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Community Connections

Planting seeds to initiate change

Many friendships were forged, networks established, and conversations started at the Seeds of Change Conference where over 280 delegates from 45 countries explored bridging the gender gap in the agricultural sector.

“The Conference was intentional by design to plant seeds of knowledge that can be nourished and fed for years to come,” said Professor Barbara Pamphilon of the University of Canberra’s Australian Institute for Sustainable Communities (AISC).

Seeing gender in a new light was one of these seeds of knowledge that was planted with Maria Ogunnaike of Nigeria and Meghajit Sharma Shijagurumayum of India.

Maria, Meghajit and 27 other delegates received scholarships to attend the Seeds of Change Conference, funded by the Australian Centre for International Research (ACIAR) and facilitated through AISC.

“The scholarships were highly competitive with 100 people from low income countries applying to attend the conference,” said Barbara.

Although he had a keen interest in gender issues before he attended the conference, Meghajit wasn’t aware of the many factors that influence gender research.

“What was insignificant for me before has become significant,” Meghajit said.

Meghajit is a PhD student at the University of Agricultural Science in Bangalore. He recently started his study focusing on the social dimensions of agriculture.

The greatest impact for Meghajit was that it was his first time travelling outside of India, making it an exciting experience of many firsts.

“The conference has provided the ideal platform to launch my career. The exposure and interaction that I have enjoyed and been part of has validated my studies and established pathways for collaboration in the future,” he said.

Meghajit relished one particular interaction with Professor Naila Kabeer of the Gender Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science after his poster presentation on the gendered distribution of household labour and economic activities in the Imphal West district of Manipur, India.

“Naila gave me such helpful advice on how to improve my methodologies and to be more inclusive of the various aspects that influence gender research.

“It has sparked a desire to work hard and follow my dream to become an agricultural scientist so I can take up projects in my own state and focus on quantitative gender research,” he said.

For Maria, a PhD student at the Federal University of Agriculture in Nigeria, this was her second international trip, but her first time in Australia.

“It is a big deal to attend an international conference as a PhD student. The opportunity to present my work to leading experts in gender and agriculture has helped me to identify opportunities and build a network that will be a huge benefit to my career,” she said.

Maria presented a poster on her study that examined the influence of women empowerment on nutritional outcomes of pre-school children in Southern Nigeria.

“I received good feedback from my poster presentation, which will help shape the work I have been doing and plan to do in the future.”

Maria and Meghajit formed many friendships at Seeds of Change that they say will continue to impact their lives professionally and personally.

“We are heading home energised and ready to share our seeds of knowledge and initiate change in our own ‘back yards’,” said Meghajit.

“Thank you for this life changing opportunity. It has opened doors and motivated us to forge ahead boldly and to tap into the expertise that exists beyond our countries’ borders,” said Maria.

Words by Andy Visser and Images by Sean Davey/ACIAR.

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