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Nutrition education

Extension advisory services can integrate nutrition education in their service using key messages that promote behaviour change. Such messages should: 

  • be adapted to the characteristics of agroecologies and established dietary patterns 
  • focus on diversification of diets (not only staples, but also food containing proteins and vitamins) and on hygienic practices of food preparation and consumption 
  • promote the consumption of food crops and animal products that are available at farm level to ensure they are used not only as sources of cash but also as food sources. 

Diversification of production

Households that specialise in the production of only one or a few cash crops suffer significant losses in the event of crop failure or falling market prices. They are also reliant on local markets to purchase food items to feed the family. If such markets are not well developed, access to diversified and nutritious food is a challenge. 

Extension advisory services can promote diversification of production to increase the range of food available at household level through the cultivation of nutrient-rich food crops (e.g. leafy vegetables, biofortified crops) and through animal-rearing practices (e.g. poultry, snails, small livestock). 

What principles drive diversification?

  • Promote the production of food that meets the dietary deficits of households. 
  • Do not lose sight of the marketability of food products. Collect and disseminate information on markets and quality requirements. 
  • Consider the opportunity to grow food products in the off-season of the lead crops. The additional income from selling food crops has an income-smoothing effect, especially in regions where rainfed agriculture predominates. 

What challenges are linked to production diversification? Diversification requires investments of land, water, inputs, and working time. Smallholders can face a dilemma in terms of whether to allocate resources to producing plant-or animal-based food for their own consumption, or to invest in cash crops or animal rearing for sale. The following approaches help to tackle these challenges in a targeted manner. Compare gross margins of food crops and cash crops, and help smallholders make informed decisions. 

Check that the planting and harvesting seasons of different crops do not overlap. Rural households might face labour shortages. 

If the burden of additional farming activities – including animal husbandry and activities linked to diversification – is put on women, time available for care-giving will be reduced (e.g. cooking, breastfeeding, care of the sick and elderly). It is important to make communities and households aware of this risk and encourage more equitable division of labour among household members.