FAO in North America

In Focus

Field research benefits US graduate students and FAO

GWU team gets practitioner insight, helps FAO test policy analysis methodology in Nicaragua

An FAO-Washington program enlisting graduate students to work on development-related research projects overseas is proving helpful for both the students and the agency.

The program started with a study this year by a group of George Washington University students dealing with food security in Nicaragua, where roughly 20 percent of the people are considered undernourished.

The FAO project followed 2009 adoption of Nicaraguan food security legislation, drafted in coordination with the UN agency.

The project involved four students who conducted research in the United States and Nicaragua using FAO’s new Policy Analysis and Preparedness (PAP) methodology, aimed at incorporating policy factors, such as identification of a country’s main policy players, into FAO advice and assistance.

The team conducted more than 70 interviews as well as background research. Its report made a number of recommendations, such as mainstreaming the issue of food security to help the law’s implementation, partly by using the lessons learned from efforts to mainstream gender issues.

The students’ project, according to Christian Derlagen, then with FAO’s Nicaragua office, “enabled us to kill two birds with one stone: to test the PAP methodology in Nicaragua, and to document FAO's involvement in the adoption of the country's food security law.”

Hands-on experience

Jennifer Brinkerhoff, a professor of public administration and international affairs at the university who referred the student team to FAO, said she is “thrilled” FAO is able to provide this “amazing opportunity.”

The reason this sort of program is so important, Dr. Brinkerhof said, is that master’s programs supposedly prepare students for careers, but they frequently come out of the programs with little professional experience.

This sort of program, she said, provides practical experience and insight into the “practitioner world.”

Students echoed her sentiments in talking about their Nicaragua experience.

One, Adam Drolet, cited what food insecurity looks like on the ground and how politics affect hunger as among concepts he had read about but “didn’t completely grasp”  until he was "in the field.”

Dr. Brinkerhoff also lauded the program’s role in raising U.S. awareness of FAO and its activities, as did FAO Liaison Office for North America Director Daniel Gustafson.

“The more they know about us and, perhaps equally important, speak to others about FAO’s work and get the word out, the better,” he said.     

Next stop - Ghana

In the next project, three other George Washington students will prepare a report for an FAO project aimed at developing a method to monitor and analyze food and agricultural policies in Africa.

The students will conduct two to four weeks of fieldwork in Ghana to analyze the government’s food security policy and will review and analyze government and donor expenditures in agriculture and food security.

Sean R. Roberts, who directs the school’s master’s program in international development studies, called the research "a fantastic opportunity for them to work with such a prestigious institution as the FAO.”

Dr. Roberts said he hoped the projects “will develop into an ongoing partnership between our program and the FAO, as we have 10 to 11 groups of students each year who seek to conduct applied field research for interested clients in the field of international development."

FAO is “particularly pleased that this year’s GW project team will look into Ghana’s food and agriculture policies,” Mr. Gustafson said, “as it has been one of the most successful countries in revitalizing agricultural investment and reducing hunger.”