Menu ENN Search

Developing capacity needs assessments for nutrition-sensitive agriculture in Ethiopia

Workicho Jateno is an agriculture and rural development expert who leads FAO Ethiopia’s Social Economic Team and coordinates multi-sector and joint UN activities in the fields of nutrition, food security and social protection.

Charlotte Dufour is Nutrition Officer in the Nutrition and Food Systems Division of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, specialising in nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems.

BackgroundProblem and solution tree exercises  at a capacity needs assessment  workshop in Ethiopia

The Government of Ethiopia’s distinctive political commitment on nutrition is enshrined in the Seqota Declaration, National Nutrition Strategy (NNS, 2008) and National Nutrition Programme (NNP). The Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources (MoANR) demonstrates its commitment by mainstreaming nutrition in flagship programmes such as the Agricultural Growth Programme II (AGP-2) and the Productive Safety Net Programme IV (PSNP- 4) and adopting the Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture Strategic Plan 2016-2021 (NSASP). The NSASP was designed through a multi-stakeholder consultation. It includes the following key objectives: increasing the production, access and consumption of diverse, safe and nutrient-dense foods from animal and plant sources for all people at all times; enhancing the resilience of vulnerable population groups using social transfer schemes and programmes; mainstreaming gender in agriculture; strengthening multisector coordination and improving the monitoring of agriculture’s impact on nutrition.

The implementation of strategies requires significant efforts to develop capacities for nutrition-sensitive agriculture (NSA). But capacities of who? To do what? This article describes the importance of organisational capacity needs assessments and individual learning needs assessments (see Box 1) and the use of participatory methods as an effective means of collecting information while building consensus on capacity development priorities.

Strengthening capacities for nutrition-sensitive agriculture

Developing capacities for NSA is often conceived as providing nutrition training for agricultural  extension workers. However, NSA requires a broader range of tasks, responsibilities and levels of engagement. The MoANR’s Agriculture Technical Taskforce therefore mandated FAO – with support from the European Commission – to conduct a capacity-needs assessment to inform the implementation of the NSASP.

In response to this request, FAO and MoANR organised three organisational capacity needs assessment workshops at federal and decentralised levels1 with two objectives: 1) identify capacity strengths and gaps for NSA, and 2) provide training on basic concepts and approaches for NSA. The workshops were attended by participants from MoANR, Ministries of Livestock and Fisheries (MoLF), Health and Education, development partners and civil society organisations (CSOs). They were organised in two parts:

The methodology built on FAO’s Capacity Development Approach3 and the UN Network for SUN’s Nutrition Capacity Assessment Guidance Package4. The workshops included presentations of existing capacity needs surveys conducted by partners in Ethiopia and lessons learnt from ongoing NSA capacity-development programmes.

Capacity strengths identified by participants included the existence of the MoANR NSA Strategy, Nutrition Case Team and Technical Working Group (TWG) to support nutrition mainstreaming in agriculture. Major programmes (such as the Agriculture Growth Programme) are taking active steps to mainstream nutrition and there is in-country capacity to collect food consumption data, a key indicator for NSA.

Participants identified the following broad areas as priorities for capacity development:

The findings of the workshops are used to inform the design and implementation of well- coordinated capacity-development activities for NSA led by the Government and supported by UN agencies, NGOs and development partners at federal and woreda levels in Ethiopia.

Learning needs assessments: The case of agriculture extension workers

The participatory capacity needs assessment described above focused on organisational capacities and the enabling environment but it is also important to focus on the individuals responsible for carrying out the tasks identified. These include policy-makers and advisors, programme designers and implementers, data experts, agricultural extension workers and farmers. Effective capacity development requires identifying what they can do for NSA, and what they need to know and know how to do to fulfil their role.

MoANR had already identified capacity development of agricultural extension workers on nutrition as a priority and, with the support of FAO, established a Technical Working Group including NGOs and development partners with the purpose of developing reference training materials for this audience. Lessons learnt from existing experiences in Africa show that nutrition materials for extension workers often draw on materials for community health workers and are not adapted to the tasks and learning needs of agricultural extension agents, leading to limited uptake and use of the trainings. To avoid a similar situation, the Extension Directorate of MoANR and FAO conducted a participatory learning needs assessment.

The first step entailed preparing a ‘white paper’ describing the categories of extension workers5, their terms of reference, the nutrition-related tasks they could be asked to perform and the knowledge and skills they would need to perform them. The white paper findings were discussed in a multi- stakeholder workshop in December 2016, where participants identified common and specific learning needs for each type of extension worker. Key knowledge needs included: types, causes and consequences of malnutrition; impact pathways between agriculture/livestock/fisheries and nutrition; healthy diets and nutritional value of foods; gender roles and nutrition; and roles of different sectors in nutrition. Key skills needs included analysing causes of malnutrition at the local level; improving the production and processing of nutritious foods (including fruits, vegetables, livestock, fish products); behaviour change communication; and working with multi- disciplinary teams. The findings provide the basis for a comprehensive curriculum, tailored to extension agents’ needs, which is guiding the development of the training materials commissioned by MoANR.

Lessons learnt

Successful capacity development for NSA requires that the trainings and support provided be adapted to various agriculture professionals involved. Participatory capacity needs assessment methods and learning needs assessments require a substantial time commitment, but are very efficient in ensuring strategic targeting of capacity-development efforts and building a common vision and shared set of priorities that enable partners to coordinate their efforts to scale up NSA.

The main challenges encountered in the Ethiopian experience were the time required to align the financial and technical assistance resources needed and the availability of all key stakeholders; the fatigue associated with numerous consultation processes; and the need to maintain momentum after the workshops. But through the workshop evaluations, participants confirmed the exercise was very relevant and effective. Key success factors included strong government leadership in the process and partners’ willingness and enthusiasm to work together and share knowledge, resources and experiences.

Acknowledgements: The article and process it describes are a team effort made possible by the key contributions of Sally Berman (Capacity Development officer, FAO HQ), Yvette Fautsch Macías (Nutrition Officer, FAO-HQ), Robert Fungo (Nutrition consultant, FAO Ethiopia), Tarik Kassaye (Nutrition consultant, FAO Ethiopia) and Dia Sanou (Nutrition officer, FAO East Africa).  


FAO, 2017: Integration of Nutrition in Agriculture Extension Services in Afric – A desk review of country case studies, pre-service and in-service training materials 

1The administrative levels include the following: federal, region, zone, woreda (district) and kebele (the smallest unit of local government or ward). The regions covered included Oromia, Amhara, Tigray and Afar. 

2Using the FAO methodology Agreeing on Causes of Malnutrition for Joint Action:


4UN Network for SUN. 2016. Nutrition Capacity Assessment Guidance Package. Available on UN SUN website. 

5Categories of extension workers were: crops, livestock, natural resources, animal health and farmers’ cooperatives coordination experts, and ‘head of kebele’ agriculture development agents.

More like this

FEX: Developing guidance and capacities for nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems: lessons learnt, challenges and opportunities

By Charlotte Dufour Charlotte Dufour has worked as Food Security, Nutrition and Livelihoods Officer in the UN FAO's Nutrition Division in Rome since 2010, focusing on...

NEX: Building understanding and capacity for integrating food security and nutrition approaches to address widespread child undernutrition in Niger

Solange Heise Solange Heise is the Food Security and Nutrition Officer at the FAO representation in Niger. Background Niger, a landlocked country in the Sahel of West...

NEX: Singing the same song: Nutrition-sensitive agriculture messages in Zambia

Bertha Munthali has worked for ten years on nutrition in agriculture in Africa, and is currently advisor for the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis...

FEX: Mainstreaming human nutrition in livestock interventions: lessons learnt from a capacity-building workshop for the Sahel region

By Paula Dominguez-Salas, Domitille Kauffman, Christophe Breyne and Pablo Alarcon Paula Dominguez-Salas is a research fellow in human nutrition working in nutrition-sensitive...

Resource: FAO toolkit and e-learning modules on nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems

The FAO toolkit and e-learning modules on nutrition sensitive agriculture and food systems are an integrated package of guidance and training materials for designing,...

FEX: Guidelines and free on-line modules to support multi-sectoral programming for nutrition and resilience

Guidelines and a free online module have been developed by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) to assist professionals involved in emergency, resilience and...

FEX: A food-based strategy to improve nutrition in emergencies

Improvement of Household Food Security through Home Gardening and Nutrition Education in Southern Somalia By Alison MacColl Alison MacColl is working as Liaison Officer in...

en-net: Zambia Tender Opportunity: Senior Nutrition Expert (Key Expert).

Zambia Tender Opportunity: Senior Nutrition Expert (Key Expert).

VAKAKIS & ASSOCIATES S.A. is an agri-consultancy company with over 30 years of experience,...

FEX: Participatory risk analysis and integrated interventions to increase resilience of pastoral communities in Northern Kenya

By Daniel Nyabera, Charles Matemo and Muriel Calo Daniel Nyabera is Food Security and Livelihoods Programme Manager, ACF-US, Yemen Mission. Daniel has over nine years of...

FEX: Oxfam’s Somaliland-Ethiopia Cross Border Drought Preparedness Project

By Abay Bekele Abay Bekele works for Oxfam GB as Senior Pastoral Programme Manager. He has over nine years of technical and managerial experience in pastoral development and...

FEX: SUN experiences: lessons from Pakistan

By Muhammad Aslam Shaheen and Dr. Ali Ahmad Khan Muhammad Aslam Shaheen is Chief of Nutrition at the Ministry of Planning Development & Reform, Pakistan and is the SUN Focal...

NEX: Nutrition in Mountain Agro-ecosystems

Shakhnoza Kurbanalieva has an MBA and ten years' experience in Kyrgyzstan and Bangladesh and is currently coordinating the Nutrition in Mountain agro-ecosystems project at the...

FAO Toolkit

FAO offers a toolkit and e-learning modules on nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems. Visit the FAO website to access the state of the art materials on nutrition and...

en-net: Developing multisectoral nutrition planning guidelines

Uganda is in the initial stages of consultation on issues to consider in developing nutrition planning guidelines that are targeting different sectors (agriculture, social...

FEX: Process learning: field testing a social and behaviour change guide for nutrition-sensitive agriculture

By Sarah Titus Sarah Titus is the food security and nutrition manager with Save the Children for USAID's global nutrition project, SPRING. She has a Masters of Law and...

FEX: Can the Nutrition Information System be ‘trusted’ to build on available data sources?

By Patrizia Fracassi Patrizia holds an M.Sc. in Development Management. Over the past two years, she has consulted in Ethiopia for UNICEF and the World Bank. She previously...

FEX: Introduction to the special issue

The most recent Lancet series on maternal and child undernutrition (Bhutta et al, 2013) calculated that even with 90% coverage of specific nutrition interventions (addressing...

FEX: Advocating for nutrition in West Africa: The role of SUN Civil Society Alliances

By Judith Kabore and Laure Serra Judith Kabore is an advocacy officer at the regional office of Action Against Hunger. A journalist by training, Judith worked in the Ministry...

FEX: eLearning module on improving nutrition through agriculture and food systems

News The new eLearning module 'Improving Nutrition through Agriculture and Food Systems' is now online. It is designed to assist professionals from any fields related to food...

FEX: Interventions to build resilience of the health system to the El Niño drought in Ethiopia

By Amal Tucker Brown and Eric Alain Ategbo Amal Tucker Brown has worked for UNICEF since 2007 and joined UNICEF Ethiopia office in February 2015 as the head of the Community...


Reference this page

By Workicho Jateno and Charlotte Dufour (2017). Developing capacity needs assessments for nutrition-sensitive agriculture in Ethiopia. Nutrition Exchange 8, July 2017. p21.