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By Kelly Merchan
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  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development

Two graduate students working with Professor Rachel Bezner Kerr have received funding for research focused on increasing food security from the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

Doctoral students Emily Baker and Emily Hillenbrand received funding aligned with Cornell Atkinson's food security working group. The group aims to bring together people from across campus and beyond to tackle a set of transdisciplinary collaborative projects that address food security challenges requiring both research and action, at scales from local to global.

Each received $7,000 grants for food security research centered in Africa.

“I am delighted and proud that Emily Baker and Emily Hillenbrand have both received this award, which will support community-engaged research focused on long-term food security solutions that build equitable and sustainable communities in several regions of Africa,” said Bezner Kerr, professor of global development, whose long-term research in Malawi and Tanzania tests the impacts of agroecological approaches on livelihoods, nutrition and sustainable land management for rural communities.

“Both doctoral students have a deep commitment to rigorous, applied research with many years of experience, and so it is exciting to see their research get supported,” Bezner Kerr said.

"Novel approaches like these help interdisciplinary research efforts take root,” said David Lodge, the Francis J. DiSalvo Director of the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. "By marrying innovative early-career scholars with established faculty researchers, our small grants program aims to launch efforts toward a pathway to impact. I have no doubt that the community-level engagement will lead to real-world food security solutions."

Emily Baker: “Participatory Agrobiodiversity Mapping Informs Sustainable Livelihoods, Food Security, and Socio-ecological Resilience

Baker studies smallholder farmers’ cultivation and understanding of agricultural biodiversity in the Rwenzori Mountains of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and western Uganda. Diversified agroforestry and home garden systems have gendered implications for smallholder social and ecological resilience, livelihoods, and food security. Working with Bezner Kerr, Baker seeks to understand the ways that intersectional and intergenerational agrobiodiversity knowledge and agency are linked with macro drivers of social and environmental change, and how they can inform policy approaches and community decision-making for local conservation, food security, and equitable approaches to social and ecological resilience.

“Diversified agricultural systems have been linked with increased food security, among other outcomes,” Baker said. “I'm grateful for this grant funding that will support research on the historical political and socioecological relations that condition people's experiences, knowledge, and agency in diversifying their production systems.”

Emily Hillenbrand: “Engaging Men to Improve Gender Equality, Food Security, and Sustainable Livelihoods in Malawi”

Hillenbrand examines processes and implications of gender-transformative approaches and shifting masculinities in agriculture development programming. Her research will be conducted in partnership with Soils, Food, and Healthy Communities (SFHC) in Malawi, a farmer-led non-profit organization that addresses the challenges of soil infertility, climate change, food insecurity, and gender inequality. This study will be carried out in SFHC target communities, to test and study the effects of a gender-transformative intervention on couples’ key household negotiations related to food security, nutrition, and livelihoods strategies. The study will pay particular attention to how men participate in gender activities and what factors contribute to their engagement and personal changes.

“Many interventions in the agriculture sector look at women's empowerment in very instrumental ways or think that ‘gender’ means working with women only,” Hillenbrand said. “This research aims to build on SFHC's holistic and participatory farmer-to-farmer research approaches, with a closer look at the processes of how communities address gender issues, and how this could contribute to better food security outcomes.”

The Increasing Food Security grants are made possible with a generous gift from Laurie Paravati Phillips '78 and Duane Phillips '78.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Kelly Merchan is a communications specialist in the Department of Global Development.

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