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To cope with dwindling financial assistance and to capitalize on the comparative advantage of different groups, research and development institutions are rapidly seeking partnerships with institutions not traditionally engaged in these fields. The NARS work closely with other stakeholders of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) including: NARS networks at regional and subregional levels; International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs) of the CGIAR; advanced research institutes of developed countries (ARIs); NGOs (in both developed and developing countries); the private sector, farmer or producer organizations; and donors of international agriculture research and development. Presently, the NARS Fora provide a mechanism to address the interaction between research, extension and innovation in the agricultural sector in order to assure that research effectively contributes to food security, poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

2.1 Research Challenges

Participants in the E-conference identified a range of multifaceted challenges that currently face the players engaged in agricultural research and food security. Some of these challenges are more substantive in nature while others address the research process per se. The issues identified by the participants include the following:

Substantive research challenges

Research process challenges

2.2 Gender Dimensions

The centrality of gender as an issue that shapes all aspects of food security (including production, procurement, processing, distribution and entitlements) was a theme that ran throughout the debate. Women's work and income play crucial roles in ensuring that their families' basic needs are met (Adams et al. 1998; Ellis 1998). At times of scarcity or crisis, when all household resources or strategies have been exhausted, women may work harder, sell their possessions, borrow or beg from their relatives and even skip meals in order to feed their children.

In rural areas, women are often the main food producers and grow a variety of crops in family fields or in their personal plots and kitchen gardens. Their produce often complements staple food supplies with legumes and vegetables, adding important micro-nutrients to the family diet. In urban areas they are instrumental in providing food for their households through a diversified range of income-generating activities spanning formal and informal sectors, including strategies such as producing food in back-yard gardens, processing and storing food supplies and cooking and apportioning daily meals.

Recognizing gender as an integral dimension of food security, these guidelines include gender considera-tions as part of each research step or guiding principle rather than isolating them in a separate section. None-theless, women's needs and concerns will remain on the fringes of research programmes and practice unless the latter are informed by shared awareness of gender's key role in food security and by sustained efforts to address it.

2.3 Limitations of the Scope

The thematic and methodological challenges identified during the E-conference exemplify the multi-dimensional nature of food securiity issues and the complexities inherent in the process of research implementation and scientific collaboration. However, the range of issues identified are not intended to be exhaustive and may not address all the situations that may arise in the different regional, national and local contexts where NARS research is carried out.

These issues and themes do not encompass the variety of food security scenarios that may confront societies and governments. For instance, while a great deal of attention was directed during the E-conference debate and in these guidelines to the multiple strategies and mechanisms whereby households cope with chronic and seasonal food insecurity, neither the Conference discussion nor these guidelines have sought to specifically address crisis situations, such as climate disasters or war-provoked famines despite their importance. They do not appear due to both the limited human and material resources available to the NARS and the longer timeframe of research as opposed to relief work that may not allow for the timely application of results to sudden emergencies. However, input from famine early warning systems and non-governmental organizations will assist NARS in priority setting by identifying spatial and social vulnerabilities and potentially effective coping strategies that can be addressed and ameliorated through research.

Inventory of gender-related research in the CGIAR
(Feldstein 1999)

The 1995 World Conference for Women in Beijing drew worldwide attention to women's contributions to economic development, particularly in agriculture. In the same year, the CGIAR Gender Analysis Program (now Participatory Research and Gender Analysis or PRGA) published an inventory of all gender-related research, training and information dissemination activities to provide scientists within the international agricultural research centres and national agricultural research systems with information about research findings and activities.

The review, which was updated in 1998, includes gender-differentiated diagnostics and characterizations, adoption and impact assessments, on-farm technology evaluations, post-harvest processing and marketing research, women-specific technology testing, methodological tools and literature.

The inventory is organized according to 13 categories including:

  1. Germplasm enhancement-breeding;
  2. Crops and cropping systems;
  3. Livestock and livestock systems;
  4. Trees and tree systems;
  5. Fish and aquatic systems;
  6. Protecting the environment;
  7. Saving biodiversity;
  8. Improving policies;
  9. Training;
  10. Information dissemination;
  11. Organization-management;
  12. Networks; and
  13. Priority setting, project proposal and review.

The greatest number of entries were for cropping systems (27 percent), which points to the key roles women in developing countries play in agriculture and food production.

The study found that the use of gender analysis is increasing in all CGIAR Centres (entries increased by 48 percent between 1995 and 1998). Several centres have established committees and designated gender specialists to ensure attention to gender in their programmes. Gender is increasingly being adopted as a focus for training or workshop activities and as criteria in priority setting, which is expected to affect CGIAR and NARS scientists' attitudes and approaches not only in relation to women-specific activities but to all agricultural research. On the other hand, there are few entries concerning management and networks, which indicates that a great deal of work still needs to be done in this area.

Almost all centres are implementing projects to respond to the needs of poor rural women, often in close collaboration with NGOs or women's groups. In Cameroon, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is working to improve production in groundnut-based mixed cropping fields cultivated by women. In Nigeria, IITA is developing an improved cowpea variety that is easier to pick. The International Potato Center (CIP) works with women in Kenya to develop a sweet potato variety that can be used for preparing market snacks. Women are encouraged to start small businesses such as small scale fish farming (Bangladesh) or seed production enterprises for beans (East Africa) or barley (Ecuador).

Understanding gender-differentiated constraints to production and intra-household negotiation and decision-making processes are recognized as key areas for investigation. Studies show that women producers face constraints in access to land, training, extension, inputs and technology and are limited by competing demands for their labour due to their domestic responsibilities. Despite these limitations, some cases demonstrate that women-owned or operated fields can be more productive than men's. The review suggests that because of women's specific disadvantages and other cultural factors, it may be advisable to hold separate research and/or training activities for women in some cases. The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have developed a `whole family' approach that now targets all household members.

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