Foro Global sobre Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición (Foro FSN)

Edye Kuyper

UC Davis, Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Systems (INGENAES) project
Estados Unidos de América

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.