This training package, Improving nutrition through home gardening, is designed for agricultural extension agents as well as other field workers who are involved with nutrition, home economics, health and community development in Africa. It aims to strengthen their ability to promote home gardening as a step towards enhanced food security and better community and household nutrition.
The Food and Nutrition Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) adapted this training course, at the request of nutritionists and agriculture professionals in Africa, from A training package for preparing field workers in Southeast Asia (FAO, 1995). This new training package retains the general outline and the easy-to-follow training approach of the Southeast Asia version. However, it has been fully revised to include the eating patterns and agro-ecological, climatic and socio-cultural conditions found in rural and peri-urban Africa.
Food security has been defined by FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) as "access by all people at all times to the food needed for a healthy life" (FAO/WHO, "World declaration and plan of action" from Final report of the International Conference on Nutrition, Rome, 1992). Access to a nutritionally adequate and safe diet at all times is one of the most basic rights of every individual, yet for a significant number of households in Africa, it remains difficult to achieve. If, however, households have some land and labour, and are able to complement these with seeds, improved tools and the right information, they can further develop their land and obtain more nutritious foods.
In many humid and subhumid areas of Africa, people commonly cultivate compound farms or home gardens, sometimes referred to as backyard or kitchen gardens. Home gardens in Africa have an established tradition and are an important source of household food supplies. They can supplement food needs during the lean season and generate income. Home gardens usually are maintained by women who use them to produce early crops, such as green maize, and to grow fruits, vegetables and spices to prepare relishes. When a home garden is well managed, even a small plot of land (e.g. 100 m2) can make a substantial contribution to household food needs and nutritional well-being.
Given the agro-ecological, climatic and socio-cultural diversity of the African continent, and of its individual countries and regions or districts, this training package cannot take account of all the differences and respond to all the diverse needs. It does, however, offer practical advice and technology options for establishing home gardens in a variety of climates (humid, subhumid and semi-arid).
When using the training package, it is important to assess the needs of each situation individually. Based on this assessment, the training materials can be adapted to specific food and nutrition situations, and to the agronomic and economic potentials and constraints of specific locations and local populations.
THE ROLE OF AGRICULTURISTS IN IMPROVING COMMUNITY AND HOUSEHOLD NUTRITION
In most African countries, agricultural extension workers and field workers are trained to promote crop and animal production, but they rarely have training to relate food production to human nutritional requirements. Since field workers have direct access to rural farming communities, they can be instrumental in promoting household food production and improved diets through the development of home gardening.
Where appropriate, field workers can provide guidance and encourage a community to produce a variety of crops for home consumption as well as for sale. In addition to offering training in food production, this training course also teaches that food, if grown and prepared properly and eaten in the right amounts and combinations, can contribute to human health and nutritional well-being.
By integrating food production and consumption issues, this package provides a comprehensive set of teaching materials for field workers. The materials can also be used to conduct intersectoral training courses for teams of community workers, including agricultural extension and other field workers. Since nutrition is affected by a wide range of factors - food security, health, education and care - training of all sectors and simultaneous action in all areas affecting nutrition are needed to ensure optimum nutritional outcome.
The primary focus of the training package is on the food crops - vegetables, roots and tubers, fruits and legumes - that are common in African home gardens. Although animal rearing, particularly of small ruminants and poultry, is often an important part of home gardens, it is not a subject of this training package.
WHAT IS THE CONTENT OF THE TRAINING PACKAGE?
Improving food production requires both technical and managerial solutions to problems encountered in the home garden. Field workers can arrive at the appropriate technical solutions (e.g. soil improvement, crop productivity, input requirements) only after they have worked with the community to appraise the situation. This training package follows these steps, carefully integrating technical and managerial issues.
The training package has three components:
The course materials are divided into ten sessions. In Sessions 1, 2 and 3, participants gain an understanding of the home garden in daily family life and learn about nutrition. Sessions 4, 5 and 6 deal with factors affecting household food security and nutritional well-being and options for improving the contribution of home gardens to the nutritional well-being of communities and households. Session 7 prepares participants to undertake a needs assessment, in consultation with the communities and households concerned. Sessions 8, 9 and 10 are practical sessions during which participants learn how to assist communities and households in planning and implementing improvements in the home garden, with an eye towards improving crop production, increasing diversity and meeting the nutritional needs of the household.
The course materials for trainers and field workers provide an introduction to each topic and should be distributed to the participants during each training session. The technical notes for trainers set out a programme of activities and offer "priority" messages for each session. The trainers use these as a guide and act as facilitators during the training.
The Information Sheets for trainers and field workers contain technical information on each topic and should be distributed to the participants as indicated in the technical notes for trainers.
The Home Garden Technology Leaflets are for use by field workers, and literate farmers or household members. There are 18 leaflets, each of which provides information on a different technology option or type of improvement for the home garden and the use of garden produce. The leaflets can assist field workers and others in helping communities solve their food and nutrition problems by diversifying food production, improving eating habits and adding nutritional value to their diets.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE TRAINING PACKAGE?
The materials contained in the training package assist trainers in showing how and why a home garden can make a significant contribution to meeting daily household food needs for better nutrition and health. Ideally, the training course should be run as part of an existing household food security and nutrition support programme. This enables field workers to take advantage of the existing programme's infrastructure while gaining practical experience in applying the knowledge and skills obtained.
The course provides agricultural extension and field workers with the technical, planning and management skills necessary for helping rural households identify problems in, and opportunities for, improving home food production and attaining better nutrition. Field workers and communities in peri-urban areas, where sufficient land and water are available for cultivation, will also find some sections and Home Garden Technology Leaflets appropriate for their needs.
In order to ensure that the training materials are appropriate and have practical meaning to the participants, trainers should adapt the course materials and case studies to each local situation. Enough time should be scheduled for this during the preparation of the workshop.
WHO SHOULD PARTICIPATE IN THE TRAINING?
Agricultural extension workers are the main targets of this training package and may therefore constitute the majority of those in the training courses. Other field workers, such as home economists, community development and health workers, teachers and those concerned with nutrition improvement through community development, including the staff from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and mission stations, should be included. Teamwork and interaction by all development agents working at the community level create a good understanding and foster appreciation of the role that each sector can play in raising nutritional standards. The ability of field workers to involve community members in a genuine dialogue about their food and nutrition concerns, and to coordinate nutrition and home gardening activities among the different sectors, is crucial for the programme's success.
Although some participatory methods and tools are incorporated in the exercises and field visits, this training course is not intended to train field workers in participatory assessment and planning at the field level. If they lack this experience, separate training and practice sessions will be needed to enable them to learn some practical methods and tools, and to apply them on an everyday basis in field situations.1
In training, as in all development activities, gender issues should be an important consideration. In many countries, most agricultural extension workers are male and practical extension work, including inputs, technology, services and training, is often directed at men only. This is so, despite the fact that women play a critical role in all aspects of food production, income generation and household nutrition. To enable women to gain access to information and improved agricultural production technology, field workers must consider women's needs on an equal level with those of men.
In the selection of field workers for the training, therefore, women professionals from the fields of agricultural extension, community development, education, health and nutrition should be given an equal chance to participate. Paying attention to gender equality in team composition and ensuring a fair distribution of responsibilities during the training and fieldwork will facilitate a better understanding of food security and nutrition problems at the village level. It will make it easier for field workers to help communities resolve food and nutrition problems related to unequal access to resources and services. It will also raise awareness of the need for tailoring extension and technical services to women producers, to ensure that women become equal partners with men in development.
WHO SHOULD DO THE TRAINING?
Two trainers should lead the training programme: one with experience in agriculture and one with a community nutrition background. At least one of the trainers should have practical experience with participatory rural appraisal and extension techniques. Trainers should have experience in participatory training and be familiar with the problems and needs of rural communities. This training should focus on practical experiences and applications, to enable the field workers to "learn by doing".
WHAT ARE THE FIELD WORKERS' TRAINING NEEDS?
The trainers should encourage participants to build on their own knowledge and experience as much as possible. Before deciding on the details of the course design, the trainers must assess the training needs of the field workers. This can be done by personal interview or by administering a questionnaire. Each field worker should indicate his/her particular strengths, weaknesses and expectations. This kind of needs assessment can help avoid common mistakes in training design, such as wasting time on a topic the field workers know, missing an opportunity by omitting a useful topic, or failing to spend sufficient time on topics that require more attention.
WHAT IS THE DURATION OF THE TRAINING COURSE?
Although the training course is designed for six days, the actual duration will vary from country to country. The results of the needs assessment may also determine how long the course will be.
The course has been designed as follows: Sessions 1 through 6 each require half a day; Sessions 7 and 8 each require a full day; and Sessions 9 and 10, half a day each. If the field workers have relatively weak horticultural backgrounds, however, more time may have to be spent in their studying the Home Garden Technology Leaflets. In this case, the duration of the training course may have to be extended by one to three days. Depending on the composition of the group and the experience of the field workers, some flexibility in preparing a timetable should be allowed. Adequate time also needs to be allowed for travel to field sites and for refreshment breaks.
WHERE SHOULD THE TRAINING BE CONDUCTED?
The training should be conducted in a rural area or near a village where field workers can conveniently visit home gardens and work directly with community groups and households. Examples of suitable training venues include local schoolrooms, mission schoolrooms and community and farmers' training centres.
WHAT MATERIALS ARE NEEDED?
The trainers need sufficient copies of the training package as well as flip charts with large sheets of paper, pens, markers and cards for visualization.
Some of the tables, checklists and diagrams can be copied on to a flip chart or visual aid material prior to the training sessions. Materials such as the checklists, Information Sheets and the Home Garden Technology Leaflets will need to be duplicated for use by the field workers during the sessions. Each field worker should receive two or more sets of the Home Garden Technology Leaflets as reference material for his/her daily work and also for distribution to literate farmers and household members in their communities.
In preparation for Session 5 on the third day of the training course, the trainers should distribute Information Sheets 1, 2 and 6 through 12, and all the Home Garden Technology Leaflets on the first day of the training course and ask the field workers to study a specified set (two to three leaflets per evening) each evening. For further guidance, trainers should study the section on Activities in Session 5.
FOLLOW-UP ACTION BY FIELD WORKERS
Every household and community is different, so solutions to problems of food production and nutrition need to be adapted to the needs and means of each household and community. Trained field workers can help households examine their home gardens and decide which changes they can and want to make. Later, field workers can help the households assess the improvements and evaluate the results.
TECHNICAL NOTES FOR TRAINERS
When preparing the training programme, the two trainers must decide how to divide the work. This should be based on each trainer's technical expertise as well as his/her practical experiences and training skills.
Prior to conducting each training session, the trainers should read and understand the technical notes and set out a programme of activities. The trainers' jobs are to structure and facilitate rather than to instruct and deliver information. Trainers should initiate discussions and then draw the field workers into those discussions. During the technical sessions, field workers should share their ideas, experiences and expertise.
With the technical notes as background material, the trainers must present the objective of the training programme and the key topics that will be covered, then initiate a discussion and encourage field workers to share their own knowledge and experiences. At the beginning of each session, a trainer should state the session's objectives, and at the end of each session, summarize the main points of the session.
The trainers need to use a wide range of training methods, such as formal classroom presentations, discussion rounds, household and field visits, group work, role-playing, case studies and participatory household appraisals of the food and nutrition situation.
NOTES ON FIELD VISITS
For household and field visits, the trainers are advised to identify households with different types of gardens, using those with well-developed and those with not-well-developed home gardens as a basis for comparison. It is obviously an advantage when field workers and trainers can speak the local language and thus facilitate communication.
Discussions among members of a household and field workers should be participatory. This means that field workers should find out, together with the community and household, when and why a household performs certain gardening-related activities. In this way, the field workers develop an overview of indigenous growing patterns and technologies, and food production, storage, processing and consumption practices and habits. Sessions should end with discussions of those areas considered problematic, and how those problems could be resolved or alleviated by households or the community.
1 An easy to follow handbook on the subject of participatory methods and tools is: FAO. 1998. Socio-economic and gender analysis programme: field handbook, by V. L. Wilde. Rome.