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The Cost of a Healthy Diet

By Gaia Gallotti

After having monitored eleven African countries (Senegal, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Malawi, and Niger), FAO noted that the cost of maintaining a healthy diet is generally much higher is much higher than in semi-urban areas, gradually decreasing as the city size becomes smaller. 

This increase might be associated with the diffusion of supermarkets in bigger cities, which provide wider access to a more diverse diet, but may make prices less affordable for poorer families in urban centers. One exception is Guinea-Bissau, where the geographic concentration of cities and poor transportation infrastructure increases the cost of living in semi-urban areas. In Ethiopia and Togo, the cost is even higher in rural areas, due to the dispersed urbanization patterns and heavily limited road infrastructure: in these three countries, the availability of nutritious food is hampered.

The 2023 Food Security Report highlights a trend where the cost of a nutritious diet generally decreases from urban to peri-urban areas until it reaches a point where it’s equivalent or slightly lower than peri-urban areas in rural settings. This trend is particularly present in high-food-budget countries, showing that proximity to urban centers usually leads to a more affordable healthy diet. Furthermore, the cost distribution across various food groups remains consistent, regardless of the geographical location. Animal-source foods are the main contributors to the total cost of a healthy diet, accounting for 30% to 40% of the cost. Following closely are vegetables, staple foods, fruits, fats and oils, and seeds and nuts. However, in high-food-budget countries, animal-source foods carry a higher cost share. 

The cost contribution of animal-source foods surpasses the combined cost of fruits and vegetables in nearly all geographical areas across both high-food-budget and low-food-budget countries. The only exceptions are large cities in low-food-budget countries, where fruits account for a more substantial share of a healthy diet’s cost. Moreover, the cost associated with animal source foods remains quite high in more remote areas, where accessibility to cities is limited, representing a challenge in supplying perishable products across rural areas. 

The lower cost of animal-source foods in peri-urban areas, along with the increased cost of fruits and vegetables in large cities, plays a crucial role in explaining the overall decrease in the cost of a healthy diet from urban to rural areas. This can be attributed to the proximity of peri-urban areas to the production sites of perishable products. Growing demand for animal foods from urban residents has led to more medium and large-scale livestock operators working in urban and peri-urban regions, while the cost variation for animal source foods across the urban-rural continuum in low-food-budget countries is believed to be linked to constraints in the cold supply chain. 

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