Focusing on Ag Extension and Nutrition in Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, nutrition can be a major a problem for households, particularly those in rural areas, and can lead to stunting in young children. In many situations, families and communities lack access to knowledge about nutrition: what their children should be eating or how dietary diversity can alleviate vitamin imbalances. Extension services can fill these knowledge gaps by connecting families with education and training around complex concepts like nutrition and animal source foods.
In mid-2017, Land O’Lakes International Development began working on a Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture manual to help livestock and crops farmers in Ethiopia understand the importance of animal source foods, nutrition of diverse diets, and how to properly prepare meat and vegetables to reduce stunting. The manual was developed as part of the Feed the Future Growth Through Nutrition (GTN) project, led by Save the Children. GTN is improving the nutritional status of women and young children, focusing on the first 1,000 days. Land O’Lakes International Development’s component is focused on increasing access to diverse, safe and quality foods through nutrition-sensitive activities.
Step one: Creating an accessible manual and guide
“The manual is meant to educate, from agriculture experts and development agents, to business people, to cooperatives and individual farmers. We are supporting the livelihoods of most agriculturalists by addressing both nutrition and livelihood in the manual. And this all supports a family’s income as well,” says Amare Feleke, Livelihoods Management Specialist, Growth Through Nutrition.
The manual was created simultaneously alongside a Facilitator’s guide. After going through a formal training, the Facilitator’s guide helps local agricultural experts facilitate training sessions in their communities. And it’s left in a public place, so communities can return to it when they have questions or need clarification. In addition, the manual was translated into three local languages and features many graphics and illustrations to guide readers.
The illustration here is in the section on the importance of savings. It shows how households have many different types of assets for their family and to sell. For example, this household produces nutritious foods and consumes some but also sells some to put income into savings.
Step two: Extension services from country level to community level
The trainings start at a higher level, where the Land O’Lakes staff train the trainers, usually agriculture experts in either crops, livestock or nutrition. From there, the trainers begin at a local, district level and train the development agents. The development agents are a key part of the extension services as they live and work in rural communities and have specific education in agriculture or nutrition. The development agents help drive localized behavior change by working directly with farmers in their own communities.
“You cannot reach a large number of farmers directly with a staff of five people on a development project. But through extension agents we are reaching 28,000 farmers and over 12,000 model farmers,” says Amare. “You need an entry point: the development agents. And you need a way to reach farmers through trainings with translated manuals. The farmers would not be able to obtain the information otherwise.”
The manual and the guide will be kept at the community level. Both farmers and cooperatives will keep copies of the manual, in the language they prefer. As the project closes out, the materials will live on in the communities.
Sustainable nutrition knowledge through extension
This light-touch approach works through high-level trainings down to the local level to ensure that nutrition-sensitive agriculture will remain at the forefront of extension workers’ and development agents’ knowledge base beyond the life of the program.
“We are trying to transfer the knowledge to the development agents, because they sit at the village level and will always be there for the farmers,” says Amare. “The development agents and the trained farmers can continue to share their knowledge. They will continue to address nutrition and livelihood without us.”
The creation and distribution of the manual has helped the GTN team think more holistically about extension activities and the importance of a nutrition-orientated approach. This learning helps the project to continue to learn and adapt to meet its overall goal of increasing Ethiopians' access to diverse, safe and quality foods.