Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)


Integrating nutrition into the curricula of agriculture education institutions: Strengthening human capacity to promote nutrition-sensitive agriculture

In many countries, agricultural development has traditionally focused on raising productivity and maximizing production of cereals. For example, in Ethiopia it is evident from a 2015 report that 67.24% of the total cultivated area grows cereals, amounting to 61.5% of total production composed of cereal crops (CSA, 2014/15 Meher season agricultural sample survey for private holding farmers). The same survey results show that only 0.98% of total area of production is covered by vegetables, with only 1.55% total production as vegetable. This production system indicates a problem of dietary diversification where cereal crops are staple foods which constitute a major portion of the national diet. In effect, because a majority of the national food supply is cereal, it is difficult for people to access foods that are richer in protein and minerals, such as milk, meat, fish, eggs, beans, vegetables, and fruits, which are often more expensive than cereals.

Recently the term “nutrition sensitive agriculture” has emerged as a way to define agriculture investments made with the purpose of improving nutrition. The overall objective of nutrition-sensitive agriculture is to make the global food system better equipped to produce good nutritional outcomes. Increases in food production do not necessarily guarantee to improve diets or nutrition.

In addition to the production and consumption patterns found, a shortage of adequately trained agricultural workers providing nutrition services and support is thought to contribute to persisting high rates of malnutrition in Ethiopia (40.4% stunting; 25% underweight; 5% wasting, and 3% overweight/obesity, mini Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey 2014). The shortage of extension workers with nutrition knowledge and skills has been noted in other countries as well, including the most high-burden malnutrition countries of the world.

The lack of nutrition training of agricultural workers is acknowledged globally as a significant barrier to combating malnutrition through agriculture and food systems. Without social and behavioral changes, improved dietary diversity and consumption patterns, food storage, hygiene and preparation practices, the high prevalence of malnutrition may continue, even if incomes, production and productivity increase.

Based on the growing interest in identifying ways in which agriculture can contribute to improved nutrition outcomes, it is valid and timely to review the possible scope and role of agricultural training institutions in promoting nutrition-sensitive agriculture, that is making food systems better equipped to produce good nutritional outcomes.

 Ethiopia is one example of a country that has set out to tackle under nutrition by making agriculture more nutrition sensitive and there may be other countries that are taking this direction. 

The purpose of this on-line discussion is to share views and experiences of individuals, projects institutions and countries on how to integrate nutrition into the curriculum of agricultural training institutions, and how to strengthen pre-service education for agriculture students so as to develop a competent workforce that is capable of promoting nutrition-sensitive agriculture.

The leading questions for our discussion are:

  • What should be the role of agricultural colleges and higher education institutions to promote nutrition sensitive agriculture?
  • What is meant by “integrating nutrition into the curriculum”? Does this mean nutrition knowledge alone or also include some competencies in promoting desirable food and dietary behaviors?  In other words, what are the absolutely essential competencies of "nutrition" to include in the training of agricultural workers? Do the institutions see the relevance of including nutrition into the curriculum?
  • For what purpose? What is expected to result from this extra curriculum element? How do we expect graduates (i.e. agricultural workers) to use the new knowledge and skills in their daily work? What can they do to promote food and dietary diversification and better nutrition outcomes?
  • Do you have experiences of integrating nutrition in to the curricula of agricultural higher institution? If yes, how will the curriculum change contribute to national nutrition goals or to nutrition objectives adopted by the governments? What are the opportunities, challenges, successes, lessons learnt?

I thank you in advance for the time and the genuine thoughts that you contribute by responding to these questions. Your practical experience in integrating nutrition into the curricula of agricultural educational institutions is of great importance to facilitate the emergence of a competent workforce in the area of nutrition-sensitive agriculture.

Mebit Kebede Tariku,

B.Sc. in Plant science, M.Sc. Agriculture (specialized in Soil Science), Master of Public health.
Jhpiego Ethiopia, ENGINE/USAID funded project, Pre-service education advisor for Nutrition

This activity is now closed. Please contact [email protected] for any further information.

* Click on the name to read all comments posted by the member and contact him/her directly
  • Read 37 contributions
  • Expand all

I agree with you Mr. Mebit, Nutrirtion is a serious concern especially to the developing nations where majority are poor and can not afford to buy nutritious food or nutrient suplements. To combat the problem I think more emphasis should be made on production of nutritious food and hence integrating nutrition into agricultre curriculum will be a good approach.



Les curricula doivent comporter aussi des notions sur l’intérêt de la biodiversité et sa relation avec la nutrition. Il serait aussi important d’encourager et supporter les études sur la composition alimentaire et son croisement avec la biodiversité /la "nutrition sensitive agriculture".

R. Belahsen

Integrating Nutrition with Curricula of Agriculture

It is fact that in many Universities in India the curricula has already included the themes on Nutrition.
But it is not covered as intensively as is expected to be.
The broad coverage of the same(Coverage on Nutrition) in "Indian Economic problems" could not fulfil the requisite needs of future research in Agriculture Extension.
Only the utilitarian purpose information on minor millets, local available small millets and seasonal fruits are covered up. There is hardly any documentation of fruits, tuber, roots, leaves, flowers which have been in the food habits of specific group of people in specific region.
As an example use of mango kernel in the food habits in a large tracts of DANDAKARANYA by the tribal community. It is a beautiful example of mitigation of food shortage without any nutrition deficiency. All the new practices of food habits (dictated by market forces)introduced through the much talked about Public Distribution System (PDS) in India have truncated the existing food habits-some of which were really nutritious.
the extensive and large scale use of Jackfruit in Central high land (Odisha, Chhattishgarh, MP)and Chotnagpur area has been one of the finest practice of good nutrition habits of the local population.
The thousands of practices of food habits are yet to be documented and put in the curriculum of Agriculture university.

Again the moot question is NUTRITION is taught in HOME SCIENCE or Nutrition Institute and there is hardly any synergy or convergence between the two branch of knowledge.

Each department and it's research works in silos and they have hardly any interdisciplinary or trans-disciplinary approach towards knowledge creation.

ICRISAT has also done pioneering research in different food items and it's nutrition contribution but its dissemination of knowledge has been very limited and there is the big issue of lab to land transmission loss.

Pradip Kumar Nath

Thank you for giving the opportunity to discuss such an important issue. It is not new: back in the ‘80s, FAO was into integrating nutrition into agriculture training and several manuals were produced; I was involved in this work. What is new is the “name of the game”: agriculture should now be “nutrition-sensitive”, which is more or less the same. I do think there has been progress along those lines, but better integration of nutrition and agriculture requires renewed effort.

Indeed, food, nutrition, health and the environment cannot be dissociated and these links should be at the forefront of the training in all relevant disciplines.

There have been many interesting comments – I am late in commenting as I wanted first to read the discussion points. Several relevant recommendations have already been formulated, including in the World Bank Group paper in India by Babu et al. I will only remind a few and add my personal views.

  1. The whole food system and its sustainability needs to be understood, considered and analyzed, whatever the level of training.
  2. Agriculture also includes animal science, and nutrition, health and environmental concerns should go beyond production to also encompass post-harvest processes, processing and consumption. The concept of nutrition value chain is key to integrating nutrition into agriculture, in order to preserve or improve the nutritional quality of the foods all along the chain.
  3. What specific nutrition competencies to be developed during training of agronomists, extension workers, field agents, etc., should be the starting point. The competencies at various levels should be complementary.
  4. Once the specific competencies are identified, and this exercise has to be location-specific, then the training objectives, the curriculum content and the evaluation methods can be defined.
  5. In order for agriculture training to become more nutrition sensitive, a higher awareness of the above-mentioned links is required among faculty and other stakeholders: advocacy is essential. Unless the decision-makers for agriculture training and agriculture programs are convinced, business will continue as usual.
  6. Beyond curriculum content, the means of training may have to be renewed, using problem-solving approaches, field exercises, case studies, et., instead of the still too common classroom-type of teaching.
  7. Agriculture people should be able to (this list is not exhaustive):
    1. Appreciate the impact of the food system on the foods consumed and the nutrition and health of the population, while also considering its environmental impact;
    2. Understand and improve the nutrition value chains;
    3. Encourage the production, conservation and appropriate (limited) processing of local foods that have an interesting nutritional profile;
    4. Assess using simple methods food security and diversity at community and household level;
    5. Have minimum knowledge on the nutrition challenges in the community and on (local) food sources of major nutrients;
    6. Be familiar with food and nutrition strategies of the country, as well as existing programs and tools;
    7. Provide basic nutrition education to the producers;
    8. Collaborate with nutrition, health and environment professionnals.
  8. In order to develop such competencies, we feel that a separate (albeit short) nutrition course would be needed, in addition to integrating nutrition concerns and aspects wherever it is possible and relevant in the curriculum;
  9. It may be important to conduct a curriculum review at country or regional level, as was done in West Africa by Roger Sodjinou and colleagues, in order to identify the gaps and weaknesses;
  10. Let us not forget that research is critical to improve food and nutrition security through agriculture. Transdisciplinary research has to be promoted in Agriculture Schools, Universities, or Faculties.

About three years ago Dr. Priti Joshi went about in a part of the most agriculrally distressed area of India ( Wardha, Maharashtra) encouraing women to take up and set up kitchen gardening. Not only that, she then went around the villages teaching women how to prepare nurtitionally wholesome food items from the garden produce. The women who had all tested +ve for anemea had in one growing season  reveresed the condition not only among temselves but also in their neighbours, friends and relatives.  These were all rural women connected to agriculture either on their own farms or as farm labourers. So obviously, they had at some point come in contact with the agricultural deptartment staff and extension service centres; were familiar with farming and had access to farm produce; and yet, were all found to be anaemic. 

The reason for this narration is to make a point for the need to offer an agriculture education programme that does not look at the science of growing crops in isloation but rather exposes the student to all the areas connected and concerned with the science of growing food and its consumption.  After all agricultural practices have now been proven without a doubt to have caused the highest environmental impact to the planet. 

Although not directly relevant to higher education in agriculture the following link offers a glimse into curricular ideas that can be adopted to begin this practie from the very early years of education i.e. from the school level upwards.

Dear members,

Taking this opportunity, I would like to say thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts for our on- line discussion on the current burning issue “Integrating nutrition into the curricula of agriculture education institutions: Strengthening human capacity to promote nutrition-sensitive agriculture” as one of the nutrition sensitive intervention for the reduction of double burden of malnutrition in our globe. 

In my opinion, the discussion was fruitful. The discussion forum brought about 31 professionals (agricultural university lecturers, project managers, consultants and researchers) from 17 countries around the world on one table to discuss and share their experience on how to integrate nutrition in to the curricula of agricultural education.

 If I am not mistaken, all participants of the discussion agreed synonymously that integration of nutrition in to agriculture curriculum is a timely agenda and fully justifiable.  This tells me that how much the issue we have been discussed for about two weeks is relevant and the UN agencies particularly FAO will have its homework to bring the issue to the attention of policy makers and politicians.

Though all participants agreed with the basic ideas, modalities or things to be considered on how to integrate nutrition in to curricula of agriculture education were forwarded as a concern. As a concluding remark of the discussion, I have tried to summarize ideas forwarded from participants based on leading questions as follows:

1.       Role of Agriculture college: Agricultural colleges/higher institutions can play an important role in promoting nutrition-sensitive agriculture through several mechanisms:

  • Provide a key entry point where nutrition-sensitive agriculture can be incorporated into curricula agricultural education
  • Designing programs that incorporate nutrition interventions tailored to goals and outcomes to reduce prevalence of malnutrition
  • Support nutrition-sensitive interventions through the training of agricultural extension agents which they are currently serving the community
  • Agricultural colleges are also critical institutions whereby nutrition-sensitive agricultural approaches can be integrated into multiple programs and disciplines and facilitate collaborative, cross-disciplinary research and projects.
  • Agricultural colleges are also capable of promoting nutrition-sensitive agriculture through policy-relevant research, dissemination of results, and rigorous impact evaluations
  • Create enabling environment to the agriculture sector to design nutrition-sensitive agriculture strategy to be incorporated into existing agricultural policies and extension systems.

2.       What is meant by “integrating nutrition into the curriculum”?

  • When we say “integration” it does not mean that we are focusing only on distribution of nutrition core competencies across existing core subjects rather we better work to bring nutrition as a separate course for agricultural graduates. But until condition allows to bring nutrition as a separate course for agricultural students, it is also advisable to start by stream lining nutrition core competencies across existing core subjects of the existing agricultural curriculum.

3.       What are the absolutely essential competencies of "nutrition" to include in the training of agricultural workers?

  • The anticipated nutrition syllabus  for agriculture students is better to address knowledge, skill and attitude competency  domains
  • Its content should be designed with practical knowledge and hands-on training specifically suited to students so they know how to produce and access nutritious foods, improve eating behavior, enhance nutritional status and prevent chronic diseases with better nutrition and food consumption
  • It should be developed through careful synchronization with the notion of meeting the nutritional knowledge gaps of agricultural college graduates in order to contribute to improve nutrition outcomes in the community
  • Contents of teaching curricular be country or region-specific depending on the nation nutrition strategy
  • The curriculum to contain detailed information on all stages of the nutritional chain: food production, processing, storage, preparation, to consumption.

4.       What is expected to result from this extra curriculum element? Or how do we expect graduates (i.e. agricultural workers) to use the new knowledge and skills in their daily work?

  • Integrating nutrition core competencies with undergraduate agricultural programs will not only have the highest potential to promote nutrition-sensitive production at the community level, but also to increase the effort of the agriculture sector—which is imperative to contribute to the national nutrition agenda.

5.       Other consideration

  • Relevant stakeholders should be consulted and be active participants during  identification of nutrition core competencies as well integration of nutrition in to the curricula of agriculture education
  • Integration of nutrition in to the curricula of agriculture education should be in line with the national nutrition strategy
  • In the rural communities, the community-based informal education and curriculum-based formal education are two intersecting knowledge spheres, which can become important components to increase food literacy
  • It is also important that curricula/syllabi at all level of education from primary through secondary and tertiary level (s) should be sensitized with the lenses of nutrition.
  • Farmer Field Schools approach of FAO  can be  used to promote nutrition sensitive agriculture in the farming community

Hope we all will receive the final proceedings from the global forum on food security and nutrition team in the near future. We encourage you to keep checking the resource section of this discussion for any updates.

Many thanks,

Mebit Kebede

Integrating nutrition into the curricula of agriculture education institutions is vital to achieve improved Food Security and Nutrition (FSN). By the same token, it would be equally important for a similar approach to be taken into consideration in the forestry sector in parallel. FSN should not only be integrated in agriculture education, but also in forestry education.

Forests cover one third of the earth’s land surface. It is estimated that over 2.4 billion people worldwide depend on forest goods and services for the direct provision of food, wood fuel, building materials, medicines, employment and cash income.

In particular, fuelwood, income, and ecosystem services are essential contributions of forests to FSN. About one third of the world population use fuelwood for cooking their food, and 750 million people use wood to boil their water to make it safe for drinking. Forests generate income for local people through the sale of wood and non-wood products. Wild forest foods provide nutritious food supplements to millions of rural people. Wild animals and edible insects from forests are often the main source of protein. Forest foods are a regular part of rural diets and serve as safety nets in periods of food scarcity. They also provide essential ecosystem services that support sustainable agriculture by regulating water flows, stabilizing soils, maintaining soil fertility, regulating the climate, and providing habitat for wild pollinators and the predators of agricultural pests.

The understanding of the role of forests in FSN is often overlooked, including in the field of forestry education. It would be of paramount importance for the forestry students (future forestry workers) and extension workers to receive relevant trainings on FSN as part of their forestry education curricula.

Indeed, forests and their roles in FSN will remain vital as an integral part of our livelihoods for a long time. In light of the Sustainable Development Goals, we are now heading toward “sustainable” food security and nutrition. Sustainable forest management practices that reflect the important aspects of FSN will enable us to achieve both sustainable forestry and sustainable agriculture simultaneously.

Forestry workers with adequate knowledge on FSN issues will be able to further develop their capacity on improving forest management practices in line with their own FSN context. Such an approach could eventually lead to improved FSN of rural populations by unlocking forests’ full potential without jeopardizing them.

Forestry colleges and higher education institutions should further include education components on the complex and rapidly changing dynamics between communities and forests.  Concepts such as the “hidden hunger”, the importance of the biodiversity for diversified diets, and multiple health and nutrition properties of edible forestry products should be studied in depth. This way, forests can have the future they deserve, just as much as we deserve to be in a place with sustainable food security and nutrition.


I feel like agriculture graduates have better scope to improve quality of food (cereal, fruits, vegetables) through improved supplementation of plant nutrients (e.g. micronutrients). This means better management of plant nutrients will increase the production as well as improve the nutritional status of the produces. For example, increasing micronutrient content of the produces (e.g. Zn, Fe etc) can improve human nutrition and prevent the occurrences of diseases. Knowledge on human nutrition and problems caused by the lack of different nutrient elements will give insight into the supplementation of these nutrient elements in agricultural production system i.e. in the soil and crop management systems.

L’école pour promouvoir la nutrition en Afrique

Les maux ne cesseront pas pour l’Afrique tant que l’alimentation et la nutrition ne seront pas mises au devant des préoccupations des Etats africains. En tant que le continent qui connaît le plus fort taux de croissance démographique, quoi de plus normal que d’assurer la sécurité alimentaire et nutritionnelle et l’autosuffisance alimentaire de cette population ?

C’est la condition qui devrait permettre de transformer cette population galopante en force productive et donc en moteur de développement (cas de la Chine), plutôt que de la contraindre à se comporter comme une charge et un frein au développement. Or, tout prouve aujourd’hui que l’Afrique pèche par la faiblesse de ses politiques agricoles et économiques. L’Asie du Sud et l’Afrique subsaharienne comptent maintenant pour la plus forte proportion de sous-nutrition dans le monde (FAO et al., 2015). Cette forte proportion de personnes sous-alimentées dans le monde est d’un grand impact sur l’état des femmes et de leurs enfants. Car, la malnutrition maternelle et infantile perpétue la pauvreté de génération en génération (FAO, 2015). On rencontre ainsi en Afrique à la fois la faim due à l’insuffisance quantitative d’aliments et les maladies liées à la malnutrition telles que le kwashiorkor, le diabète, l’anémie, le marasme nutritionnel, le béribéri. L’Afrique souffre non seulement de ne pas avoir suffisamment à manger et mais aussi parce qu’elle se nourrit mal. La question qui se pose est donc comment faire pour mettre plus l’accent sur la nutrition.

A ce sujet, il faut reconnaître que la nutrition est une question de culture. Elle est de ce fait influencée par les habitudes alimentaires (culturelles) et le niveau de connaissance des personnes concernées. Ainsi, l’intégration de la nutrition aux programmes d’études des établissements d’enseignement agricole est opportune. Mais, il ne s’agit pas seulement des écoles d’agriculture, mais de toutes les écoles (primaires, secondaires et universitaires) car, la question de la nutrition s’adresse à tous les consommateurs d’aliments et donc à tout le monde. Il faut travailler à forger des habitudes alimentaires favorables à la bonne nutrition. Ceci passe évidemment par l’école à travers des curricula consensuels impliquant les communautés, à travers des activités coopératives de production des élèves et écoliers. Ce dernier aspect s’avère très important parce qu’il constitue une piste privilégiée pour faciliter les échanges d’expériences intergénérationnels, la répercussion des connaissances reçues à l’école sur les parents. C’est une option qui pourrait déjà conduire à de bonnes pratiques agricoles et à des choix raisonnés de spéculations susceptibles d’entretenir une bonne santé et de lutter contre la malnutrition ; des espèces de plantes utilisées dans le traitement du diabète par exemple telles que l’orgueil de chine (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), le gingembre (Zingiber officinale).  

Références :

FAO, FIDA & PAM (2015) : L’état de l’insécurité alimentaire dans le monde 2015. Objectifs internationaux 2015 de réduction de la faim: des progrès inégaux. Rome, FAO, 66 p.

FAO (2015): The State of Food and Agriculture, Social protection and agriculture: breaking the cycle of rural poverty, Rome, FAO, 151 p.

Edye Kuyper

UC Davis, Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Systems (INGENAES) project
United States of America

This conversation stems in large part from the “silo effect” that limits interaction among sectors concerned about the same population, in this case, rural agricultural communities. Intuitively, both agriculture and nutrition relate to food, yet our training institutions rarely provide instruction that covers the continuum from production to nourishment, leading trainees to “master” one aspect (e.g. soil fertility, postharvest handling, infant & young child feeding) without having a strong understanding of how their expertise relates to the entire food system. Agricultural colleges should increasingly aim to train graduates to understand the complexity of food systems, including health and ecological implications.

Given the current divide between nutrition and agriculture in most institutions of higher learning, one way to start to bridge the gap would be by integrating basic nutrition information into core agricultural classes. This would include both basic knowledge competencies, particularly related to food-based approaches to improving nutrition (food based dietary guidelines, dietary diversity). It would also be beneficial to include the “how”; in the context of training for agriculture extensionists, training in participatory facilitation methods would improve their ability to impact both nutrition and agriculture production behaviors. For trainees less likely to directly interact with farmers, the “how” may include a more in-depth overview of consumer demand in the context of market systems and the health and economic implications of healthy and less healthy dietary patterns.  

I do not yet have direct experience doing this effectively, and have struggled within a US institution in my efforts to encourage agricultural training programs to include nutrition. As is often the case, specific donor funding for this purpose or policy requirements would help nudge institutions in this direction. Growing interest in transdisciplinary research and training allows institutions to “shine” when they adopt programs that address these complex issues, but I do not see a strong system of rewards either for institutions or academics who work in these spaces, as of yet. Journals, academic awards, and even institutional awards are still largely slanted toward expertise of a very narrow sort instead of systems approaches, although there are examples of where this is changing. I hope that through the INGENAES (Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agriculture Extension Systems) project we will have the opportunity to test various approaches in several diverse contexts over the course of the next 2+ years.