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Integration of Nutrition in Participatory Extension

Participatory agricultural education provides an excellent platform for integration of human nutrition issues. On the one hand there is a growing recognition for the fact that food production is the basis of good nutrition. On the other hand most countries in the East African region have an extensive government agricultural extension system in place with the presence of front line extension staff who provide advisory services to farmers. Thus, by effectively linking these two aspects the potential for rural food security can be greatly enhanced. Though the rationale for this merge is widely recognized it still remains a challenge of how to effectively integrate nutrition subjects in extension activities. This case study provides examples of how to do this using participatory and interactive learning tools developed in the context of Farmer Field School (FFS) programs in East Africa.

FFS is a community based, practically oriented field study programme involving a group of farmers who meet regularly to study the why, how and what of their farming system, under the guidance of a trained facilitator. In FFS farmers get a chance to learn, test and adapt practices using practical hands on methods of discovery based learning that emphasize observation, discussion, analysis and collective decision making. This improves their management skills and they become experts in their own farms. The learning is thus a dynamic process that is practised and controlled by the farmers to transform their understanding of the crop/livestock agro-ecosystem as well as their own socio-cultural context.

Food production systems are becoming increasingly nutrition sensitive by encouraging a diversity of crops cultivated, improving households access to markets and access to the correct mix of foods in all seasons, thus, improving the nutritional status of rural communities. Further, agricultural production provides income to many small holder farmers, which increases the purchasing power of different food types, access to health care services, clean water and care practices at household and community level of the target communities. All these factors have played important roles in improving the livelihoods of the communities. The study will endeavor to bring out lessons learnt and reveal this important role of nutrition in agricultural extension.

Good nutrition is both an input and an outcome of the development process, and it is for this reason that nutrition has been well integrated into the FFS learning process and this has led to increased awareness of the nutrition gaps of communities. In order to improve the nutritional status of the target communities, nutrition education has played a vital role in providing learning, experimenting opportunities and stimulate discussions, and it also influences the communities choices and gender roles, on cultivation of foods with high nutritive value, basic nutrition principles, diet planning, correct food choices, food preparation and hygiene, intra household food distribution and food preservation. This is besides the discussions on nutritional needs of people living with HIV/AIDS. This extension process has also supported farmer-to-farmer modes of learning. The learning process employ a diversity of exercises and tools related to nutrition, such as calendar analysis of daily, weekly and seasonal food consumption habits, gendered food consumption patterns, various visual tools for understanding the concept of a balanced diet, songs, poems or theatre to memorize key messages or deal with culturally sensitive topics. In FFS sessions learning about crops and livestock is used as an entry point to discus human and life issues. For example when learning about crop nutrition in FFS, the role of manure, fertilizers, watering as well as external factors such as weather, sun etc. is linked to a discussion on the same aspects but related to the human body, i.e. food for humans and supportive, respective non-supportive factors. The Agro-ecosystem analysis tools, a key process in FFS, is translated into the human-ecosystem analysis. By continuously drawing this link between the agricultural and the human spheres, nutrition education gets interwoven and integrated into agricultural extension.

Following FFS education, in Rwanda, for example, Kitchen gardening through use of the staircase garden has been a well adapted intervention amongst the groups, leading to improved household dietary diversity. In another case in DRC, treatment of water for home consumption and use using Moringa Olifera had been initiated as a direct result of the group learning process. In Kenya, the extension services assist farmers to improve management and productivity of their animals like goats, chicken and cows, and this has increased the intake of animal products. The education process is also playing a great role in facilitating discussions among the farmers on simple and locally available labour saving technologies, that are environmental friendly, and that can be used by the households to reduce expenditures (time, money, land, fuel, human resources), which especially benefit women.

The case study will explain in more detail the tools and processes employed in FFS to link agricultural and nutrition education, and provide examples of the outcomes and impact of this learning process. FAO will coordinate the exercise with input from country teams, local NGOs and frontline extension staff in four countries.

In particular the case study will describe lessons on:
  • The role that FFS has played in improving the livelihoods and nutritional wellbeing of target communities; 
  • Consolidation of existing information on nutrition integration in participatory extension, including learning tools and processes employed; 
  • Effectiveness of farmer-to-farmer learning in nutrition; 
  • The role that nutrition education has played in determining the household food choices and impact on gender roles; 
  • Different nutrition related activities carried out by communities in a variety of contexts; 
  • The role of extension services in facilitating the use of labour saving technologies. 

Case study data collection will be through a) a desk review of reports, impact studies and any other FAO published documents on the subject matter, b) in-depth interviews with FFS participants in at least two country sites, c) interviews with local extension workers and NGOs.

The rich experiences from the FFS activities will be disseminated in coordination channels to ensure sharing of experiences with other partner organizations and to guide MEAS future efforts. FFS activities in the different countries work towards achieving one goal: improving livelihood, food security and nutrition of the vulnerable rural households. Thus the case study will assist us to understand these factors and what role participatory extension services play in the process. It will also show the replicability of some of the activities in different contexts, the opportunities available to further the course and the challenges faced in the process. This is in line with MEAS goals of enhancing livelihoods and economic development needs of resource poor farmers.