Promoting women’s innovation in feeding children in Benin & Kenya

The project NaviNut “Enhancing women’s agency in navigating changing food environments to improve child nutrition in African drylands” held its start-up workshop in early December 2020. It takes a transdisciplinary research approach: co-creating knowledge across different scientific disciplines and societal stakeholders. The German Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture (DITSL) coordinates the work together with the Center for Research and Development in Drylands (CRDD, a member of Prolinnova–Kenya); the University of Parakou (involved in training on participatory innovation development/PID with another project under the Prolinnova umbrella) and the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin; the Tropical Institute of Community Health and Development (TICH) and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in Kenya; and South Westphalia University of Applied Sciences in Germany. This 3-year project is funded by the German Ministry for Food & Agriculture (BMEL).

NaviNut investigates food systems in the drylands of northern Kenya and northern Benin with the aims of enhancing women’s roles linked to human nutrition and health and strengthening their capacity to adapt to change. It seeks to identify and build on “positive deviance”: innovation by women who use locally available resources to feed their children better than do other women in the same area. It is designed to integrate the knowledge of mothers, processors and sellers of traditional foods, community health workers, consumers and different scientific disciplines.

The action-research project seeks to: a) understand the complexity and dynamics of women’s decision-making in feeding children under 5 years of age; b) increase accessibility and desirability of locally available, highly nutritious, traditional food products; and c) enhance women’s learning on child nutrition through co-innovation with other stakeholders. This will include co-developing innovations in small-scale processing and packaging so that women can improve their livelihoods by producing and marketing healthy, safe, tasty and acceptable convenience foods based on traditional food products.

BMEL welcomed involvement with the Prolinnova network with a view to linking the NaviNut partners with our network and thus sustaining the participatory transdisciplinary approach in human nutrition. An important part of this project involves helping university staff and students learn how to engage in transdisciplinary research. This fits in well with Prolinnova’s interest in integrating the PID approach into universities. Prolinnova is providing methodological support in identifying local innovators and facilitating PID on promising innovations in child feeding and women’s entrepreneurship in processing and selling highly nutritious foods for children.