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I am glad to share with you a transformative gender approach implemented by FAO in several sub-Saharan African countries. Dimitra, a gender sensitive participatory communication approach promotes individual and collective socio-economic empowerment of rural populations, women and youth in particular. These clubs are informal spaces for dialogue and action at community level. The members are women, men, mixed or not, who meet regularly to discuss their development priorities and challenges, exchange experiences with other clubs, make informed choices, and take collective action to solve their problems – mainly related to agriculture and nutrition, as the clubs decide on which issues to tackle, all kinds of topics are discussed as well.
Today, about 1.500 Dimitra Clubs exist in five countries of Sub-Saharan Africa (DR Congo, Senegal, Niger, Burundi, and Ghana) with more than 300.000 direct beneficiaries and at least 1 million indirect beneficiaries, two thirds of which being women.
The Niger experience is of particular interest. In the framework of the UN joint program “Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women” (RWEE), the Dimitra Clubs have been chosen by the four agencies of the Programme (UN Women, IFAD, WFP and FAO), as the entry point for all the activities. The approach was selected because the clubs ensure, at field level, efficient coordination among all agencies, participation of rural communities and feedback to the programme coordination, in general, transparency of all activities.
In the framework of the RWEE, specific training sessions on nutrition have been organized in five villages in the region of Dosso, where the programme is implemented. Participation was at the heart of these sessions in which the clubs identified themselves local nutritious ingredients and were trained to classify these ingredients into three main groups: energetic, constructive, and protective. The clubs were trained on the seasonal crop calendar, an activity that helped them brainstorm and find solutions when nutritious crops are not available around the year. They came up with some new conservation and processing methods, such as conserving cowpeas in vegetable oil and transforming it into Beroua. Participatory culinary demonstrations (millet couscous, cowpeas and squash with peanut sauce) also highlighted the importance of combining the three groups in one dish, in order to have a diversified nutrition and healthy lifestyle.
In order to assess the role and impact of the Dimitra Clubs approach on nutritional education, the Dimitra project conducted a survey after three months, focusing on participation levels, nutritional knowledge, knowledge transfer and community mobilization and actions. 125 members of the clubs (1 group of men, 1 group of young men, 1 group of young girls and 2 groups of women) were interviewed.
The survey results showed high participation in discussions among all club groups (women, men, and youth) and an improved knowledge base related to nutrition, malnutrition and its consequences. As a result, collective actions within the clubs have been mainly focused on sensitizing the communities to the benefits of a diversified diet and good hygiene. It was also evident that several households began to diversify their diet for all family members. Results also showed a high level of networking among people, indicating that the information had circulated among friends, relatives and even reached other villages. Once again, Dimitra Clubs proved to be an innovative and efficient gender sensitive transformative approach for changing behaviours, here for improving nutrition.
A video showing another successful experience regarding the key role of FAO- Dimitra clubs in the Province of Tshopo (DR Congo) for improving food security and nutrition and promoting gender equality for men, women and youth is available on the following link: https://youtu.be/jHG07gQ2H8Q
I am glad to share with you a personal story. I have a nutritional background and I have always been interested in food security, particularly how we, as individuals, can contribute to achieve a world free of hunger. After working for seven years in the private food sector in Lebanon, I decided to join a Master’s degree called "Management of Urban Food Security" at La Salle Beauvais, a specialized university in France focusing on agriculture, nutrition, and health. The Master especially targets young students from developed countries with the aim to instil a wider understanding of food security problems and provide practical tools and mechanisms that would allow students to go back to their country and contribute to achieving a positive social, economic, and political change, but more important, to give them the know-how to achieve sustainable and nutrition sensitive agriculture.
Integrating nutrition into the curricula of agriculture education institutions is a necessity and it goes a long way. Why?
We can answer with another question: who will be the farmers of the future? We will! Everyone will be. A nutrition-sensitive agriculture concerns every one of us, whether you are an agronomist, a nutritionist, a politician, a teacher or an engineer, agriculture and nutrition affect every aspect of your life. There is no agriculture without nutrition and no nutrition without agriculture. It is time that every farmer knows what crops they should cultivate for a healthy balanced diet, what crops can contribute to maintain nutritious soil sustainably, what crops can have a positive impact on the environment and help climate change mitigation and adaptation, how to avoid post-harvest loss, how agricultural products processing is an added value, how to stock products, how to access markets, how markets work, etc. The list is long. But imagine a world where farmers perfectly know the nutritional value of their products, how to engage their communities and get organized to optimize outcomes, and how to communicate with the public sector, civil society, and the private sector.
This master’s degree does not make me an agronomist. I am still a nutritionist but the curricula that rightly addresses nutrition and agriculture education has changed the way I see nutrition. Recently, I asked a colleague in my class what he thought of the Master’s degree. He said: When I go back to Niger, I will know exactly what crops I should recommend the farmers to grow in order to fight the drought and have a nutritious healthy lifestyle.
Personally, I never regret leaving everything behind, including a paid job, to pursue this master’s degree. I strongly believe in the value of integrating nutrition into the curricula of agriculture education. There is no doubt for me that nutrition-sensitive agriculture education should become part not just of specialized agriculture institutions but even to some extent in primary and secondary schools. In order to promote awareness and increase interest in nutrition-sensitive agriculture, schools should start to organize visits for their young students to farms, agro-industries, food supply chains, and to their own school cafeterias to show them how agriculture and nutrition are combined, and why this combination is essential. Such initiatives would encourage college students to pursue agriculture studies at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and enrich the agricultural sector.
Thank you all,