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.
Ms. Mona Dhamankar