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close this bookFood and Nutrition Bulletin Volume 10, Number 2, 1988 (UNU, 1988, 74 pages)
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View the documentIntroduction of nutrition components into agricultural training in Latin America
View the documentAre land availability and cropping pattern critical factors in determining nutritional status?

Introduction of nutrition components into agricultural training in Latin America

Sergio Valiente, Sonia Olivares, Teresa Boj, Margarita Andrade, and Juliana Kain


Hunger and undernutrition are mainly caused by economic and social deficiencies. Their solution is very complex and requires a multifaceted programme [13]. A significant number of Latin American countries have agriculture-based economies; however, this has not meant a high standard of living for the rural population. The Economic Commission for Latin America estimates that in 1982 between 130 and 147 million Latin Americans were living in poverty; of these, 71 million lived in rural areas [4]. In addition, the development of agricultural markets has caused farmers to replace subsistence food crops with a single commercial crop. Thus, although, in general' food production in these countries has increased, undernutrition has also increased, especially among vulnerable groups such as landless rural farmers.

Since 1960 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has introduced nutrition components into its rural development projects and into the training of personnel in this area [5, 6]. In the 1970s the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also began to support activities in this field, in collaboration with FAO and other institutions, with the goal of improving the quality of life of the rural population [7]. According to Forman, however, "Everybody talks about hunger and malnutrition, but the response to this problem is not confronted accordingly. This is due to the complexity and multicausality of the nutrition problem, creating difficulties as to who should decide what to do in solving them" [8].

The agricultural sector would have a larger impact on nutrition if one of its objectives were to increase food consumption as well as production. Changing these objectives requires a different policy approach for the agricultural sector and full comprehension of the nutrition problem. A first step in this direction would be to introduce courses on nutrition in the education of agriculture students at different levels. Without this knowledge and comprehension, there is little hope for positive change [8, 9].

The general objective of such training is to foster understanding of the causes, consequences, and possible solutions of the nutrition problems faced by the rural sector. The most important of these are insufficient food availability and a lack of essential nutrients in the diet, probably caused by low income as well as poor housing conditions, low levels of education, poor access to health care, and unhealthy food habits.

Agricultural extensionists and agronomists are the only professional groups in direct contact with the farm population in some countries. Therefore these professionals should also be trained to transfer their knowledge of nutrition to farmers, thus closing the gap between food availability and consumption. To facilitate their work as educators, modern teaching techniques such as case studies, demonstration, field work, and, in general, the use of "learning by doing" should prove more effective than the traditional theoretical approach [10].

In Chile, under the sponsorship of FAO and USAID, the Food and Nutrition Policies and Programmes Division of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA) of the University of Chile, has created a working group to adapt and test teaching materials and to train Latin American agricultural professionals. This paper describes INTA's activities in this field.


INTA's contribution, 1980-1986

Since 1980, a programme of nutritional training in agriculture has been in operation at INTA. Its main activities include preparing teaching materials for agricultural field workers, agricultural schools, and agronomists; training professionals in the agriculture, health, and educational sectors; participating in seminars and workshops related to nutrition and agriculture; and presenting programme activities in national and international congresses and publications [ 1113].

Between 1980 and 1986 INTA adapted and tested three sets of teaching materials. A brief summary of these materials and activities related to them is presented above.

TABLE 1. Teaching materials and professional training in nutrition and agriculture, 1980-1987



Materials Main groups covered No. Countries involved
Field Programme Management:
Food and Nutrition (1984),
agricultural extenstonists
social workers
graduate students (INTA)
Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba Chile,
Ecuador, Peru, Dominican
Republic, Paraguay, Mexico
Curricular Guidelines for
Teaching Food, Nutrition and
Agriculture, 1st ed. (1982),1,800
copies; 2nd ed. (in press, 1987)
agricultural extensionists
(also used in schools of
social sciences, education, and
rural administration)
30 Argentina, Bolivia, Chile,
Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru,
Uruguay, Colombia, Brazil,
Venezuela, Dominican
Republic, Costa Rica,
Honduras, Mexico
Food, Nutrition and Agriculture:
A Multidisciplinary Approach for
Latin America (1986), 2,000 sets
I agronomy students
(also used in schools of nutrition
and veterinary medicine)
22 initial distribution in Chile,
Ecuador, Peru, Argentina,
Uruguay, Mexico, Venezuela,
Paraguay, Brazil, Guatemala

a. Participants in courses conducted by INTA. We do not have data on participants in courses conducted by FAO in other countries.

Field programme management

The teaching set "Field Programme Management: Food and Nutrition" [14], which was developed for agriculture field workers, consists of a textbook, a teacher's manual, and a student's workbook. The most interesting materials include games, role-playing, case studies, and problem-solving items. It was adapted to the Latin American agricultural and nutritional situation and tested with INTA students in 1980 (FAO/INTA joint project). It is a valuable and practical tool for teaching how to plan food and nutrition programmes in the community.

In 1981 it was tested in Chile with seven groups of 107 professionals, including agricultural extensionists, nutritionists, social workers, and health workers [11].

Five years later, 50% of these professionals were interviewed to check whether they were still using this teaching resource. The results showed they used it extensively, proving it to be most effective in demonstrating how to evaluate the food and nutrition conditions of a community in order to focus on the solution of the problems from a multisectoral viewpoint.

The FAO printed the Spanish version in 1984 and has encouraged its use throughout Latin America. Ecuador, Brazil, Cuba, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and the Dominican Republic have already applied it, demonstrating its effectiveness in agriculture as well as in other fields.

Curricular guidelines

FAO has also developed guildelines for teaching nutrition in agriculture schools, especially those that train extensionists. The first version was tested in South-east Asia with satisfactory results. INTA prepared a Spanish version to be used in Latin America in collaboration with FAO [12]. It is a substantial modification of the original in that it stresses the use of a multisectoral approach to nutrition problems. This approach (see

FIG. 1. The food and nutrition system approach (Source: S. Valiente, INTA, 1981)) considers nutrition not only as a health problem but also as related to other disciplines, of which agriculture is one of the most important [6].

In January 1982 an international workshop was held in Santiago, Chile, where this version was analysed and enriched. Among the specific recommendations for implementation were collaboration by FAO as well as other international agencies, and designing similar teaching materials for agronomists in which the interaction of professional and technical personnel would be strengthened.

Thus far, 1,800 copies of this text have been printed and distributed throughout Latin American schools of agriculture with the financial support of FAO. A second edition, benefiting from five years of field experience, is in press.

A multidisciplinary approach for Latin America

With the technical collaboration of Laura Harper and her group at Virginia Polytechnical Institute, USAID and FAO developed a course on the multidisciplinary approach to nutrition, "Food, Nutrition and Agriculture" [l5], adapted for use in South-east Asia, based on previous materials published by FAO. The main objectives of the programme are to ensure that future agronomists (1) understand the relationships between agriculture, food, nutrition, and quality of life and (2) identify their role and responsibility in improving the food and nutrition conditions of the community. The course includes a general textbook and two manuals, one for the teacher and the other for the student. It was tested successfully in Indonesia (1982) and later edited in English (1984) to be used in English-speaking countries.

In 1983 a joint project of USAID/INTA and the Catholic University of Chile adapted this set of teaching aids for use in instructing Latin American agronomists. The adaptation followed the "food and nutrition system" approach, already tested by INTA [16, 17]. The objectives of the course, the comprehensive approach, the preparation of the three texts, and the emphasis on student participation all remained unchanged. In the Latin American version, however, the core centred on the teacher's manual, with the other two texts serving as necessary complements.

The texts were tested with 22 students of the Catholic University of Chile. Tests to evaluate the students' knowledge were given at the beginning and the end of the one-semester course (54 hours). Of the students taking the final examination, 83% achieved more than 75 % correct answers. The difference between the initial and final performances was highly significant (p<.001). Figure 2 (see

FIG. 2. The nutrition knowledge of agronomy students as measured by tests at the beginning and end of a multidisciplinary course, by subject areas. Area 1, food, nutrition, and agriculture; II, nutritional recommendations; III, food and nutrition systems; IV, food and nutrition planning; V, nutrition education in agriculture. (t = 18.373; p<.001)) summarizes these results in terms of the areas of knowledge taught during the course, showing the difference between the two examinations in each area [13].

After this testing, 2,000 sets of books were published in 1986 by INTA, with the financial support of USAID. The texts will be sent to all the Latin American faculties of agriculture over the next two years. More information about these materials can be obtained directly from INTA.



The programme of nutrition training in agriculture developed by INTA since 1980 has been extended to other Latin American countries in association with FAO, USAID, and other agencies. Implementing a programme of this type, with an international perspective and a multidisciplinary approach and involving several institutions, is not easy and can be done only with a co-operative effort. It can, however, make important contributions to improving the nutritional status and the quality of life of Latin America's rural population.



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