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Capacities required

The types of service providers working in nutrition extend beyond traditional frontline agricultural extension agents. As EAS have become more pluralistic, the actors providing services have become more diversified. There is also a tension with other rural workers, such as community health workers. Often, nutrition is thought to rest in their responsibilities. However, often they too are over worked, undercompensated, and have many tasks in the primary health care package. The capacities that extension agents need to effectively integrate nutrition into EAS include: 

  • Technical knowledge of nutrition: Crop production for improving nutrition, in addition to training on diets, food preparation, preservation, and hygiene. Training of extension agents should include emphasis on creating awareness of the potential causes of malnutrition that apply to them as fieldworkers (since extension agents often perceive information about nutrition to be less important than other technical information) as well as messages that are applicable to farmers.
  • Communication, facilitation, and management skills: It is necessary to introduce soft skills to agents, such as facilitation, negotiation, communication, and gender sensitivity. Farmers will need to be convinced to invest in nutrition for their own families and for the market. Creating demand amongst farmers will take time. 
  • Minimising harm: Extension service providers need to be sensitised to the fact that the promotion of certain practices, technologies, and income generation strategies can have adverse effects on diversity of production, home consumption vs. selling, and increased labour, time, and energy demands (especially for women), making nutrition improvements more difficult. Extension agents need to not only be sensitive to unintended harmful consequences but should facilitate a discussion on these potential trade-offs among the clients they work with. This would also include understanding how power dynamics in households and communities can influence outcomes. 

Training also encompasses support systems for extension agents including mentorship, feedback, and career advancement. If a country does not have a support system for EAS in place, the probability of younger generations entering the education system, or doing vocational training with a focus on EAS, remains low. Training should include pre-service and in-service training on nutrition sensitive agriculture and be on-going, reinforced, and mentored, in order for the addition of nutrition as a topic to be sustainable. This requires the public sector to take ownership and responsibility, and requires building the capacity of trainers and mentors in the field of nutrition. Training on nutrition-related agronomy can be done in the field by using field plots, greenhouses, and local biodiversity and ecosystems.

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