Extension advisory services (EAS) support smallholders to improve the productivity and efficiency of their farms and to take decisions on the outlook of their business. Extension advisory services include not only government extension services, but also services organised and funded by private companies along their supply chains – for example, a food processor or a commodity aggregator may establish an outgrower scheme and employ its own extension agents.
Both public and private EAS assist smallholders to improve production of one or a few lead crops, which are either exported (e.g. cacao, coffee, spices, cotton) or consumed as staples in local diets (e.g. rice, wheat, sorghum, potatoes). These crops generate comparatively high profit margins and enjoy significant market demand. By supporting their production and linking smallholders to markets, EAS contribute to increasing the incomes of rural populations.
However, the smallholders and households addressed by EAS are not only cash poor. They are often food insecure and suffer chronic or acute forms of malnutrition. This impacts on the physical and cognitive growth of children, and reduces productivity and the ability of household members to carry out agricultural work.
Lacking or highly variable income is one cause of food insecurity and malnutrition. But higher incomes do not automatically translate into improved nutrition. Poor eating habits, lack of knowledge about good nutrition practices, and limited access to diverse food items are other important determinants. Even when incomes are rising, households might prioritise expenditures that are not relevant to improving nutrition (e.g. communication, mobility).
This is why EAS need to identify and address the nutritional needs of rural households and to mainstream nutrition-sensitive messages in their service provision. This note reviews selected instruments that EAS can use for this purpose.