Q&A: Promoting gender and agriculture research

Farmer Juliana Mbaga of Bangalala field school in Same, Tanzania
Copyright: IDRC/ Thomas Omondi

Speed read

  • Gender and agriculture researcher gives reasons for starting a new journal
  • The journal is training and encouraging African researchers to publish
  • It aspires to aid evidence-based discourse on gender and agriculture globally

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Jemimah Njuki is a senior programme specialist at Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) where she is in charge of agriculture and food security projects that aim to reduce post-harvest losses, enhance nutrition and engage women and youth in agribusinesses. Njuki also oversees gender integration and focus on women in IDRC’s Agriculture and Food Security Program.
She is a 2017 Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow. Njuki is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security (Agri-Gender). She launched the journal on 7 July and talked to SciDev.Net about researchers working on gender and agricultural research, and why she founded the journal.
Why did you start the journal?
Until recently, there were no specialised journals where researchers working on gender and agriculture could publish our work. More importantly, there was really no place we could go to find good quality, peer-reviewed evidence on gender and agriculture. There was a big gap.

“I said to them, ‘If we do not start a journal, who will?’ That is how the idea was born.”

Jemimah Njuki, The Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security (Agri-Gender)

While on a work trip to Bangladesh when I was working at the International Livestock Research Institute, colleagues and I were lamenting the lack of good quality gender research. I looked around the table and right there in front of me were some of the best, world-renowned researchers on gender and agriculture! I said to them, “If we do not start a journal, who will?” That is how the idea was born.

The main aim of the journal is to improve the quality of gender research and provide a go to place where researchers, policymakers, development practitioners, students and others can find or publish evidence on gender in agriculture and food security.

Why focus on gender and agriculture?
We know that gender equality matters for agricultural productivity and for food and nutritional security. And while the evidence is growing on the connections among gender, agriculture and food security, and what works in advancing gender equality in agriculture, that evidence is not always easy to find  ̶  especially for developing country researchers and policymakers. Most of it remains unpublished, in the form of institutional reports. We want to change that.
While there are other journals that focus on gender, they are not specific to agriculture. Agri-Gender provides an open access one stop shop for peer-reviewed evidence from around the globe that addresses this gap.

What have been your biggest challenges in starting a journal?

There was a lot of upfront work in setting up the journal such as setting up a system through which people submit papers, putting together an editorial board and securing time commitments from peer-reviewers. Because all our staff members are volunteers and have other careers, time is always a challenge. Still, it took us less than two years to go from a concept to our first issue in March 2015. The journal was launched on 7 July this year in Nairobi, Kenya.
Why did you make the journal open access?
We want to provide data and evidence without financial, legal or technical barriers.  We want to make sure people don’t have to pay to access information contained in the journal and that scientists don’t have to pay to publish. This is especially important for scientists in the developing world who might otherwise not be able to afford the costs of accessing the information, or publishing new research themselves.
Why is it important to target African researchers?

Agri-Gender is an international journal and is open to researchers from all over the world. But early on, we realised there were very few Africans submitting manuscripts to the journal. That wasn’t unusual because we know that only about one per cent of scientists globally come from the continent. It is, however, important that researchers from Africa and the rest of the developing world contribute to global scientific knowledge.

“Our hope is that the discourse around women and agriculture starts becoming more evidence-based.”

Jemimah Njuki, The Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security (Agri-Gender)

Context matters.  African researchers have historically relied on theories and concepts originating in, and dominated by the West. However, more and more African researchers are grounding their research on African discourse. This perspective, sometimes coming from lived experiences, needs to be told by African researchers.
How do you encourage more African researchers to contribute?
One way is through partnerships with Africa-based research institutions. Also, the journal has been hosting writing workshops to encourage and build writing skills for researchers. The first one was held in Berlin, Germany, where we invited various African scientists to attend the International Feminist Association annual meeting to spend some time writing with their peers. In 2016, we had one in Zambia. We are hoping that we can hold these writing workshops every year. Such workshops provide a good opportunity to learn scientific writing skills and participants also act as peer reviewers for each other.
What aspirations do you have for the journal?
We want to be the go-to place for organisations and individual researchers seeking information on the latest research on what works in gender and agriculture.

Our hope is that the discourse around women and agriculture starts becoming more evidence based, and that the data we have to inform our decisions doesn’t just come from the World Bank and the FAO. Rather, we should start using more nuanced, context specific data. Only then will our interventions become more meaningful and impactful.
Q&As are edited for length and clarity.  
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.