NaviNut: Promoting women’s innovation in child-feeding in Benin & Kenya

The project NaviNut “Enhancing women’s agency in navigating changing food environments to improve child nutrition in African drylands” (Sept 2020–Oct 2023) 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, member of Prolinnova–Kenya); the University of Parakou (host organisation of Prolinnova–Benin) 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. The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food & Agriculture (BMEL).

NaviNut investigates food systems in rural and peri-urban areas in the drylands of northern Kenya and northern Benin. It aims to enhance women’s roles linked to human nutrition and health and strengthen their capacity to adapt to their changing food environments. 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 various scientific disciplines.

The objectives of the action-research project are: a) to understand the complexity and dynamics of women’s decision-making in feeding their young children; b) to increase accessibility and desirability of locally available, highly nutritious, traditional food products; and c) to enhance women’s learning on child nutrition through co-innovation with other stakeholders. This includes 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 all NaviNut partners with our network and thus sustaining the participatory transdisciplinary approach in human nutrition. This project facilitates learning by university staff and students about how to engage in transdisciplinary research, in line with Prolinnova’s aim to integrate a participatory innovation approach into university education. Prolinnova provides methodological support in participatory innovation processes working together with women innovators.

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