New research published in the journal PLOS ONE shows that the local food system in rural and rural-outlying areas can have a dramatic impact on health and wellbeing, and that local farmers are in a unique position to take advantage of this opportunity.

Lead author Dr Misha Cohen of the Center for Food Systems Research at the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues examined the impact of three decades of the United Nations’ World Food Programme’s Rural Nutrition and Food Security Programme (RNWFP) on nutrition, health, and wellbeing in 15 countries: Bangladesh, Colombia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Pakistan, Senegal, Sri Lanka, and Uganda.

They found that, over the three decades, rural-scale agriculture accounted for more than 40 per cent of the world’s total food production, with a combined population of about 4.4 billion.

The study found that rural-based farmers experienced a reduction in mortality rates and other health outcomes, including lower incidence of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

The findings, Cohen said, are “so significant that I think it’s the first study that we’ve done on this topic that looks at the impact on rural health in a global context.”

“We found that the more rural a country is, the more likely it is to be able to achieve its goal of having a low obesity and a low prevalence of diabetes,” Cohen said.

“And that’s true even in countries that aren’t part of the global community.

That is, for example, countries in Latin America, in Africa, and even in Asia.”

The researchers found that local-scale farming is associated with lower levels of poverty, more access to basic food items, improved diets, lower rates of child mortality, and improved health outcomes.

They also found that farmers were able to use their knowledge and experience in the local agricultural sector to improve the quality of the local foods they produce.

The authors concluded that “there is an important role for local farmers and producers to take on and exploit the opportunities that have been presented by the RNWFP in order to achieve their sustainability goals.”

Cohen’s findings are the first to look at the health effects of farming in rural settings, and highlight the potential of local farmers to take part in and benefit from the global food supply chain.

“Our research indicates that a farmer’s ability to engage in the production of local food can significantly contribute to health and well-being of their community,” she said.

“I think it also highlights the importance and the potential for farmers to contribute to global food production.”

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