URBANA, Ill. - A consortium led by the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) has been awarded $7 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to increase global food security and support effective rural development by empowering women to better contribute to higher household incomes, increase agricultural productivity, and improve nutritional outcomes for family and community members.
The new project, “Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Services” (INGENAES), aims to strengthen gender and nutrition integration within and through agricultural extension and advisory services and ultimately reduce poverty, improve food security, and reduce malnutrition.
“This is a program of action,” said Paul McNamara, INGENAES project director and associate professor in the ACES Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. “We will be working in these countries to help improve women farmers’ access to extension services. We will also be using extension services to improve women’s access to critical inputs and helping extension services address nutrition concerns through their programs. We have committed to not just thinking and writing about these issues but to actually improving the situation; it is action-oriented scholarship and outreach.”
INGENAES is the latest of three associate awards that have followed the $12 million, USAID-funded, ACES-led Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS) project, which serves to define and disseminate good practice strategies and approaches to establishing efficient, effective, and financially sustainable rural extension and advisory service systems in selected developing countries.
“During our MEAS work, we’ve seen that especially for poor farmers, many of whom are women, access to services is a problem; and access to extension services, which, for example, may be able to help women get better access to fertilizer or improved seeds, is simply not available,” explained McNamara. “An additional component to INGENAES is the intersection of nutrition and agriculture and how agricultural extension programs can help promote practices that help improve nutrition.”
The INGENAES team will be working in at least eight countries that will be selected over the next couple of months. Led by McNamara, the team includes three associate directors: Andrea Bohn from the U of I College of ACES, who is also the project manager for MEAS; Kathleen Earl Colverson from the University of Florida; and Kristy Cook from Cultural Practice LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm.
“It is most important to consider the multiple roles that women hold,” said Colverson. “It is critical that when you introduce a new technology you are not adding another responsibility to women’s already overburdened lifestyles. Women and children are generally responsible for repetitive household tasks (such as gathering firewood and carrying water), often without mechanization and electricity, so the question is how can we introduce innovations that will reduce their burden and not add a different burden, such as providing equipment that is too big, heavy, or dangerous.”
Cultural Practice LLC is a consultancy firm that will provide support to the management team and provide technical assistance to the program. “We all know that agriculture is key to improved nutrition, but we don’t pay enough attention to the roles and relationships of men and women in agriculture,” said Cook. “These relationships determine what is produced, sold, purchased, and fed to children.”
According to Bohn, the INGENAES project will focus on changing behavior at the individual and organizational levels with the goal of improving livelihoods. “This is not about us going and telling people what to do,” she said. “It is about being a sounding board. It is about listening more than telling and engaging with organizations and individuals to help identify how changing behaviors is for their own profit and in their own best interest.”
Initially concentrating on four countries, the team will apply a multistep programmatic approach for 15 months and will later revise the program as needed for an additional four countries. The specific countries have yet to be selected, but they will be selected from among the existing Feed the Future countries.