By: HIllary Mara, GREAT Graduate Student Assistant and Cornell University Master’s in Public Administration Candidate
In September, 2016, the GREAT project brought together interdisciplinary research teams from across Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond for the first part of a two-week gender-responsive training in Kampala, Uganda. This first GREAT cohort focused on research projects involving roots, tubers, and bananas (RTB). It included a remarkable group of 11 teams of 33 researchers from eight countries whose projects vary from eradicating devastating banana diseases in East Africa to cassava breeding in Nigeria.
Over nine intensive days, the ‘Gender-responsive Root, Tuber and Banana Breeding Course, participants faced their own positionality, learned how to conduct gender analysis, developed gender responsive research questions, mapped their project impact using gender-responsive monitoring and evaluation tools and approaches, examined gender-based constraints and opportunities in the cassava value chain, gained an understanding of qualitative and quantitative gender research tools and practical applications for using a gender-responsive lens to enhance the impacts of their work.
Much of the group came from disciplines in the life sciences and included plant breeders, soil scientists, and epidemiologists – many of whom found a new appreciation for gender research methods that are the domain of social scientists. For them, the RTB course offered a new perspective on how to conduct, analyze, and apply their work by integrating the needs, outlooks, and constraints of farmers and rural community members.
Bonaventure Aman Omondi, from the ‘Banana Bunchy Top Disease containment and recovery’ project funded by the CGIAR-RTB program, saw the value in adding a social dimension to his work. “As an entomologist, I would be biased toward ‘Control the insects, and the problem is solved,’ or, ‘bring in new material, and the problem is solved.’
“But now it’s becoming more and more clear that I have to also withdraw from entomology, enter the household, and imagine that I’m making decisions with them, and then try to respond back to my recommendations, and see which ones of them work and which ones of them don’t work.”
Field visits and focus groups with farmers were especially eye-opening for many of the participants.
In the words of Reuben Tendo Ssali, from the ‘Improvement of banana smallholder farmers in the Great Lakes region of Africa’ project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), “Being a crop scientist, I have not really been involved in focus group discussions before. So for me, it was a great experience. You sit down with the farmers, and you have a conversation that is geared towards understanding how they are affected by the development issues.”
Bio-physical scientists weren’t the only ones to benefit from the training. For Benedicta Nsiah Frimpong, working on the BMGF-funded ‘PEARL 1 cassava’ project, the skills she learned during Week 1 will help complement her existing skill set as an agricultural economist.
“The uniqueness of this training for me is actually how to handle qualitative data. I’m an economist, so I deal with figures a lot, but handling qualitative data is always a problem. Through this training though, now they’ve given us different tools to conduct our field surveys, to really capture main issues, and even analyze them.”
And experienced gender experts in attendance also found plenty to take with them from the first week of the course.
According to Tessy Madu, gender researcher working with the ‘NEXTGEN Cassava’ project in Nigeria, “This is a great course, especially in gender analysis and strategic thinking. It kind of ignites a lot of interest and a lot of things that I never thought were very, very important – gender in the value chain, gender analysis…there are so many of them.”
Participants are now back in the field applying these new skills to their respective projects, before returning to Kampala in February for a second week of training.
As the teams learn to apply lessons from Week 1, each will work closely with a gender specialist from GREAT who will mentor them through the field research process. According to GREAT project co-leader Hale Tufan, this is a key part of what makes the GREAT project unique. “One-on-one support, from established gender specialists, sets the GREAT training apart from other gender offerings, allowing a deeper level of practical skill building to reinforce the theoretical base that participants receive.”
In February, the teams will return to Kampala for Week 2 of the GREAT training, to focus on the data analysis and interpretation of their field work, and reconnect with the other GREAT trainers and mentors.
By building a community of researchers equipped to transform the role of gender in agriculture, GREAT is poised to make a lasting impact beyond the courses themselves.
At the end of the course’s first week in September, the gender specialists took it on themselves to start their own online group, to share resources, challenges, ideas, and opportunities. In the time since the training, several project trainers, such as Deborah Rubin, of Cultural Practice, Inc., have joined the group as well, turning it into a venue for further professional growth.
Speaking broadly of the course, Madu said, “It’s quite interesting, especially sharing information, networking, experience sharing with all of the colleagues from what was working well with them and how they were able to improve. For me, the experience sharing is very important. It’s quite invaluable. You can’t put a price on it.”
“The mindset changes accompanying the learning of all these professionals will open doors for real improvements in the field of agricultural development and research, particularly as it affects women,” said Margaret Mangheni, GREAT’s Kampala-based co-leader.
Looking forward from this first course, Tufan sees a bright future. “By building a community of researchers equipped to transform the role of gender in agriculture, GREAT is poised to make a lasting impact beyond the courses themselves.”