Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)


What role can agricultural extension and advisory services play in realizing gender equality and improved nutrition?

The Nutrition Working Group of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS), of which FAO is a member, invites you to reflect on the role that agricultural extension and advisory services (AEAS) can play in contributing to reducing gender inequalities and improving nutrition. Gender equality and nutrition are quite intertwined, and there is compelling evidence that gender inequalities significantly undermine food security and nutrition objectives [i].

Integrated approaches connecting the design and delivery of programs across disciplines and sectors are instrumental to address such challenges, with their importance having recently been highlighted by the UN Decade of Action for Nutrition. It is in such context that agricultural extension and advisory services (AEAS) have been identified as being able to play a significant role in the push for increased gender equality and improved nutrition.

Agricultural extension and advisory services (AEAS) refers to any organization in the public or private sectors (e.g. NGOs, farmer organizations, private firms etc.) that facilitates farmers’ and other rural actors’ access to knowledge, information and technologies, and their interactions with other actors; and assists them to develop their own technical, organizational and management skills and practices, so as to improve their livelihoods and well-being [ii].  

Over the past few decades the role of AEAS has changed substantially, shifting away from a production oriented, technology transfer model to a greater emphasis on broader development objectives such as improving rural livelihoods through a demand-led, participatory and market-oriented approach. It is in the context of this paradigm shift that a potential role for AEAS in promoting gender equality and supporting nutrition interventions has emerged.

Experience suggests that AEAS can play a role in promoting nutrition outcomes, enhancing the food and nutritional security of household members, and ensuring sustainable food systems that promote healthy diets. Whether supported by the public, private, or non-profit sector, AEAS are often seen as a potential channel for influencing the production and consumption decisions of farming households so that they grow, sell, and eat more nutritious and diversified foods and time-saving technologies to alleviate drudgery.

At the same time, addressing gender constraints and unequal access to services and technology is essential for AEAS to effectively contribute to improved diets and nutrition. The INGENAES project, funded by USAID to  assist countries in building more robust, gender-responsive, and nutrition-sensitive extension and advisory services,  has begun to address these gaps by supporting the adoption of policies that recognize gender equality and nutrition security as AEAS objectives, training AEAS institutions, and disseminating accessible materials for field-level staff. In Liberia, for instance, INGENAES is collaborating with the University of Cuttington and the Ministry of Agriculture to survey AEAS clients to better understand barriers to gender equitable services, and ensure that high-level policy is translated into action at the field level that meets the needs of both men and women farmers.

Concrete experiences and success factors, including approaches, methodologies and tools that work to enhance women’s and men’s equitable access to AEAS as well as nutrition results have however not yet been identified conclusively and examples of successful cases are still sparse.

Given the above, the objective of this online discussion is to collect experiences, methodologies, and lessons learned around gender-sensitive and nutrition-enhancing AEAS practices from all over the world.

We invite you to join the conversation by reflecting on the following questions:

  • To what extent do you think should AEAS be involved in broader development, going beyond providing and facilitating access to knowledge, information and technologies?
  • What specific challenges have you encountered that hinder AEAS from addressing gender inequalities and promoting nutrition?
  • Do you know any examples of AEAS successfully addressing gender inequalities and supporting improved nutrition outcomes? What factors, including specific approaches and tools, led to success?
  • What do you think the role and main activities should be of a global forum such as the GFRAS Nutrition Working Group in helping AEAS to become more gender-sensitive and able to contribute to improved nutrition?

The results of this discussion will inform the work of the newly-formed GFRAS Nutrition Working Group, which provides resources and effective coordination opportunities for practitioners and policy makers. We hope that through enabling a broad participation of experts in this exchange, we can stimulate the uptake of innovative gender-sensitive and nutrition-enhancing AEAS practices.

Forum participants will become part of the broad community of the GFRAS Nutrition Working Group. They will receive updates about the Working Group’s activities and also have the opportunity to contribute to future initiatives.

Thank you and we look forward to a fruitful discussion!

Hajnalka Petrics, Soniia David and Fatima Hachem, FAO  

Edye Kuyper, INGENAES


[i] FAO.2017. Strengthening sector policies for better food security and nutrition results. Gender Equality. Policy Guidance Note. Rome.

[ii] Christoplos. I. 2010. Mobilizing the potential of rural and agricultural extension. FAO. Rome.

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To what extent do you think should AEAS be involved in broader development, going beyond providing and facilitating access to knowledge, information and technologies?

The role AEAS is changing and therefore the new extensionist needs more and different knowledge on how to integrate different development dimensions in his/her work. It is more than the conventional linear transfer of technology role. AEAS is expected to facilitate smallholders – men and women producers – to grow more (productivity enhancement), to earn more (link to remunerative markets), to eat right (production diversity) in order to achieve food and nutrition security. Communities needs advice and support on all components of value chains – right from which crops to grow (diversity), how to increase productivity (quality inputs, services, credit), how to maximize income (organize themselves, aggregate produce), how to consume right (reduce food losses, improve food safety, increase nutrition value) and facilitate behavior change for improved consumption (quantities, quality/diversity as well as individual need-based food allocation within households) – this steps are critical in the agricultural pathway to nutrition which hinges on women’s participation and control over agriculture activities. Mere participation of women is not enough – they might need facilitation to get access to land, to inputs, to information, to credit, to markets, to processing facilities – this might be done through different programs but will only add to their work if men are not sensitized and gender roles and relations are not affected. This is a critical role that AEAS workers need to be able to play.

What specific challenges have you encountered that hinder AEAS from addressing gender inequalities and promoting nutrition?

From an implementation point of view, be it public or NGO-led extension, it is very important for the extensionists to be oriented with the basics of gender and nutrition, and how it relates to their role of providing advisory services in the agriculture domain. Orientation could be in the form of classroom or e-learning sessions covering basic concepts as well as concrete examples of “how to” integrate nutrition and gender in agricultural interventions. Gender is particularly with reference to the intra household dynamics that influences decision-making related to agriculture that has a bearing on nutrition outcomes – e.g. what to produce? How much? How much to keep for home consumption? How much to sell? Where? At what price? How to use the income – how to divide it between food and non-food expenses? Each of these questions has a gendered choice, and needs to be facilitated. The role of the extensionist would be first as role model where s/he can share his/her own way of making these decisions; thereafter s/he needs to have the resources and authority to mentor and monitor communities to do so.

Do you know any examples of AEAS successfully addressing gender inequalities and supporting improved nutrition outcomes? What factors, including specific approaches and tools, led to success?

The Sustainable Nutrition for All (SN4A) project implemented jointly by SNV, KIT and CDI in Zambia and Uganda has been effective in involving government AEAS agents for nutrition activities. At the operational level, extension agents are members of nutrition coordination committees that interface with communities along with health technicians and school teachers. They work closely with community level nutrition champions who are the link between the nutrition committee and the community. The jurisdiction of this committee is the catchment of the secondary school in the area. The AEAS links with health and education and provides technical know-how for establishing school and home gardens for year round availability of nutritious crops esp. vegetables and fruits. They have been oriented in nutrition as well as intra-HH dynamics, and how it links to the home gardens not only in terms of what is grown but how the produce is used. They also talk about consumption and associated behavior change and follow up on these aspects regularly. This community based approach is human resource intensive but effective and sustainable as community representatives are involved and contribute without honorariums. For now the project is providing resources for mobility and capacity building at all levels and the government ought to take it over through other development programmes after the project ends.

What do you think the role and main activities should be of a global forum such as the GFRAS Nutrition Working Group in helping AEAS to become more gender-sensitive and able to contribute to improved nutrition?

GFRAS has developed e-learning modules and materials to integrate gender and nutrition in AEAS – widespread dissemination and use of these materials is important. Some of the materials might have to be adapted to different contexts and commodities. However effectiveness of e-learning methods might be limited unless it is accompanied by face-to-face sessions to reinforce learnings.

Inspired by FAO's estimate that if women got the same access to resources as men, there would be 160 million fewer hungry people in the world, CARE designed the Pathways program in 6 countries for women farmers. We have recently completed a cost benefit analysis of expanding extension services to women farmers, combined with gender dialogues and marketing techniques.  The results were remarkable, and remind us that expanding extension services can have big impacts on gender.

What did we see?

* For every $1 invested in the program, communities saw a $31 return in benefit (split among women's empowerment gains, food security, and livelihood gains.

* Improved women’s access to extension services: Women’s access to extension more than tripled in every country Pathways worked in. Farmers’ Field and Business Schools were a particularly important way that we opened up access to information and extension for farmers.

* Women are more empowered: The number of women who meet CARE’s definition of empowered on the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index more than doubled in Ghana and Tanzania, and women’s empowerment scores increased an average of 14 points for Mali and Tanzania, and 6 points for India, Ghana, and Malawi.

* Women can make more decisions: women’s ability to influence household decisions about assets went up by about 25 percentage points—with the highest impact in Mali—a 37 percentage point change.

* Better access to inputs: In India, Ghana, and Tanzania, seed replicators and agri-kiosks have lowered costs and barriers of high-quality inputs for farmers. In every country, access to inputs went up by at least 10%, and in India and Tanzania it more than doubled.


Women often sited that being the person who got agricultural knowledge from an extension agent changed their standing in the household and the community.  Having that respect, and the authority of being the person who had new information, mattered to them.  Becoming better farmers, and the increased income that resulted, also gave them power and respect in the communities. Extension services won't do this alone, but they are a critical component of building women's empowerment as farmers.

English translation below

Para lograr un mayor desarrollo de las areas en donde las AEAS a traves de su participacion de asesoria agricola, se debe implementar mecanismos a traves de las entidades locales para que se genere una intervencion total dentro de la produccion agricola, la cual este enfocada a cerrar el circulo : conocimiento en mejoramiento de la produccion agricola a traves de herramientas tecnologicas a bajo costo , desarrollo de lineas de produccion de bajo costo en el cual se genera una equidad de genero , contribuyendo al desarrollo microempresarial y a una mejora en la nutricion del nucleo familiar.

Las AEAS se enfrentan a retos como el acceso a grupos asociativos que se comprometan en establecer cambios en la forma de produccion de sus alimentos para asi generar mejoras en la nutricion.

En Ecuador en la zona rural de Guayas existen asociaciones que son apoyadas a traves de organizaciones gubernamentales en la produccion de cacao; sin embargo éstas no completan el ciclo de asistencia , el cual se limita a ser una asistencia en producción, quedando sin desarrollar la parte de la transformacion del producto a pequeña escala en donde puedan intervenir mujeres dentro del desarrollo del negocio.

Un Foro Global como el GFRAS debe incluir dentro de su actividad buscar grupos de interes de desarrollo rural comunitario en los cuales a traves de las AEAS se generen mecanismos que promuevan la equidad de genero y consigo la promocion de mejoras en la nutricion. Crear un nexo entre las AEAS y las organizaciones no gubernamentales permitirian que las acciones de las AEAS no se limitan a generar conocimientos sino mas bien a establecer estrategias para que la produccion rural se convierta en una fuente generadora de empleo con diversidad de género

Maria Eugenia

To further develop the areas where AEAS provide their agricultural advisory services, mechanisms must be implemented through the local entities, fully addressing agricultural production and focused on tying up all the ends: knowledge on the improvement of agricultural production using low-cost technological tools, development of low-cost production lines through which gender equality is realized, contributing to microenterprise development and to the improvement of family nutrition.

AEAS face several challenges, like the access to associative groups committed to change the way in which food is produced in order to improve nutrition.

In the rural area of Guayas in Ecuador, several associations of cocoa producers are supported by governmental organizations. However, the assistance cycle is incomplete as it is limited to production and does not address the small-scale product transformation stage in which women can be engaged.

A Global Forum such as the GFRAS should seek community rural development interest groups generating mechanisms through the AEAS that promote gender equality and improve nutrition as a result. Liaising AEAS with non-governmental organizations would broaden AEAS impact: aside from providing knowledge, they would implement strategies to make rural production a gender-diverse source of employment.

Maria Eugenia


Many thanks for opening this subject on the FSN Forum. Of course gender issues are critical, but as a food educator I’d like to focus mainly on nutrition, in particular the needs for different kinds of food knowledge, motivation, action and training. Since it is rather long, I have divided it into two posts.


There is so much talk about what AEAS could or should do, that it is good to hear about what is actually being done and how it has turned out:  for example Helvetas on the “hard fight going on in the marketplace to catch the attention of consumers” and the need for a broad alliance of stakeholders to raise consumer awareness;  Harvest Plus on getting local agents to promote and sell biofortified foods (the Tupperware approach?);  Amtul Waris on approaches to engage children;  Dick Tinsley on what poor people can do for themselves, and what services cash-strapped governments can pay for;  George Bazayo of Tree Aid, Burkina Faso and Mahtab Bamji  of the Dangoria Charitable Trust describing and evaluating integrated small farming projects with a nutrition education component; and Kenneth Oulu’s experience of promoting “women’s crops” in Tanzania. 

They are all discussing problems and pathways, all involving some form of food education or learning, by whatever name.  I’d like to add my own point of view based on my field experience and reading.



Contributors mention several challenges to AEAS taking action on nutrition (also brought out in the GFRAS study by Fanzo [1]),such as lack of resources/ time/ transport/ training/coordination with other services; social and structural barriers and institutional barriers (e.g. gender attitudes, land ownership, the traditional AEAS focus on staples and productivity.  It is generally felt that the AEAS (a) have enough on their plates, (b) may not see nutrition as a priority, or indeed as their business, and (c) could do with official guidelines about what to do.

Indeed, don’t they have some justification? There seems to be a  general expectation that it’s the job of the extension services to compensate for low levels of food literacy in the population.  Imagine how much malnutrition, stunting and obesity would be averted if children left school with some understanding of and practice in cooking, feeding babies, growing  fresh vegetables, eating healthily, shopping wisely, protecting themselves against dangerous foods, adapting to change, recognizing and resisting misleading food advertising, and bringing up their children to do the same.  These skills are part of the Right to Food. There is a general absence of effective food and nutrition education in schools, in public education (the media,  public information sites, community programs [2]) and in social protection schemes. [3]  I was heartened to read the proposals for comprehensive school food and nutrition education (SFNE) from contributors. This was also a recommendation of the ICN2 conference.


Limitations and motivations  

There are also some inherent limitations on what AEAS can achieve for nutrition, which can affect the motivation of all concerned - farmers, households, AEAS and their ministries.

  • Diet and health  Nutrition impact depends not only on diet, but also on general health, for which AEAS are not directly responsible:  the best of nutrition interventions can be undermined by malaria, helminth infections or diarrhoeal diseases, or just lack of exercise.  So (for example) it will always be hard to promise convincingly that more spinach will make you stronger, or to see the effects.
  • Cash or consumption?  There is an inherent conflict of interest between cash income and improved home consumption. Poor people need to make money immediately, says Paul Rigterink, and many others have pointed out the  permanent motivational gap between present cash in the hand and the uncertain promise of future better health.[4]  The tension exists not only for farmers and households, but also for AEAS and MoAs, who pride themselves on increasing rural prosperity.
  • The partial picture   AEAS are not in a position to deal with the whole household food situation; they deal with what people grow for food, not with what they buy.  For any given context, this raises the question of where the main nutritional threats to health come from – is it homegrown dietary monotony, or the empty calories in bought food, or both?  The Dangoria Charitable Trust project evaluation asked what foods farmers buy with the money they get from selling the foods they produce.  We should also  ask farmers whether they prefer buy or growing.  Growing means extra time and effort in the garden and kitchen.  Buying can be cheaper, more convenient, tastier, quicker, sometimes more prestigious,   and above all time-saving (women don’t want anything which takes more time, says Aklilu Nigussie).  Social marketing experts would say this choice is a no-brainer.

If global reviews have difficulty establishing reliable pathways from agriculture to improved nutrition,[5]  how can ordinary households see the benefits and urgency of producing and consuming differently?   Unlike harvests and market prices, nutrition outcomes have low visibility and  many people do not think of varied vegetables or fewer soda drinks as concrete steps towards prosperity. Action for good nutrition is moved by attitudes and conviction as much as by reason.  This has consequences for the approach.  With resistance from established habits and social norms, competition from cash and convenience, and not a lot of clearly attributable outcomes, good information and sage advice are generally not enough to get people eating better.




If Ministries of Agriculture and the AEAS do want to take nutrition and diet into their sights, we know quite a lot about what works and what does not.  Here are some of the ideas.

  • More of the same - increased productivity/better harvests/agricultural training 

It is often recommended is that AEAS improve what they are already doing, with more personnel, more women, more resources, better seeds, better technology etc.  Of course this will improve food security, but we can’t assume that improving supply will reshape food consumption patterns.  On their own, supply-side interventions have a patchy impact on nutrition.  Like rising household income or increased GDP, they tend to  perpetuate and reinforce existing dietary patterns, or to improve them within the frame of what consumers already see as good (e.g. more meat).  So I would risk the thought that if AEAS are to improve nutrition, they will need to go a little beyond what they are already doing.

  • Imparting nutrition knowledge

Some knowledge of food and nutrition is certainly a must.  Nutrition awareness and perception do look like an obvious part of the professional repertoire for people who advise on what to grow and how to grow it, and whose mandate is to safeguard farmers’ interests and welfare.   It is frequently suggested therefore that AEAS acquire and “disseminate information” about good nutrition. However knowledge alone is not enough for either AEAS or their clients. It is well attested[6] that it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for changing food practices (as we also know from personal experience).  AEAS may like to test this for themselves by giving nutrition information and checking how far it is heeded.

  • Behavioural  messages

Specific messages about what to do, shaped for particular audiences, are the mainstay of behavior change interventions, and are more successful than general information. It’s often proposed that AEAS should act as ancillary messengers in “delivering” dietary messages (face-to-face communications have been found very effective in promoting change). This however is only part of a multi-faceted intervention[7] and may limit the role of AEAS and not make much use of their special expertise and local knowledge.

  • Integrated agricultural interventions 

Increasingly favoured are packages which mix experience and practice in growing and preparing foods with some knowledge of food and diet, and practice in changing habits, and which call on local experience and family/ group/ community support.  Contributors have given interesting examples of how agricultural, marketing and nutrition knowhow are directly put into practice.  Such packages have the potential to make full use of AEAS’ working skills and experience.  However these are usually independently funded projects with specific targets and target groups. Can such approaches be promoted in the regular extension services, with their limited resources, manpower and time?


If AEAS are willing to take an interest in improving local diet and nutrition,  then it seems that programs of action (and related training and guidelines) should aim at being economical in time and resources;  should be practical, productive and rewarding;  should make use of existing knowledge and skills and build easily into normative work patterns;  should “breed” support wherever possible, and develop capacity in the AEAS.   Effective national and ministerial policy, intersectoral coordination and easy access to accurate information can of course make everything much easier.

In the curriculum 

We would surely expect local food experts to be primed to make health connections between what’s grown and what’s consumed, know what common foods are good for, recognize poor diet and see how locally grown crops could improve it.  It cannot be ethical to keep nutrition knowhow out of the agriculture curriculum.  Two relatively inexpensive and feasible strategies are:

  • Nutrition across the pre-service curriculum   Review the whole pre-service agriculture curriculum in collaboration with its subject lecturers, integrating nutrition links and mini-activities wherever appropriate and making sure that nutrition is included in a small way in several official subject examinations.  This builds student awareness incrementally, and also creates better-informed subject teachers (there is nothing so educational as marking exam papers and grading projects).
  • Self-study course in food and nutrition   Develop, adopt or adapt a short tutored self-teaching course in food and nutrition for both pre-service and in-service, adaptable for other services so that all are on the same page.  Keep it online, where it can be updated and downloaded or printed for local use.   The content should cover not only the basics of food and nutrition, but also local issues, national diets, national nutrition programs, approaches and best practices, and a number of exercises involving direct observation, finding information resources, exploring people’s opinions etc. The course can be done first by supervisors/lecturers, who then become facilitators for groups of students or workers in their own workplaces. (For best results, spread it over at least 10 weeks, with 5 tutorials, and a final test.)

In the field

Finally, on the-job learning, which is more important than any other training. 

Field training programs  should parallel the new job dimension. They should aim to generate small observable improvements in local food practices; build community initiative and capacity in undertaking them; get support from health and education services; train up AEAS teams in the art of instigating, monitoring, assessing, recording and recycling the process; and get some recognition for achievement from both communities and ministries. Ideally they are slow, systematic and incremental, and result in a capable, skilled and motivated workforce which can operate independently. The training period (a year?) can be guided by ministerial protocols and some basic materials.

I am sticking my neck out here!  Such programs, if well organized, work fine in other kinds of professional work which are not so different from agricultural extension (e.g. teacher training, medical internships, social work, counselling), but I have never seen them in an AEAS service.

Is it feasible?  Has it been done?


[1]Fanzo, Jessica, Q. Marshall, J. Wong, R. I. Merchan, M.I. Jaber, A. Souza, N. Verjee .

The integration of nutrition into extension and advisory services  2013. and World Bank Secure Nutrition.  Global forum for rural advisory services

[2] The American community nutrition education program for low-income groups, EFNEP, covers many of these skills, and shows good results in its annual evaluation.   

[3] Social protection programs are currently beginning to discover the very large supplementary impact of a food and nutrition education component. See Akhter et al. 2016 Which form of safety net transfer is most beneficial?  Impacts on income, food security and child nutrition. IFPRI.

[4] For example, Banerjee and Duflo  Economist blog April 2011 Why people don’t take simple low-hanging fruit options to protect their health.  They make the same point in their classic study Poor Economics 2012.

[5]  A great chorus of review literature makes the point that agricultural programs may have  great potential for improving nutrition but there is “little empirical evidence on the role of agriculture and other nutrition-sensitive sectors on nutrition” (HLPE of SCN 2016, draft report) or understanding of how to achieve the potential (Thompson and Amoroso 2010).  See also Hodge et al. 2016, Fiorella et al. 2016 review, Yosef et al 2015 re Bangladesh, Webb 2013b), Masset et al. 2011, Hawkes et al. 2012). 

[6]See e.g. Contento et al. (1995) The effectiveness of nutrition education and implications for nutrition education policy, programs and research: a review of research. Journal of Nutrition Education, 27(6), 355–364.   Most behaviour change theory supports this finding.

[7] Researching, developing, trialling and disseminating behaviour change messages is a big job, so the AEAS role in behaviour change interventions is generally taken to be as extra support.

Primarily, it is governments who shall provide support to all farmers from commercial through to subsistence farmers via AEAS with the emphasis on providing quality not quantity. Such an extension system should design appropriate mechanisms to cater to the needs and demands of resource-poor, particularly women farmers, remote area farmers, different ethnic and disadvantaged groups who are often the most food and nutrition insecure. Unfortunately state capacity in many countries is low and there are many local political imperatives at play pushing officials in policy directions that contradict the aims of development and poverty reduction. Governments and to some extent the private sector, target their extension and input resources to richer farmers and landowners, leading to the perception that they ignore the plight of the poor.

Hereby we share a couple of findings, approaches and opinion pieces which are based on our project ‘Nutrition in Mountain Agro-ecosystems’ (NMA) aiming to improve the sustainability and the diversity of diets in 5 countries: Ethiopia, Nepal, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Peru by improving the access to sufficient nutritious food for and the resilience of rural communities in mountain regions.

The need for new sources of production will inevitably require AEAS to reach out to marginal farming communities and help strengthen farmer organizations to improve productivity and help them develop business skills, find market opportunities, and navigate modern market chains. An extension system suitable to meet the needs of farmers and farming communities in the twenty-first century should be conceived in the broader sense, than it has been in the past of merely being a provider of technical advice through lip service or word-of-mouth. It should coordinate and facilitate networking among public and private stakeholder institutions for research, education, inputs, credit, processing and marketing. Joint planning, implementation monitoring, impact assessment, and sharing in a project mode should be emphasized. This should be incorporated in the extension policy and strategy by the policy making body. Access to inputs and credit, and rural markets development are also crucial for effective extension service delivery. The better AEAS providers are connected with diverse stakeholders, the greater their potential is to offer multifunctional services.

In many countries, extension agents tend to have a relatively low education level and limited training in modern communication techniques. Continuous capacity development of AEAS providers is key for the quality service. Policies must provide the regulatory framework for (participatory) curricula development based on needs assessments, continuous in-service education, quality assurance and accreditation of AEAS providers. In order to play the role described above, they must embrace ICT in order to scale information services and extension operations to meet the needs of millions of smallholders. Part of the new extension approach must involve close cooperation among field agents, managers, and ICT service providers. The systems will require that farmers register with the e-systems and pay at least a part of the costs for information. They will also have to work with extension teams to gather routine data (e.g. weather, soil conditions), monitor pest and disease situations, and report information on costs and access to key inputs and services.

For better nutrition outcomes, extension services should shift the approach from specialist advisory services to the wholefarm approach within the context of district/regional level development plans.

Provision of education and advice must address the whole farm as a business, taking account of the objectives of the farming family.

It is also important that service providers consider the nutritional status of the farm family. All support services should provide advice on nutrition and should help families to foster the potential of their children through education and developing farm skills. In addition to helping highly vulnerable farmers improve their food and marketing targets, extension staff can also help them by supporting better risk and financial management.

There are quite a few countries where the development of farmers’ organizations is limited to the formation of farmers’ groups at the grassroots level and there is no central body to lobby on behalf of the farmers in general. AEAS with clients’ participation will empower farmers’ organizations to negotiate with service providing institutions and the government by giving feedback on the currently implemented programmes and expressing clients’ needs, priorities and demands for future programmes intervention. This will help reform the policy and make the extension service efficient, effective and sustainable. Thus, demand-driven local level food security needs and commercialization can be addressed through participatory extension development.

AEAS would benefit significantly from being better informed about the needs of farmers within specific value chains. Participatory extension service should emphasize value-chain development for achieving commercialization and competitiveness. AEAS can engage in adult learning and participatory methods to enable extension agents to work with farmers as equal partners rather than telling them what to do. Farmer-to-farmer approaches, local-or community-based extension approaches (sharing of information on improved agricultural practices or diets within their community) characterized by the use of para-professionals are also found to be an effective way to provide flexible and cost-effective services to resource-poor farmers in marginalized rural areas. For instance, the Mountain Agro-ecosystem Action Network (MAAN) established by the NMA project is a vibrant online platform where rural service providers and farmers can share their solutions and lessons learnt as well as discuss issues which might be relevant for the regional or national policy makers. Lead farmers can also be used to organize farmers into groups for knowledge exchange and for accessing inputs and services.

Resource use efficiency and environmental protection tend to remain low on the political agenda in rural areas which hinders any coordinated efforts to develop a coherent nutrient management strategy and policies to improve nutrient use efficiency by farmers. The extension system is poorly equipped with innovations in natural resources management and climate change. In many cases AEAS are particularly prone to neglecting ecological and social priorities (e.g. focus on short-term productivity increases through high input agriculture). Soil fertility management, water conservation technologies, agroforestry, quality control and certification, climate change adaptation and mitigation measures should form extension agenda in addition to agro-biodiversity conservation, promotion and use. It can be noted that both a lack of relevant regulation and publicly available monitoring data for ground and surface water quality, means that there are no ‘baselines’ against which to set advice and training for good farming practice.

In many parts of the world, farmers do not have good access to information on alternatives to industrialized agriculture because much of their advice comes from representatives of companies that sell both seeds and pesticides. Even the few independent agronomists struggle to get independent information and advice to pass on to farmers. Agro-ecological systems like organic agriculture entails diversifying production resulting in a more diverse and nutritious diet for the family. AEAS must be trained on ecological farming and on sharing this approach, and support the farmer-to-farmer sharing of ecological approaches.

Where chemical fertilizers are used, the economic optimum (profit maximising) fertilizer application rate is less than the agronomic optimum, as determined by the point at which diminishing marginal returns to increased fertilizer use match the incremental costs of that additional use. Farmers can be expected to aim to approximate this economic optimum, unless their behaviour is dominated by extension advice based on the agronomic optimum application rate. Private input suppliers should therefore be linked with research organisation and local extension agencies to support effective extension services delivery, i.e. private AEAS should be incorporated in the whole system and their results regularly monitored by the public AEAS.

In view of the serious health impacts on rural and urban communities of hazardous products and practice, awareness-raising and education on pesticide use and dangers must go beyond conventional extension activities to reach women and children in particular.

Although it is important to improve the means of sustainable production and raise productivity levels, farmers need to commit to ways they can improve their returns on investments. AEAS must find practical ways of re-orienting their efforts to programs that support market linkage and good business management.

Women still have limited land tenure rights and lack of access to farm inputs, equipment, and information. Women tend to have lower levels of education than men, which reduce their power level and ability to make decisions within their families and societies. Therefore, raising the productivity and returns of women farmers requires extension services directly targeted to them with well-defined gender and social equity indicators right at the beginning, monitored over time. It is important to understand the different roles and responsibilities of all family members (women/men, girls/boys) in the production, transformation and marketing process. The social and cultural contexts that affect differential rights and access to and control over productive resources require particular attention when providing AEAS. Care should be taken to not reinforce gender stereotypes and household roles. For instance, men are not necessarily the predominant gender involved in cash crops, as great variability in control and co-operation has been found. Working with entire rural communities (i.e. not only women) and raising men’s awareness of the benefits of gender equality for agricultural production helps to overcome resistance to the social change that gender-equitable extension might entail.

Via provision of professional training on gender issues, advisers can become models for gender-sensitive and participatory communication within farming communities.

It is important to train AEAS staff in gender-differentiated approaches and methodologies, to ensure that demand-led processes consider gender and to provide gender-sensitive arrangements for extension and training services (location, time, availability of on-site childcare services, etc.)

Female extension workers are often in a better position to help female small-scale farmers adapt and adopt innovations. Incentives can help motivate women to work as agricultural advisers. Current extension workers can be role models for career plans of young girls. Supporting internships for female students from agricultural colleges in extension offices and agricultural departments have proven a successful way to increase the number of women advisers.

Strategic partnerships between women’s organizations and government institutions can help to improve women’s land and resource access rights.

A results-based extension programme planning would be desirable in which objectives would be about women and child nutrition and women’s access to resources or their increased roles in management and marketing besides household income and sustainability such as reduced use of chemical inputs.

A complementary way to assure social equity and ecologically sound AEAS is the power of united consumers who demand and are ready to pay for nutritious, ecologically sustainable and fairly produced and traded products. Sensitising consumers to the benefits of social and ecological products is a significant means to strengthen private sector involvement in AEAS that benefits to poor agricultural producers in an ecological way.

Closing comment

Equal access to resources, services & employment for women farmers worldwide can increase farm yields up to 30%, so is true with gender equality and improved nutrition. The AEAS should set their goals to meet gender equality in its functioning then see the outcome in any aspect including nutrition. #genderequality #UNFAO40

It was stimulating & learning experience to join this discussion. Thank you!

Dear FSN-members,

There is often a general belief that men can’t cook or do housework. We wanted to show than men can cook nutritious food - hence take care of the household when women go on training courses...

Together with the local Farmer’s Union, Youth Union and agriculture extension, we (ICRAF Vietnam) organized a cooking competition for men on the Vietnamese women’s day. We chose this day because normally the women are the ones who do performances for others. This time we thought they should enjoy themselves, watching their men competing for the MasterChef with other villages.

There were criteria for the competition can vary. We set a maximum cost, a meal to feed four, and only use local products. In this way we discovered the variety of what is grown in the village, that farmers normally forget to mention in household surveys. We published a bi-lingual cookbook with the favorite recipes from each village:

We also organized nutrition awareness campaign for school children.

You can read more about the event in the blogs:

The cooking competition was part of CCAFS-funded projects on climate-smart agriculture and climate-smart villages.

More can certainly be done to improve it all, including the cookbook, however most important - get started! Overall the participants were happy and have been asking for another cooking competition. One point here was for women to have fun on Women’s Day – if we were to organize it all again, we would invite both women and men.

We look forward to see other examples of other gender-equal activities!

Elisabeth Simelton, PhD

Samuel Oluwafemi Ayanleye


It's my pleasure to write this short piece on the title above, Nutrition intervention and Gender Equality are things that need serious attention for development. Food security has been defined as the process by which food gets to consumers in its safest form, from this it can be deduced that rural households are normally affected by food security hence the basis of other problems. Nutrition intervention will be very crucial for FSN as I am concerned because it will inform appropriate decision making as to tackle food security in rural households, it will not be a bad thing to make sure that an average person have access to one cup of milk and one or two meats per day. Furthermore, gender Equality is important in extension and advisory services because it will give both men and women that sense of belonging they need, extension should not be biased that is all the genders must be included in decision making process and even in recent times, the role of men and women working together is not negotiable when talking about sustainable solutions to problems.

Best Regards,
Samuel from Nigeria.



Edye Kuyper, Hajnalka Petrics, Soniia David and Fatima Hachem

Facilitators of the discussion

Dear Members,

As facilitators of this discussion, we are exceedingly grateful for the knowledgeable, astute, and diverse comments received thus far. We will do our best to be good stewards of the insights shared by using the GFRAS Nutrition Working Group as a platform for addressing needs and implementing suggestions.   

The discussions highlighted the role AEAS can play not only technically in terms of addressing the specific constraints and needs of women farmers and providing skills, technologies and knowledge on nutrition-sensitive agriculture, but also their importance in coordinating and convening multiple stakeholders to advance and advocate for nutrition-sensitive agriculture and gender equality.

Some recommendations made by contributors for advancing these two agendas include: hiring more women advisors; ensuring that AEAS organizations and their staff are gender-sensitive; incorporating nutrition in the training curricula of rural advisors; engaging also men in nutrition education; involving the youth for generating innovation; enhancing the linkages between research and women’s and men’s reality; modernizing technology to reduce women’s work burden, and promoting policies that ensure rural advisory systems are gender- and nutrition-sensitive.

Kind regards,

Hajnalka Petrics, Soniia David and Fatima Hachem, FAO  

Edye Kuyper, INGENAES

English translation below

Buenas tardes:

Apreciados integrantes del Foro, me permito enviar mi contribución a este foro:

  • ¿En qué medida cree usted que los AEAS deberían involucrarse en un desarrollo más amplio, que vaya más allá de proporcionar y facilitar el acceso al conocimiento, la información y las tecnologías?

Los servicios de extensión y asesoría agraria (AEAS) deberían realizar un papel que genere mayor impacto, más allá de realizar actividades de capacitación donde suministran información y conocimientos, así como acceso a la tecnología pueden reorientarse a modelos de intervención que generen mayor impacto en el desarrollo de las familias y las comunidades rurales, considerando la equidad de género y el ejercicio de los derechos para los grupos más pobres y vulnerables, las mujeres especialmente aquellas que son cabezas de hogar, la población rural, las personas y comunidades víctimas de la violencia y el conflicto armado.

Esto significa un modelo menos asistencial y más centrado en el desarrollo lo cual implica el desarrollo de proyectos que inicia su intervención desde el conocimiento e identificación de las necesidades de las poblaciones y el planteamiento de soluciones o mejora a las mismas; los pequeños productores juegan un papel muy importante para alcanzar mejoras en la nutrición y la salud, promover la adaptación y la mitigación al cambio climático, construir resiliencia en las sociedades afectadas por conflictos y reducir las brechas de género.

Esto implica que las AEAS deberían desarrollar su labor bajo la perspectiva de sistemas alimentarios sostenibles para la seguridad alimentaria y nutricional y solo desde un enfoque en la disponibilidad de alimentos. Es decir deben tener un enfoque que permita articularse con el acceso, el consumo, el aprovechamiento biológico y la calidad e inocuidad de los alimentos, integración que debe realizarse desde las políticas públicas, planes, programas y proyectos.

  • ¿Qué desafíos específicos ha encontrado que impiden a los AEAS hacer frente a las desigualdades de género y promover la nutrición?

Algunos de los desafíos que impiden a las AEAS hacer frente a las desigualdades de género y promover la nutrición son la creencia que el trabajo agrícola es desarrollado principalmente por los hombres, la misma visión que las labores agrícolas se orientan solo a garantizar la disponibilidad de alimentos.

La falta de una visión holística de la alimentación y la nutrición, genera que se visualice la alimentación solo como la disponibilidad o solo como el consumo de alimentos, esta desarticulación se origina desde la formulación de las políticas públicas hasta la operacionalización de las mismas. Es así como las políticas de seguridad alimentaria y nutricional, consideran dentro de sus enfoques la equidad de género pero aunque hay una política de equidad de género fueron concebidas y operan independientes.

  • ¿Conoce algún ejemplo de AEAS que haya abordado con éxito las desigualdades de género y apoyado mejores resultados nutricionales? ¿Qué factores, incluidos los enfoques y herramientas, específicos condujeron al éxito?

Hay algunos ejemplos en Bogotá, Colombia relacionados con el cultivo de las flores de exportación en la Sabana de Bogotá, el cual se considera un caso exitoso porque ha posicionado al país como el segundo exportador mundial de estos productos, lo que, a su vez, se ha traducido en una importante fuente de divisas y empleo.  Adicionalmente, el gremio floricultor ha adelantado programas ambientales y sociales en las zonas en donde hace presencia. Aunque no se ha medido el impacto, la generación de empleo en la mujer rural como partícipe de los cultivos de flores mejora sus niveles de ingresos y por lo tanto aumenta la calidad de vida y la seguridad alimentaria y nutricional de sus familias.

Así mismo en estas mismas zonas del país, se han desarrollado acciones que se reflejan en el mejoramiento de las condiciones de alimentación y nutrición como el establecimiento de granjas de seguridad alimentaria para mujeres cabeza de hogar, alimentación escolar e implementación del programa de complementación nutricional.

  • ¿Cuál cree que debería ser el papel y las principales actividades de un foro global como el Grupo de Trabajo sobre Nutrición del GFRAS para ayudar a los AEAS a ser más sensibles al género y capaces de contribuir a mejorar la nutrición?

Algunas de las acciones del foro Global como el como el Grupo de Trabajo sobre Nutrición del GFRAS para ayudar a los AEAS, que pueden ser consideradas como prioritarias son:

Identificar, documentar, sistematizar y difundir experiencias exitosas.

Analizar lecciones aprendidas e identificar factores de éxito de las experiencias exitosas.

Realizar Investigaciones que conduzcan a la generación de nuevos conocimientos.

Trabajar proyectos orientados a mejorar de forma integral las capacidades y el liderazgo de las mujeres, especialmente las mujeres de bajos ingresos y de los sectores rurales.

En países como Colombia donde puede afirmarse que la gestión rural renace con el postconflicto más allá de diseñar políticas públicas se requiere tener en cuenta la territorialidad y el núcleo familiar en el desarrollo de la paz. “Las mujeres rurales tenemos hijos, marido; integrarlos a los programas sociales es fundamental”

Es necesaria la reconstrucción del tejido social en las zonas rurales de Colombia, así como un mayor esfuerzo de la institucionalidad para garantizarles a todas las mujeres rurales las condiciones necesarias para el ejercicio integral de sus derechos.

Se requiere una transformación estructural para hacer políticas públicas que involucren la participación efectiva de las mujeres rurales.

Desarrollar acciones para visibilizar la participación de la mujer y sus organizaciones sociales en la construcción de la paz territorial.

La garantía de los Derechos de la mujer, que incluyan el cuidado de la salud y la nutrición, el mejora

Good afternoon:

Dear Forum members, please find below my contribution to this discussion:

• To what extent do you think should AEAS be involved in broader development, going beyond providing and facilitating access to knowledge, information and technologies?

Agricultural extension and advisory services (AEAS) should play a more impactful role. Beyond conducting training activities through which they provide information and knowledge as well as access to technology, their approach could be refocused towards intervention models with a higher impact on the development of families and rural communities, considering gender equality and the exercise of rights for the poorest and most vulnerable groups: women, especially heads of household, rural population, and individuals and communities victims of violence and armed conflict.

This means the model should be more development-focused and less assistance-oriented, implementing projects that kick-off determining and identifying the population needs and putting forward solutions or improvements. Smallholders play a very important role in improving nutrition and health, promoting climate change adaptation and mitigation, building resilience in conflict-affected societies and reducing gender gaps.

Hence, AEAS should be working on sustainable food systems to improve food and nutritional security by focusing exclusively on food availability. That is to say, their approach should integrate food access, food consumption, biological utilization of food, and food quality and safety, through public policies, plans, programs and projects.

• What specific challenges have you encountered that hinder AEAS from addressing gender inequalities and promoting nutrition?

Some of the challenges that hinder AEAS from addressing gender inequalities and promoting nutrition are the belief that agricultural work is mainly undertaken by men and only focused on ensuring food availability.

Due to the lack of a holistic view of food and nutrition, they are only identified with food availability or food consumption. This misconception is rooted in the formulation and implementation of public policies. As an example, the gender equity policy and the food security and nutrition policies, addressing gender equity as well, were designed and implemented independently.

• Do you know any examples of AEAS successfully addressing gender inequalities and supporting improved nutrition outcomes? What factors, including specific approaches and tools, led to success?

One example is related to the cultivation of export flowers in the Bogotá Savanna, in Colombia.  It is considered a successful case because it has positioned the country as the second world exporter of these products, creating an important source of income and employment as a result. In addition, the floricultural union has implemented environmental and social programmes in its areas of action. Although the impact has not been measured, employing rural women in flower cultivation improves their income levels and therefore increases the quality of life and the food and nutritional security of their families.

Other initiatives have also been implemented in these same areas of the country, leading to improved food and nutrition: establishment of food security farms for female head of household, and implementation of school feeding and food supplementation programmes.

• What do you think the role and main activities should be of a global forum such as the GFRAS Nutrition Working Group in helping AEAS to become more gender-sensitive and able to contribute to improved nutrition?

Some of the priority activities that a global forum like the GFRAS Nutrition Working Group can undertake to support AEAS are:

Identify, document, classify and disseminate all the successful experiences.

Assess lessons learned and identify success factors of fruitful experiences.

Conduct research generating new knowledge.

Work on projects aimed at improving the skills and leadership of women, especially low-income women in rural areas.

In countries like Colombia, where rural management reawakens with post-conflict, beyond designing public policies, territoriality and households should be considered in the peace building process. “Rural women have children and husbands; integrating them in the social programmes is essential”.

Rebuilding the social structure in rural areas of Colombia is necessary. Institutions should also put more effort in guaranteeing the necessary conditions for rural women to fully exercise their rights.

A structural transformation is required to formulate public policies effectively engaging rural women.

Develop actions to make visible the participation of women and their social organizations in territorial peace building.

Guarantee women's rights, including health care and nutrition.