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Integrating nutrition in Agricultural extension services
10/20/2020 12:26:37 AM

Dr. Parveen Kumar

A diet enriched with adequate nutrients is an important and vital component for ensuring well being and health of the individuals. Development and progress of society and nation cannot be achieved without a food rich in sufficient nutrients. Today, India has the largest stock of food grains in the world, yet 21% remain undernourished. Poverty, Stunting, wasting, Mother Mortality Rate (MMR) Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) still prevail and for some of the indicators we have the highest percentage in the country. About 2 billion peoples worldwide have multiple deficiencies of Vitamin A, Iron, Iodine or Zinc; all of which are easily available in fruits and vegetables easily grown in home gardens. Nutrition is an important contributor to poverty reduction strategies and as the focus shifts from food security to nutritional security, countries across the world have started scaling up nutrition programs with new and innovative ways of delivering interventions, technologies, knowledge and tools.
One of the reasons for nutritional deficiencies is the lack of awareness about the importance and source of various nutrients in the diet. Nutrition education has the potential to ensure proper utilization of the foods for nutrient retention and bio availability which will lead to improved nutritional status at household level that translates to community and national levels. The country is a treasure of various nutritionally rich and medicinally important food items; but the unfortunate thing is the lack of knowledge. Although, we have a vast network of health facilities and professionals; paramedical staff, the ASHA and the Anganwadi workers, but still there are wide gaps in what we have and what we need to have. Time has come to explore other options including Agricultural Extension Services to promote nutrition sensitivity to ensure nutritional security along with food security Agricultural extension services, because of their ability to provide information, increase knowledge, upgrade skills and deliver improved practices to rural households as consistent service providers are considered the most reliable sources of information by the producers in the country. The agricultural extension agents can provide knowledge to farming communities with a special focus on farm women regarding the importance of how to choose and grow crops for nutrition about dietary diversity and quality. Integrating nutrition education to extension services leads to improved productivity and contributes to poverty reduction strategies and economic development. Inadequate nutritional knowledge makes people consume less diverse foods and use of improper preparation methods compromise on nutritional value of the food leading to malnutrition. There is a vital link between agriculture and nutrition and the recent time is witnessing a heightened awareness globally and within development institutions and governments of the need to better understand the links between agriculture and nutrition, and to decipher the ways in which the agriculture sector can contribute to improved nutrition. The ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of effectively delivering ‘nutrition sensitive agriculture’ services to rural households remain even less understood. In such a scenario, agriculture extension services can be a promising platform or vehicle for the delivery of nutrition knowledge and practices to improve the nutritional health of rural communities because they reach and interact closely with farmers in different settings. They act as significant service providers of crop, livestock, and forestry aspects of food security, consumption, and production. In some countries, the Extension and Advisory Services (EAS) delivery system is already in place and it is just an of ‘topping-up’ their portfolio with simple nutrition activities and messages. Existing networks of extension agents already reach many people, and thus there is no need to tap into or seek new clientele. Extension agents have direct and sometimes extensive links to farming communities in rural and remote areas. These links are founded upon well-established structures and systems that cover most farming households. Extension agents maintain regular contact and have established relationships with the people and the communities in which they work. It is much easier to introduce nutrition issues into communities with preexisting relationships built on trust. Extension agents are often aware of the local social norms, cultures, and belief systems that accompany and contextualize food. Agents frequently hail from the region where they work and therefore have intimate knowledge and understanding of the local context. Because of their familiarity with the conditions and context under which the farmers work and associated limitations and opportunities, extension agents are more able to demonstrate empathy with the farmers. This is particularly true with regard to questions of food production and access. Equipped with knowledge of the local food production system, access to markets, and the nutrition status of households, extension agents have a clearer understanding of how to mitigate the constraints faced by farmers.
Agriculture is central to this widely-held definition of food and nutrition security. Integrating nutrition into Agricultural Extension Services presents a number of challenges too. The challenges include a deficit of human and financial resources to dedicate to nutrition-focused activities. There is also scant training on how to implement nutrition activities within the work portfolio of extension agents. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) as an apex institute of the country has been at the forefront for the cause of farming community. ICAR has also launched three schemes viz. NARI, KSHAMTA and VATICA to address the nutritional security and post harvest losses of peoples and food commodities in the country. Another programme Nutri-sensitive Agriculture Resources and Innovations (NARI) intends to link agriculture to nutrients so as to encourage Nutri-sensitive agriculture and to raise awareness of women and rural youth abour Nutri-sensitive agriculture and about kitchen gardening. The Knowledge Systems and Homestead Agriculture Management in Tribal Areas (KSHAMTA): focuses on 125 districts of the country where tribal population is twenty five percent or more. The initiative is to grow food what one wants to eat. The basic philosophy of KSHAMTA is agricultural development of the region using the traditional knowledge of the peoples of the region. Similarly Value Addition and Technology Incubation Centers in Agriculture (VATICA) stresses on dissemination of post harvest technology and skill development of farmers, farm women, rural youth and farmer organization on various post harvest management strategies will be conducted.
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