In the Western Ugandan district of Kakumiro, Nakijoba Anet Wadega teaches other mothers about preparing nutritious and balanced meals, proper hygiene behaviors, and growing biofortified crops like orange sweet potatoes (OSP), which are rich in nutrients their children need. She is part of the Lead Mother initiative, one of the many ways HarvestPlus, the global leader in biofortification evidence and technology, and its partners engage rural women, who are the gatekeepers of nutrition and health in their families, responsible for food preparation and child feeding.

Empirical evidence has demonstrated how essential gender relations are in achieving successful agri-nutrition programs. Leading the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health’s (A4NH) Flagship Research Program on Biofortification, HarvestPlus aims to develop and scale up the delivery of biofortified nutritious crops around the world, so every child, woman, and man who needs them can have access. With particular focus on reaching women, children under age five, and adolescents, HarvestPlus understands gender roles, particularly related to empowerment, decision-making, and time spent on agricultural activities, can help address challenges and create opportunities to introduce and scale up biofortified crops.

Women not only benefit from biofortified crops, but they also play a key role in spreading awareness about the benefits of biofortified foods. Engaging women as actors in improving nutrition can help scale up adoption and consumption of biofortified crops. In 2014, focus group discussions in Uganda on increasing nutrition knowledge, held with men and women, indicated that rural women could be catalysts for nutritional improvement. This led to the development of the Lead Mother initiative, which empowers mothers to lead the way to better nutrition and health in farming households through biofortified crops. The women, who were chosen by farmers’ groups that included men and women — reflecting the importance of engaging men, too, as stakeholders in nutrition and gender equity, develop dramas and songs to promote OSP consumption. They use their platform to address wider cultural beliefs, misconceptions, and gender issues within their community.

Capturing Rwandan farming households' feedback on biofortified crops for an efficacy study (Photo credit: HarvestPlus)

Numerous studies over the past ten years have documented that increasing women’s assets and income is positively correlated with improved health and nutritional status of their children. Since staple crops are eaten by the whole family, unlike some nutritious food like eggs or meat that are often allocated to men or male children, their benefits are expected to be family-wide, regardless of gender, age or disability status.

Building on the best practices and recommendations outlined in the 2014 Strategic Gender Assessment and subsequent gender assessments, HarvestPlus continues to incorporate gender-informed strategies in its research, operations and communications to help maximize the adoption and consumption, and hence the nutrition impact, of biofortified foods. It carries out qualitative and quantitative market assessments, collecting seasonal sex disaggregated delivery data, completing annual outcome monitoring surveys and doing qualitative program evaluations to help analyze and understand specific gender dimensions. HarvestPlus has developed its assessment tools with a gender and equity lens to differentiate gender-specific roles and responsibilities; opportunities and constraints; and access to biofortified seeds and foods and means of production for all household members. Lessons learned enable HarvestPlus and partners to adjust annual delivery and scale up strategies to become ever more inclusive.

From empowering women to engage as leaders, to the participation of women and men in variety selection, agronomic trainings, and nutrition education, to ensuring training has a minimal burden on time use, HarvestPlus implements gender equity in its mission to end hidden hunger. Through its role in A4NH, effective partnerships with the CGIAR Centers, national agricultural research systems (NARS), civil society organizations (CSOs) and public and private sectors, by the end of 2016 HarvestPlus had facilitated the release of over 140 micronutrient (vitamin A, iron or zinc) enriched varieties of 10 staple crops in over 30 countries; and seeds of these varieties were delivered to 26 million people. HarvestPlus can attest that just as the nutrients bred in biofortified crops strengthen bodies and minds, gender inclusive practices strengthen programs and communities as they increase equality and life chances for everyone.

HarvestPlus is a finalist in the MacArthur Foundation's 100&Change competition, in recognition of their breakthrough innovation to improve nutrition as an impactful intervention for populations affected by hidden hunger. Visit them online to learn more about their work, including research, assessment tools, and evaluations.

This post is part of a blog, the Gender-Nutrition Idea Exchange, maintained by the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. To add your comments below, please register with Disqus or log in using your Facebook, Twitter, or Google accounts. You must be signed in or registered in order to leave a comment.