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Learning from sharing: Cross-talk between gender, nutrition and agriculture extension

When I was selected to attend the Regional Symposium on ‘Integrating Gender & Nutrition in Ag Extension’, I had no idea it was about. I was thinking that it was going to be one of those types of events that I would have to join and only listen, but ultimately I was wrong!

The entire event was full of Inspiration and the people attending were enthusiastic. I had not a single time to feel bored or even to lose concentration because I had the chance to meet scientist and researchers of different countries and got to communicate directly with them.

The main objective of this two-day symposium, held on 7-8th March 2017, was to identify opportunities for scaling out Nutrition Integration in Agricultural Extension and merge it with gender issues. The theme of the symposium is quite an emerging issue of agriculture in recent years. On this event, the experts enunciated multiple aspects on how nutrition and gender integration in agricultural extension can be achieved, and how this will improve nutrition and livelihood outcomes.

Day 1- Opening ceremony

The Program was inaugurated by Dr. Sue Lautze, FAO Representative, Bangladesh as Chief Guest and Md. Manzurul Hannan, Director General, Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh as a special guest. The Opening ceremony was initiated with the Keynote Speaker Andrea Bohn who introduced INGENAES its objectives, Nutrition Status and also the objective of this symposium. In her lovely words, “A Concerted action of multiple players must need to improve Nutrition “. She mentioned that not only the Government extension but also the NGOs, Input supply dealers, Contract Farming need help to improve nutrition in the agricultural sector.

A fascinating segment was the Shift & Share session. There was a Presenter at each of the 15 tables, has been giving an oral presentation based on the proposal they submitted for 5-7 minutes, where the Audience sitting at the table had a chance to ask questions or make suggestions. The Presenter then got up and moved to the next table. This was done four times. Hence each table got to know, learn, and discuss four topics. Thus as an audience, I had the chance to meet four presenters with their brilliant ideas in nutrition extension. This was like an open field environment to share and learn knowledge among the gender and nutrition experts.

 “The integration of interdisciplinary interventions (technical training, linkage with extension agents, gender awareness, and nutrition messaging) helps change in farmers’ nutritional behavior, leading to the increased consumption of nutritious food and the practice of hygienic behaviors” said by Tania Sharmin from CARE/AESA on effective way of reducing household nutrition insecurity in the beginning of the Shift and share session.

In our focus, YPARD team, Abhishek Khadak and Nikita Bhusal from YPARD Nepal and Arif Khan, Papia Jahan, Zahid Kamal, me and Susmita Das from YPARD Bangladesh was very fortunate to present at the INGENAES symposium. Dr. Susmita has delivered his own research and PhD work on ICT-based agricultural information management system model for Securing Food and Nutritional Security in Bangladesh, Bangladesh Agriculture research Council (BARC). Dr. Susmita`s developed model integrates and coordinates information flows of several types of inputs such as data coming from all kinds of networks contributing to increasing the agricultural production involving satellite-based remote sensing; agro-climatological data prediction and knowledge based advisory services along with the access to country’s agricultural research system knowledge, support to benefit its stakeholders through informed research and development service delivery.

Abhishek and Nikita from YPARD Nepal team have presented about the promotion of food and nutritional values among Nepalese young minds by organizing various programs like YPARD Nepal Family Farming Photo Contest, EduMala Mentoring Program and the Storytelling Contest for Young Agri-entrepreneurs. They discussed the importance of underutilized food crops, food processing methods, food and dairy entrepreneurship and their special initiative on “Nutritional Club in School”- a nationwide program to show the importance of locally available underutilized and potential legume crops through public awareness, capacity enhancement training and field visits among school level young minds.

A project ‘Women Entrepreneurship for empowerment’ is supporting micro enterprises and household farm, particularly focused on women headed households, and within fruits and vegetable value chains such as onions, lemons, stone fruit, brassicas and out of season produce (such as greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers). “This project gives alternative sources of income for women farmers and is also developed, to allow the establishment of enterprises that generate income during the winter months” described by Nasiba Usmonova from Training Center of Business and Finance Excellence of National Association of Business Women in Tajikistan.

Anwarul Alam from WinMiaki discussed his project dNAS (Digital Nutritional Advisory Services), which is a system for the registered user where they can find essential nutrient based recipes on available local food ingredients, can suggest 2-3 meal recipes in three different budgets based on the local pricing combined with proper/adequate nutrition. This system plays a role to empower women through their home-grown ingredients and own recipe which will contribution in budgeting their family food.

Day 2- Celebrating the International Women's Day

The 2nd day of the symposium was started with the celebration of International Women`s Day and an inspirational speech was given by Ms Luna Shamsuddoha, Chairman, Dohatech and President. Bangladesh Women in Technology (BWIT) and later  Afrina Choudhury from WorldFish also talked about the women in their life.

Following them, Mohammad Aman Ullah during the panel session shared detail about The Agriculture, Nutrition, and Gender Linkages (ANGEL) Pilot Project of Masuma Yunus, Production Economist of DAE which is evaluating the impact of a combination of three types of interventions for promoting nutrition- and gender-sensitive agriculture: Agriculture Production, Nutrition Knowledge, Gender Sensitization. ANGEL addresses two important aspects of the National Agricultural Policy 2013:

  1. Encouraging crop diversification and production of crops with greater nutrition value for meeting the nutrition demand of the population.
  2. Empowering women, encouraging their participation in production and marketing for income generation, and ensuring their nutritional status for improving food and nutrition security.

At last, the use of behavioral economics to improve meal diversity was explored by the lovely lady Kelly Davidson from University of Florida, USA. Her Research was about designing an Excellent Food Plate that will act like a Nudge, a subtle cue that influences an individual’s behavior without removing that individual’s freedom of choice. Her project named SHIKA project collaborative effort to improve diet and nutrition in rural Bangladesh that focus on pregnant women and children (0 to 2 years of age). In her word: “SHIKHA food plate is a tool for nutrition and health workers originally targeted to pregnant and lactating women. It`s objective is to evaluate the use of the “SHIKHA food plate” as a “behavioral nudge” to encourage dietary diversity and also to measure the effects of the food plate when combined with nutrition education and gender-aware nutrition education”.

The Program came to the end with developing a bold suggestion for an innovative action that a key player in the pluralistic Agricultural Extension System should take to support better nutrition outcomes among rural farming household’s in the region and the models can be implemented globally. 

Picture credits: Jannatul Ferdoes Shoma, YPARD Bangladesh