Positioning rural women agri-entrepreneurs to address short-term hunger and undernutrition in rural primary schools in Uganda
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Short-term hunger and under nutrition is a key development challenge that has continued to undermine efforts to improve enrolment, retention and acquisition of basic academic skills by children in primary schools in developing countries, with schools in rural areas worst affected compared to those in urban centres. Poor socioeconomic conditions, lack of proper food handling technologies and the requisite technical know-how in economically disadvantaged rural areas make it impossible for schools in such locations to provide affordable nutritious conventional diets that are accessible to schools in economically advantaged urban centres. This situation provides opportunity for agri-innovations that can offer cheaper alternative nutritious foods tailored to rural schools. In response to this challenge, the Graduate Research Grant project “innovations to enhance rural women agri-entrepreneurs to participate in the cassava value chain in North and North-Eastern Uganda” was conceived and implemented by a consortium composed of Gulu University, rural women groups and primary schools in North and North-Eastern Uganda. Graduate students working with rural women cassava processing groups: (i) improved the protein and mineral content of gari cassava meal to match the protein and micronutrient needs of school children; (ii) evaluated acceptability of the products in rural primary schools; and (iii) assessed preconditions necessary for rural women groups to engage in production of nutritionally-improved gari for rural primary school food market. The nutritionally improved gari products were accepted by school children and teachers thus indicating ready market for the products. Exposure to new processing technologies through training, alternative off-farm income sources, Household size as a proxy for labour, group membership as proxy for social capital and distance to markets were identified as preconditions necessary for rural women to invest in production, processing and marketing of nutritionally improved gari for rural primary school food markets. This study therefore illustrates how participatory action research can be used to tailor agribusiness innovations to address community nutrition problems in developing countries.