By Lauren Blake, IFSTAL LCIRAH Education Coordinator
Agriculture, Nutrition and Health Academy Week
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 20th -24th June 2016
For the last five years, LCIRAH (The Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health) has held a two dayannual conference in London. In 2015, jointly with CGIAR and IMMANA, LCIRAH founded the Agriculture, Nutrition and Health(ANH) Academy. The ANH Academy grew from a commitment to build interdisciplinary capacity and foster a community of researchers working in agriculture and food systems, health and nutrition. It aims to facilitate learning and sharing among researchers working at the intersection of agriculture, nutrition, and health. This year, LCIRAH combined its annual conference with the Academy to create the inaugural ANH Academy Week, which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The week comprised of two days of ‘Learning Labs’ workshops, followed by three days of conference.
Part of the rationale for going to Ethiopia (the plan is to host the annual Academy Week in a different country each year) was to encourage international participation, sharing and collaboration within the sector, especially given that the issues dealt with are global. By taking it to different parts of the world each year, it makes it easier to attend by a wider range of people. Attendance to the week was free and there were a number of bursaries to assist with expenses. This all paid off. The week was oversubscribed, with a high representation especially from Ethiopia and Africa more widely, there were more than 200 attendees during the Learning Labs and around 250 for the conference. Delegates came from universities and research centres, as well as government departments, policy and projects working on the ground. Disciplines ranged from economics, anthropology and nutrition, to agricultural sciences, agronomy and veterinary medicine.
This is exactly the sort of approach IFSTAL encourages; holistic interdisciplinary working to tackle the systemic challenges of food security, the environment and sustainability. Some people presented on highly specific projects and issues, but set into plenaries with a wide ‘bigger picture’ scope. For example, how to measure post-harvest losses in Northern Nigeria was one of eight presentations as part of a session on Agriculture and Nutrition Linkages.
As we know, working interdisciplinarily, whilst great (indeed imperative) in theory, can be a challenge in practice. To help address this, LCIRAH delivered an afternoon session of 101s for a range of key disciplines in agriculture and health research: economics, nutrition, epidemiology and anthropology. This was a great way to introduce each disciplines’ background, key methods and general approach and conceptualisation of phenomena, as well as a few key terms to help with the ever problematic linguistic misunderstandings (verging on complete inability to communicate?!) when trying to work with disciplines outside your own. Often highly relevant and valuable research from other disciplines can seem inaccessible due to jargon dominated language barriers… Perhaps a deeper focus on this next year could build on the 101 sessions.
It was fitting at such an event that IFSTAL lead a session on its systems thinking approach. I delivered a 3 hour workshop on Food Systems and Qualitative Research, incorporating the key elements of food systems and mapping that we use in IFSTAL along with an introduction to qualitative social research, using examples from my own research on malnutrition in Guatemala. Attendees then had a go at mapping real life problems they work on in multidisciplinary teams, getting a much fuller picture and considering many parts often otherwise invisible. This was followed by inserting a range of relevant methods to address the various elements and challenges presented, and then a particularly focused plan on the qualitative methods. Despite a generally wide variety of disciplines represented at the Academy Week, qualitative social research was quite under represented, so the IFSTAL workshop was particularly useful for many attendees. It was well received, with all the participants feeding back that it was highly relevant to their work.
Next year the Academy Week will be taking place in South Asia. In the meantime, we’ll be likely running a version of this workshop later in the year as part of IFSTAL, so if it sounds interesting and valuable, keep your eye out!