Project aims to improve food security by enhancing gender aspects of ag research

Recognizing the need to improve food security and enhance the well-being of rural populations in developing countries, a new Penn State project will provide intensive training for researchers that will help them to integrate gender-related dimensions into international agricultural research.

The Gender Research and Integrated Training program, led by faculty in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, is funded by a two-year grant from the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research — commonly known as CGIAR — and its Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers. The CGIAR Consortium consists of 15 centers around the world.

The Penn State project will support the consortium's gender strategy, which commits CGIAR research programs to develop agricultural technologies, farming systems and policies to support rural women in improving agricultural productivity and their livelihoods, according to project leader Carolyn Sachs, professor of rural sociology and women's studies.

"The Gender Research and Integrated Training sessions are designed to strengthen research capacity of gender and social science researchers, enhance the quality of gender research in CGIAR and provide strategies for interdisciplinary collaboration," Sachs said. "The ultimate goals are to provide benefits to poor rural women and men and to empower women and girls."

She noted that all CGIAR research programs are required to have an approved strategy for integrating gender into research. Through its cross-program Gender and Agriculture Research Network, CGIAR supports strategic research to deepen understanding of how gender disparities and gender relations affect agricultural innovation, productivity and sustainability; and integrates gender analysis into research on topics such as plant breeding, adapting to climate change and integrated pest management.

The trainings will consist of a series of intensive workshops held at Penn State's University Park campus during three-week periods in the summers of 2016 and 2017. The workshops will be supplemented with pre- and post-session activities to ensure maximum benefits. Students will be paired with faculty mentors who will provide support to participants after the in-class portion ends. These relationships will continue over the multiple year series to maximize the students' application of gender-related tools and skills to their own research.

"Research collaboration is not limited to the face-to-face sessions," Sachs said. "We aim to create an internal network of support and partnership while fostering a cohort of global leaders dedicated to gender issues within the CGIAR system."

In the first year, the workshops will focus on the historical context of gender and agricultural science, strategies and tools for working on interdisciplinary teams, connecting gender theories of science to agricultural research, state-of-the-art data collection and analysis techniques, designing high-quality research collection and analysis plans, and tools for data analysis.

The new project coincides with the launch of the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences' Gender in Agriculture and Environment Initiative. The initiative's inaugural symposium will kick off the 2016 trainings, bringing together practitioners and researchers from around the globe and providing CGIAR participants an opportunity for networking and professional development, noted Deanna Behring, the college's director of international programs.

"The symposium will give participants an excellent chance to learn from international leaders in gender scholarship and policies," Behring said. "We are excited to bring this new training project under the umbrella of our Gender in Agriculture and Environment Initiative. Including the college's Pennsylvania Women's Agricultural Network, a similar project in Honduras and other planned programs, this initiative positions Penn State as a world leader in integrating gender concepts into agricultural research and development."

In related news, Sarah Eissler, a Penn State dual-title master's degree candidate in rural sociology and in international agriculture and development was named a visiting researcher at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, a CGIAR institution based in Cali, Colombia. She is part of the Gender and Climate Change team in the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security group, a collaboration of all 15 CGIAR centers.

Eissler is working with the Gender and Climate Change team and local partners to design and implement a thorough "gender background" report on current policies, strategies and issues facing gender, climate change and agriculture in South and Southeast Asia. "Sarah is a great example of how young scholars can benefit from the college's growing emphasis on the gender aspects of international agricultural research," Behring said.

For more information about the Gender Research and Integrated Training program or Penn State's Gender in Agriculture and Environment Initiative, contact the College of Agricultural Sciences Office of International Programs at 814-863-0249 or email Deanna Behring at dbehring@psu.edu.

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Last Updated July 28, 2017