indicate that supply-side initiatives aimed at increasing the productivity of underutilized crops (reducing crop price) are likely to produce disappointing results in restoring their importance unless accompanied by specific interventions to expand demand.