Scaling up food security innovations to improve lives
Waterloo alumnus is working to better understand how global communities can own food security innovations
Waterloo alumnus is working to better understand how global communities can own food security innovationsBy Kira Vermond University Communications
October is United Way campaign month at the University of Waterloo. Help us raise funds to assist local organizations. The University of Waterloo continues to have a global impact through research on issues such as food security, refugee aid and health promotion.
If today’s farmers grow enough food to end world hunger, why are more than 800 million people in the world still undernourished?
Helena Shilomboleni, a PhD alumnus of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment, is doing her part to shed light on food insecurity challenges – often brought on by conflict, high food prices and climate change – in communities that rely on family farms.
Her dissertation took her to Mozambique in 2014 and 2015, a trip that was funded, in part, by an International Experience Award. There she studied contributions from the African Green Revolution, which focuses on increasing crop production and market access, and the food sovereignty movement, helping marginalized small-scale farmers engage in the political process.
While academics and agencies might pit these opposing approaches against each other – do you push for global investment in hybrid grains or focus on giving local people more power – Shilomboleni says farmers in Mozambique pick and choose, depending on what they need. Better seed for planting? Yes, they’ll accept help from an outside agency. Want to put a stop to government land grabbing? That calls for a locally based social movement.
“On the ground, things play out really differently,” she says.
Shilomboleni now works at the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa, Ont. where she is part of a team researching promising food security innovations in 24 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This work is part of the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF) a 9-year, 2-phased program co-funded by IDRC and Global Affairs Canada. Her team examines ways to scale up some of the most promising and practical ones to benefit more people in rural communities in the global south.
One such innovation is the Scaling-up Pulse Innovations for Food and Nutrition Security in Southern Ethiopia. In an area of the world where there is a high percentage of children and women of childbearing age who are malnourished, this project works with farmers to identify and select types of pulses that will not only grow well and bring in extra money, but will convince more locals to eat them.
“Together, we are putting in place innovations that communities can own,” says Shilomboleni, who explains that this empowerment is particularly important since funding from the IDRC will eventually end.
There are no fast fixes, she admits – indeed the pulse innovations project is in its second decade – but every new day on the job brings hope.
“This kind of work really gives me a window into seeing that this is how change can happen,” she says. “There’s power in research and development.”
Feature image photo credit: Roberto David/iStock/ThinkStock