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Re: Making agriculture work for nutrition: Prioritizing country-level action, research and support

Kanchan Lama WOCAN, Nepal

1.    If you were designing an agricultural investment programme, what are the top 5 things you would do to maximize its impact on nutrition?
1.    Gender disaggregated data: Lack of formal identity of women as the household head or as the primary level farmer, often marginalize their involvement in the project cycle. There is a prime need to establish them as the primary level stakeholders. Conduct Gender Analysis at community level to demonstrate women’s involvement in activity level and the gaps in their access to resources and the constraints they face due to unequal relationship in decision making power. The analysis will also document what indigenous knowledge the women already have and their use of local, nature based food items, such as seasonally available wild vegetables, herbs, fruits, birds, insects, etc. to improve nutrition. In the advent of modern food items, some rural communities residing near to road heads have been diverted from practicing their traditional knowledge, which is not helpful for both conservation of biodiversity of wild edibles and also for locally available organic nutritional knowledge systems.
( We can learn lessons from IPM, farmers field schools kinds of activities of FAO in field, where women have been used maximum limit to make project successful , however their indigenous knowledge have not been counted in nutritional aspects while making plans. In FAO’s inter regional project “Empowerment of women in irrigation and water resource management for improved household food security, nutrition and health” (WIN), an approach was managed keeping women at the central, where women were involved at every stage of the project, from planning to evaluation and their knowledge about wild vegetables, herbs, roots and fruits as food supplement was documented and used for knowledge management on nutritional food preparation. The approach was effective also through collaboration under the coordination of Ministry of Agriculture among Ministries of Health, Women and Water resources, as well as FAO , WFP and WHO. However despite much appreciation, the Government institutions could not further the process.)    
2.    Gender responsiveness of service providers: Conduct assessment of the responsible service providers (public agencies, NGOs) in order to identify the areas of support to be provided for sensitization, enabling organizational restructuring, reorientation through developing a Gender Action Plan along with an Operational Strategy including setting rules (policies, systems, mechanisms) for accountability towards nutritional impact of agriculture. Without this kind of interventions, the efforts made at small holder farmers’ level might remain to be a “temporary project approach” only and do not get mainstreamed in the strategic institutions.  ( Through “Women Organising for Change in agriculture and NRM”(WOCAN), I had facilitated a gender assessment within the Department of Agriculture in Nepal, where the then Director General (DG) Deep Bahadur Swnar remained highly supportive to bring in the senior level officials into the process. One Gender task force was formed and after developing ToRs for the task force collectively, the organization was assessed on gender mainstreaming in four pillars, e.g., political commitments, technical gender expertise, accountability and institutional culture. The strengths and gaps were analyzed and shared in the concerned groups. Later one Gender Action Plan was developed with indicators, of which some influence remained as of increase in number of women farmers in training (from 30% to 40%) and enhancing the already existing gender desk and gender working group, etc. However once the DG was transferred to another position, activities, focus remained weak in follow up and innovations. High budget cut in the government programs also caused certain constraints.  
(Case of leadership):  Another case of my work in Timor Leste inspired me which was some what different from Nepal. I used to work through UNIFEM as Gender advisor to Timor Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries between 2007 to 2009. I facilitated an organizational assessment to identify areas for gender mainstreaming, through a gender taskforce group formed for gender mainstreaming. My counterpart was Maria Fransisca de belo Asis and my location was in the planning unit of the ministry.  I was fortunate enough to get two organizational leaders , one planning Chief, Mr Octavio de Almeida and another Fransisca to take leadership on gender mainstreaming from within the institution. The ministry used the findings of the assessment and developed a Gender Action Plan , besides mainstreaming gender activities and budgets along with monitoring indicators  as a system in the annual work plans. Most significant and shocking experience was that the honorable Minister made an unforgettable innovation by taking drastic action to appoint seven senior women officials in positions of departmental heads out of twelve, while the former ones were given status of consultants. One National Ministry taking such initiative is extremely important to give women’s portfolio high importance and thus, the Timor Agricultural Planning Chief was also included in the National CEDAW reporting team 2008 in the DAW CEDAW reporting meeting at the UN, NY. My point is that until and unless there is organizational commitment at the level of leadership on gender mainstreaming, all the ad-hoc project efforts remain temporary and unsustainable. In case of counting on nutritional improvement in agricultural projects, women involvement is crucial at all levels, from grassroots to the top policy making level, besides sensitizing both women and men on the values in an organization)  
3.    Targeting women as the main stakeholders in agricultural program is the most important strategy for attaining nutritional objectives. The women are the ones who manage daily meals, at least for two to three times a day in developing countries. They are knowledgeable but need to be empowered on their self confidence for making decisions to plant green vegetables, use seasonally available locally grown nutritious food items for preparing food, specifically for the pregnant women and children and for themselves. With increasing trend of commercialized agriculture interventions made by development programs, certain challenges are being faced by the rural women farmers, such as,-(a) tempted to produce larger amount by using chemical fertilizer, (b) sale the best products and reduce consumption at household level, (c) spending maximum time and labor to produce double (more by women) and face health hazard, (d) the discriminatory social norms and values positioning women producers as the secondary party in making decisions, in accessing services, accessing technologies, accessing market and above all, deciding on preparation of household food that could be nutritious rather than tasty only. (Recently I worked in a USAID funded and Chemonics International implemented project titled as Nepal Economic, Agriculture and Trade Activity project (NEATACTIVITY) in Nepal (2011 onwards) . The project rigorously adopted certain practical strategy to target women, particularly from the socially excluded groups, defined by the National Development Plan of Nepal. The project achieved more than 39% women staff, around 80% farmer group level and more than 60% as women farmer leaders and some as demonstration farmers. All project training ensured more than 50% women participation. However the strategic reasons for including women remained limited only to their role as actors, less as innovators and change agents related to household nutrition. The project aims at double production, thereby interaction by agriculturist technocrats with women farmers takes the trend of asking about their potentialities to join (and compete..!!!) men in producing more than before, in crops and cash. Gender roles and gender needs practical and strategic requirements made less importance. The issue of the increased food for household nutrition was not a focus in the project. Although the project contained defined indicators on nutrition, it was not given much priority, because technocrats had to remain too busy in managing technical performance of the project, besides managing the issues of lack of public responsibilities for supplying chemical fertilizer in time and required quantity. Moreover, gender specialist was never included in management related discussion rather treated as a specialist for the field technicians only. Furthermore, there was not any budget separated for gender actions under the PIRs. I had very little scope to work except requesting the component managers to consider gender integration in their programmes, but in absence of indicators defined under each PIR, there was very poor scope for me to proceed. Thus despite having a very good intention, sometime technically structured agricultural projects having too high ambition on double food production, leave behind the human aspects of development, provided human development indicators do not form a part of monitoring.
In fact when any agriculture development project targets women, the project could be more meaningful if it related to the knowledge and skills and constraints of women at every step, benefiting project management as well as the household nutrition and health of the poor communities which is a big problem in developing countries. In Nepal more than 50% children below five years were found stunting -2011 National Survey of Health Status)
4.    Creating access to land, women friendly irrigation and credit: The poor women farmers face a situation of landlessness, lack of irrigation and lack of access to capital and credit. Organize alternative provisions for land use and credit for women. There are examples of collective firming by poor women groups and managing food for household nutrition and livelihood objectives in Nepal demonstrated by NGOs. Without making provisions for land and capital, credit, and micro irrigation, agriculture development cannot expect the poor women farmers in participation and benefit sharing.
(Case of WIN project: In the above mentioned WIN project,  pro-poor women from excluded groups were organized through inter governmental government line agencies integrated  planning approach to practice collective firming of vegetables to earn cash, increase purchasing power and to improve nutritional condition at household level.  The land was obtained from village development committees, and in some areas, from landlords who had run away to cities in the fear of Maoist attack, in some places women took land on lease for collective firming. The FAO/GoN (government of Nepal) project
Invited partnership with IDE (International Development Enterprise), WFP and GTZ for assisting irrigation services for these women groups. The approach went very effective and project could help the landless women to produce vegetables to consume and sale. What we learned was that..there are resources within out approach, but we need to collaborate and coordinate for utilization by the real pro poor target women farmers at the end , for production and nutrition as well as improving livelihood.  Land and irrigation are highly important for farmers)
5.    Strengthen women ‘s leadership capacity/networking: The poor women farmers are hesitated to voice their needs , both practical and strategic and take lead in claiming services. Despite some existing service provisions within various programs in Government, NGOs, they seldom get information and sensitization about what and how to capture such funds and assistance. Even if they are informed, weak public level leadership discourage them from taking interest in these provisions. Agricultural programs should include social mobilization, gender sensitization and women leadership building activities with appropriate budget allocation.  (investment on women’s leadership in various agricultural projects in Nepal turned out to be very fruitful. Specifically for two reasons, (a) women  farmers contributing more than 70% work in agriculture and (b) agriculture being feminized as a result of increased male migration for employment, women have been facing a situation where agriculture related activities have become their world. However due to socio-cultural discriminatory values and norms , due to traditionally established institutional barriers for women’s inclusion in service provider institutions , women face maximum constraints to access information, resources , services, technologies and markets related to agricultural production. Due to absence of males in the villages, the rural women farmers often face problems to manage cultivation in their land, often leaving land fallow. However there has been insignificant efforts for empowering women in the sectoral development agendas, such as agriculture , irrigation, trade , etc. without which no any agricultural projects can achieve sustainable results, at least in countries like Nepal, where women are displaced from important managerial discussion processes despite being recorded as more than half of the contributors in agriculture.)   
6.    Monitoring, coordination and collaboration and networking through and with gender experts and organizations are essential activities that any agricultural programmes must adhere to.

2.    To support the design and implementation of this programme, where would you like to see more research done, and why?
During appraisal level participatory research on “gender analysis in agriculture” (Harvard/FAO analytical framework) and analysis of gender differential impacts (Rani parker’s tool) , analysis of practical needs and strategic interests of women (Moser’s framework) are very important to form a part of research in the program appraisal-design, planning, implementation and monitoring stages. During the appraisal phase, a complete gender analytical research needs to be commissioned on basis of which the project design includes a gender action plan for integration.
As I mentioned above, the institutional assessment is equally important to facilitate an enabling environment for women farmers and policy makers to act through a joint approach.
During design phase, a rapid assessment of institutional status on gender mainstreaming is important to identify the necessary activities to plan for capacity building of the implementers. (case from leasehold forestry project is relevant here. IN 1999-2001, I worked as a FAO technical expert for a IFAD funded national program titles as Leasehold Forestry  and Fodder development project” (HLFFDP), where it was possible to identify need areas for building capacity of the government staff, including farmers. The Leadership given by the National project coordinator and the FAO’s CTA remained crucial for success on actions related to gender mainstreaming. The government staff involved in the project received an ad-hoc but government circulated job description to implement project level gender promotional activities. The research team on appropriate technology also adopted certain gender norms which remained very helpful to produce women friendly technologies in the field.)

3.    What can our institutions do to help country governments commit to action around your recommendations, and to help ensure implementation will be effective?
At the moment, FAO and such other multilateral agencies can help Nepal and other developing countries in the following areas:
•    Assist facilitation of implementation of the National Gender Action Plans through Sectors
•    Assist in research about women indigenous knowledge  about locally available species from forest, river, rocks and land, such as, roots, herbs, vegetables, fruits, etc. and establish list of their nutritional value
•    Support debates among activists, professionals to establish a definition on marginalization of women  from access to opportunities, services and benefits as the “Sectoral Violence against Women (SVW)”, which is not limited only to domestic boundaries but is severely faced by women within institutions governing agriculture and others
•    Review agriculture, trade and Irrigation policies and make them sensitive to women’s practical and strategic needs including values for indigenous knowledge on local food items
•    Conduct research on impacts of climate change (also bio diversity) on the poor women and children, specifically on maternal health and nutrition, make strategies to address the  identified issues/problems
•    Support exchange visits among women farmer leaders to develop confidence and power through regional networks
•    Assist research on women friendly technologies in the region so that Nepal can learn from others on improved technologies for women farmers saving time and labor and meeting market demands for quality.