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How the Guidelines will Support Agricultural Research to Improve the Nutritional Situation of Vulnerable Rural Communities

These Guidelines offer suggestions which can be adapted to meet an individual country's specific needs. It is assumed that further development and adaptation of these Guidelines within each country will provide a window of opportunity for agricultural researchers and other stakeholders to open discussions on mechanisms for including nutrition in the national research agenda, with the ultimate goal of improving the food security and nutritional status of vulnerable rural communities. Vulnerable rural communities in this case refers to groups that are susceptible to food insecurity and undernutrition caused by a variety of difficulties, including poverty, compromised or unbalanced diets, natural and human-made disasters, debilitating diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and the effect of low social status.


The Guidelines are designed to assist stakeholders at all levels. The following list presents the general objectives for all disciplines addressed in this document.

The Guidelines will assist agricultural research to improve the food security and nutritional status of vulnerable rural communities.

Integrating nutrition concepts into agricultural research

The Guidelines recommend several strategies aimed at consolidating efforts to improve the household food security and nutritional status of subsistence farming communities. These strategies, that can be implemented throughout the development process, include: using participatory approaches that involve stake-holders in the planning, implementation and evaluation of research projects and programmes; developing institutional linkages and frameworks that can facilitate collaboration among the main actors: including gender considerations in project design and implementation: involving stakeholders in the planning and implementation of agricultural activities; developing food production techniques tailored for small resource poor farmers; and providing continued information dissemination to keep all actors informed and training to keep them up-to-date on technological developments.

Gender considerations need to be included in project design and implementation.

When introducing nutrition into the research agenda, the nutritional situations of countries and communities will vary. Thus, it is necessary to recognize that while there are certainly important agronomic factors involved, there are also other factors such as gender issues, choice of approaches, policy directions and institutional linkages to be considered. The following lists offer some suggestions within each of these areas.



Involve women in Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRA) at the village level, to ensure that their needs and concerns are considered in any planning, and that adoption of technologies does not become a burden to them. It is important to remember that new technologies and agricultural projects could have a negative impact on family nutritional status if, for example, they make greater demands on women's time, taking them away from their family care activities.

Recognize that good nutritional status is not only dependent on household food security, it requires good health and physical and mental well-being. Good health helps ensure the body's efficient utilization of the food consumed. Additionally, care and nurturing play an important role in nutritional status, particularly in relation to young children.


The importance of adopting integrated participatory approaches to agricultural and rural development is well recognized. Good nutritional status is an essential goal of the development process and can only be realized and sustained if integrated into the mainstream development sectors and if participation of all the stakeholders is ensured. Since the majority of food insecure and nutritionally vulnerable rural communities derive their livelihoods from farming, it is most appropriate to integrate nutrition considerations into the agricultural research agenda.

The farming systems research approach, participatory rural appraisal (PRA), research-extension-farmer linkages, participatory extension, and such concepts as client-oriented, demand-driven research are all committed to the process of involving major stakeholders (farmers, policy-makers, researchers, extensionists) in the planning and implementation of agricultural research. By involving stake-holders, it becomes possible to take a holistic approach to farmers' needs and to include their nutritional requirements in the planning and implementation of agricultural research programmes. PRA can be used to identify the basic needs, eating habits and appropriate cropping systems of various communities, as well as to gather information on problems and constraints related to environmental degradation and crop-livestock production systems (Shao, 1997).

The main focus of these Guidelines is resource-poor farmers and low income rural families who derive their livelihoods from agriculture, either as subsistence farmers or as farm labourers. These rural people do not have the authority or confidence to to coerce the research system to address their needs; their access to research information is limited; and because they are risk averse, their adoption of new technologies is extremelow or non existent. Therefore, a major challenge facing agricultural research institutions is ensuring effective interaction among researchers, extension workers, trainers and resource-poor farmers. PRA or the farming systems research approach, which use multidisciplinary research teams and extension agents, can be used to identify nutritional and agronomic concerns of this target group. This information can then be incorporated into research policies and priorities, and utilized when planning and implementing research projects. Deliberate efforts to ensure effective interaction among researchers, extension agents and resource poor farmers is essential.

Due to changing environmental conditions, living patterns and nutritional requirements, there is need for ongoing research into the cultivation and processing of local foods, as well as regular dissemination of information on food requirements. This calls for an integrated approach to planning and executing research projects. Research has not always been able to fulfil this need, largely because the objectives and priorities of research institutions are sometimes determined by external donor funding. Further, research institutions rarely have the nutrition and food technology expertise to provide the necessary advice and skills. Introducing and/or strengthening post-harvest units in research centres, including nutrition in post-harvest activities, and providing physical facilities for their work can help ensure an integrated, multidisciplinary approach.


Among all development sectors, agriculture has the greatest role to play in improving the food and nutrition situation of vulnerable rural communities. Presently, the challenge for agricultural research is to adapt or develop effective technologies suitable for resource poor farmers, in order to help improve their food and nutrition situations. It is important, therefore, to develop policies that support research programmes in addressing the food security situation of the poor and undernourished. Although such policies should be developed at both national and international levels, the national level is more strategic since concerns and problems of resource poor farmers can be addressed most effectively and efficiently at the grassroots level.

An integrated nutrition policy needs to be developed by an intersectoral group.

However, it must be noted that the policy of the agriculture sector alone cannot successfully promote and support sustainable strategies and programmes to improve nutritional status. Policies in related sectors and disciplines with direct impacts on nutrition, such as health, education, environment, rural development, poverty reduction and gender, also should be addressed to exploit the synergy. Ideally, a holistic, integrated approach should be employed by those developing policies. In practice, the development and coordination of a holistic nutrition policy could be done through nutrition coordinating bodies or similar intersectoral structures.


Nutrition should be a concern of all development sectors, because nutritional status depends upon a combination of socio-economic, health and politically related factors. Thus collaboration and cooperation among the responsible sectors is imperative to improve nutritional status and ensure that the improved status is sustainable. However, in practice, collaboration among the different sectors is often hindered by the parallel sectoral administrative arrangements in many countries. Commonly, sectors that carry out nutrition-related activities are agriculture, health, rural development and education. It is mainly among these sectors that linkages should be aggressively fostered to enhance nutritional status. However, NGOs should also be involved, because they have potential to be strong collaborators. Since there is a move towards privatization in many developing countries, the private sector is also an important collaborator.

A mechanism for fostering linkages and coordinating nutrition-related activities of the different sectors could be established by a multisectoral body such as a national nutrition council. The leadership of this body could be in the planning ministry, with the primary roles of coordinating national level activities relating to nutrition and advising governmental bodies on nutrition policy.

As mentioned above, under “Integrated Participatory Approaches”, one of the most feasible and practical ways to incorporate nutrition considerations into research plans and programmes is to include nutrition as a component of post-harvest research in agricultural research institutions. The key to its success is to ensure that post-harvest research is demand driven and consumer focused. Since nutrition-related activities ideally should be incorporated into the development process, it is necessary to develop linkages between research and development agencies that can promote effective communication of research results to the intended clients, which are mainly rural families.

A major function of the extension service is to provide farmers with information on all aspects of production, processing, utilization and nutrition, as well as to foster linkages among farming communities, service providers, extension workers and consumers. However, a general limitation of the extension service in developing countries is that the ratio of extension workers to farmers is very low, limiting the coverage of extension services. Resources at the disposal of extension services are limited as well. And, because information, technology and services are not always tailored for small, resource-poor farmers, extension intervention is necessary to ensure that these farmers are given the specific types of attention and assistance they need.

In order to enhance their effectiveness and efficiency, extension programmes need to be strategically planned, needs-based (including nutritional needs) and strongly participatory, with a bottom-up, problem-solving orientation. For agricultural research programmes to support small resource poor farmers adequately, all stakeholders, namely policy-makers, researchers, extension officers, farmers and consumers, should participate in the development and implementation of research projects and programmes. The extension service potentially plays the crucial role of mediator between research institutions and farmers regarding issues of production, processing and utilization. The involvement of extension services in incorporating nutrition into agricultural research plans and programmes is therefore, crucial.

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