Food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) provide guidance to policy makers, the private sector and consumers to redesign food systems and to improve diets of vulnerable populations. As appropriate FBDGs are based on the actual dietary patterns and their costs, it is assumed that the recommended foods are available, affordable and acceptable for the population under study. Using quantitative dietary intake data of young children in rural Northern Ghana, we developed local FBDGs and studied whether these are supported by the diversity and quantity of the production of a household among 329 households. We found that 40% of rural Northern Ghanaian infants and young children were stunted and their nutrient intakes were far below the recommendations: the probability of adequacy for most nutrient intakes was less than 50%. At household level, the developed FBDGs were, on average, unable to sufficiently cover the household requirements for fat (60.4% of recommended nutrient intake (RNI)), calcium (34.3% RNI), iron (60.3% RNI), vitamin A (39.1% RNI), vitamin B12 (2.3% RNI) and vitamin C (54.6% RNI). This implies that even when these FBDGs are fully adopted the requirements for these nutrients will not be met. In addition, the nutrient needs and food needs (according to the developed FBDGs) of a household were only marginally covered by their own food production. The food production of over half the households supplied insufficient calcium (75.7%), vitamin A (100%), vitamin B12 (100%) and vitamin C (77.5%) to cover their needs. The food production of about 60% of the households did not cover their required quantities of grains and legumes and none covered their required quantities of vegetables. Further analysis of the food gaps at district and national level showed that sufficient grains were available at both levels (267% and 148%, respectively) to meet requirements; availability of legumes was sufficient at district level (268%) but not at national level (52%); and vegetables were insufficient at both levels (2% and 49%, respectively). Diversifying household food production is often proposed as a means to increase the diversity of foods available and thereby increasing dietary diversity of rural populations. We found that the diversity of the production of a household was indeed positively related with their food and nutrient coverage. However, the diversity of the production of a household and their food and nutrient coverage were not related with children’s dietary diversity and nutrient adequacy. Our results show that the production of a households does not support the adoption of FBDGs in rural Northern Ghana, especially for vegetables. This suggests that the promotion of FBDGs through nutrition education or behaviour change communications activities alone is insufficient to lead to improvements in diets. Additional strategies are needed to increase the food availability and accessibility of the households, especially that of fruits and vegetables, such as diversification of the crops grown, increased production of specific crops and market-based strategies.
Data from: Food and nutrient gaps in rural Northern Ghana: does production of smallholder farming households support adoption of food-based dietary guidelines?