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The Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) brings together all those working to strengthen and transform agricultural research for development around the world. As part of this role, GFAR is working with New Agriculturist to showcase and raise awareness of important initiatives and their outcomes, to update and inspire others.

Nourishing the world requires women at the forefront of agricultural research and development

Greater involvement of women in the research process is required (© AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center)
Greater involvement of women in the research process is required
© AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center

Achieving genuine food security is no longer a matter of making enough food available, but about making enough of the right kind of wholesome food available. Although hunger persists among 870 million people, the diets of 2 billion people are deficient in minerals and vitamins. The emphasis has thus changed from considering hunger alone to regarding malnutrition as the key constraint to widespread human health.

Balanced diets for humans require a diversity of food products. Fruits, vegetables and pulses are key dietary components and the richest source of micronutrients and plant proteins. It is largely women who grow these crops and decide what to feed their families. This has profound implications for research: greater involvement of women in the research process is required if agriculture is to successfully address the problem of malnutrition. Eliminating malnutrition has been AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center's ongoing mission, and recent shifts in global thinking have brought women to the forefront of its research and development efforts.

Who decides what we eat?

While staple carbohydrate-rich crops are usually eaten daily, the consumption of fruits and vegetables is certainly not as routine - the choice to include them in a meal is almost entirely up to women. Presently, consumption of fruit, vegetables and pulses in most countries fails to meet the target of 400 g/person/day established by the World Health Organization. Changing the food preferences of households, particularly of young members, must become a priority if good health is to be attained and maintained.

Many producers and market traders in vegetables are women (© AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center)
Many producers and market traders in vegetables are women
© AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center

Thus, new challenging research questions emerge in which gender must take centre stage. For example, how to influence households to adopt balanced diets that include fruits and vegetables? Home and school gardens are now a vital tool as part of AVRDC's work to influence the preferences of consumers, chiefly women in the case of home gardens, to ensure healthy families and to teach children how to make informed eating choices. Recent evidence from projects in India and Bangladesh shows that where vegetable consumption is low, home gardens can be very effective in increasing it. A new AVRDC project, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, is setting up school vegetable gardens in six countries in Africa and Asia to establish healthy food preferences among school children at a young age.

AVRDC has actively taken up the development of new food recipes that match cultural food preferences and employ preparation methods that better preserve the nutritional value of food. For example, in cooking mung bean to make dhal in south Asian cuisines, the use of a little oil, tomato and cabbage can triple the amount of essential bioavailable iron to children.

Women dominate vegetable growing, but not the value chain

Women are the chief producers of small-scale fruit and vegetables in many countries. In contrast, large-scale production tends to be mechanised and is usually dominated by men. Gender equality in access to and control over resources is therefore required if women are to benefit from horticultural development, especially since parts of the vegetable value chain such as transport, wholesale markets, storage, agrochemical and seed suppliers, and extension services are still mostly the purview of men. For example, in Tanzania many producers and market traders in vegetables, such as the very popular AVRDC-bred African eggplant 'DB-3', are women - and yet private-sector improved seed supply, input provision, product bulking, transport, and ensuring sustained supply to supermarkets throughout East Africa are issues in which men predominate, and typically accrue a greater share of the product value than might be seen as equitable by the original producers. AVRDC therefore generally aims to include at least 50 per cent women in all their training programmes.

Nourishing the world

It is largely women who grow fruits, vegetables and pulses (© AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center)
It is largely women who grow fruits, vegetables and pulses
© AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center

AVRDC is now well-equipped with capacity among its staff to apply gender tools in its research and development work. Thirty AVRDC scientists attended a week-long training in 2013 to mainstream gender into the Center's agenda. As a result, mainstreaming gender into any new technological interventions along the vegetable value chain is now mandatory to enable AVRDC to encourage beneficial social change for women so that they gain better access and control over the resources involved in the full vegetable value chain, from the field to the kitchen, and can make good food choices for the whole family.

Written by: P. Schreinemachers, I. Nagaraj, J. d'A. Hughes and J.D.H. Keatinge, AVRDC

Date published: January 2014


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