How can YOU integrate gender and nutrition in your research?

The Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA) organized a training workshop on integrating gender and nutrition in agricultural research for development (AR4D), in Kigali, from January 23 -25.The group of thirty participants was very diverse and included 12 women & 18 men from 12 countries; newly starting CIALCA PhD candidates and on-going PhD candidates; researchers from national agricultural research institutes, national universities, FAO-IAEA, and CGIAR, as well as practitioners from the private sector and non-governmental organizations. This diversity was also reflected in the range of participants’ favorite dishes, but less in who they preferred to prepare that dish – a role (honor?) which, not surprisingly, mostly belonged to women. This triggered a question amongst participants right away: What is the role of men in nutrition? And so we were off to a good start!

Picture 1: Training group picture

A key-objective of this training was for participants to be able to relate and apply gender and nutrition thinking to their own research and work. The training therefore highlighted the research plans of five newly or recently started CIALCA PhD candidates and used these as case-studies. Throughout the training participants worked in teams, each on one of these case-studies, and directly applied concepts and tools which were introduced and discussed in the different lectures. At the beginning this seemed challenging, especially when focus was on more fundamental agronomic issues. For example, Damas Birindwa’s PhD research focuses on counteracting drought stresses in cassava production. How to integrate gender and nutrition in such fundamental research?

Picture 2: Small team work

The training sessions consisted of a mix of theoretical lectures, interactive plenary exercises and hands-on team assignments. The schedule was planned to ensure participants first understood the basic concepts in gender and nutrition before transitioning into the applicable linkages, pathways, indicators and research questions. Anne Rietveld, social scientist and gender expert at Bioversity International, led the discussions on gender. The funny cartoons and pictures, with hidden gender-related messages that she used, often triggered very lively discussions and new thinking amongst participants on the role on gender in their professional but also in their personal life. Beatrice Ekesa and Roseline Remans, both nutrition research scientists at Bioversity International, led the sessions on nutrition and showed amongst others how nutrition cuts across many disciplines. Their lessons on food groups and guidelines for a healthy diet, were immediately taken to heart by multiple participants during lunch. And thus we were reflecting, not only on how to integrate gender and nutrition in our research, but also in our day-to-day life.

Picture 3: PhD candidate Willy Desire Emera and team explaining how they integrated gender and nutrition into their research

The workshop also provided ample opportunity for peer-to-peer learning and discussion, through team work and the team assignment feedback session which was set up as a game. Was this a lively session! The teams came up with innovative ideas, defended their proposals with passion, and challenged each other with difficult but very relevant questions. In the end, Damas’s team, working on drought stress in cassava, won. They explained how cassava leaves constitute both an important source of income for women, and a nutritious relish for household’ diets (particularly protein and fibre). Damas’ research focusing on measuring drought effects on the starchy roots of cassava (which are mainly managed and sold by men) for different varieties, was expanded by also measuring effects on leaves, and selecting for practices and varieties that can help reduce negative drought effects on the leaves. As such the research gained the potential to benefit women and men, and household nutrition.

On the third and last day of the training we discussed heterogeneity in populations, trends and drivers of change; why is it important to consider these in R4D? We dived into typology work and explored how typologies can help us to make sense of heterogeneity. Anne Rietveld, Rhys Manners (IITA / CIALCA data scientist) and Walter Ocimati (Bioversity / CIALCA PhD candidate), presented their rich work on typologies. The session triggered demand for more, and so we were perhaps laying a base for a next, follow-up training.

We are excited that this training planted seeds which will grow and disperse. RAB researcher Svetlana Gaidashova said for instance: “We all talk about gender and nutrition but this helped us to target and focus research for different users”.  Nancy Safari, (Bioversity DR Congo) noted “I learned so much on gender and I understood we can integrate gender in all the work we do. I also realize I was never thinking about nutrition before, yet I now understand it is very important, also for myself”. To close off we cite the leader of the training’s winning team Damas who formulated his key take-away at the end of the training as: “Gender and nutrition bring humanity into research”.

The training materials used for the course can be found here and a dashboard on participants feedback here.