Hunger Fellow Spotlight: Tajikistan and Uganda

Kaila Balch, Chika Kondo, Sarah PechtlField, Leland

Above: participants in CARE International Uganda’s Farmer Field Business School project discuss kitchen gardening at a demonstration plot in the Kyaka II refugee settlement. 📸: CARE International Uganda

The 12th Class of Mickey Leland International Hunger Fellows have been working with their host organizations since last October. We asked three of them to describe what they’ve been working on and how their project will improve food security in the community where they’ve been placed. Read on for updates from fellows working in Tajikistan and Uganda.

Examining poultry as part of a nutrition & income intervention in Tajikistan. 📸: Sarah Pechtl.

Uncovering How Gender Influences Diet in Tajikistan

Sarah Pechtl

“Poverty looks different here than in many places,” says Leland Fellow Sarah Pechtl of her placement in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. “Most people have houses and food to eat. Food insecurity is an issue, but the greater problem is nutrition insecurity.”

Many Tajiks live in traditional multi-generational households, where hierarchy among family members determines the order and amount that members are served at mealtimes. While an average meal will contain sufficient calories, the more nutritious items like vegetables will be reserved for the men of the household. As a result, women and children are more likely to experience undernutrition, or “hidden hunger,” which is linked to developmental issues.

Sarah has been placed with IFPRI, where she has been creating blog posts, policy briefs, and summaries to share the organization’s research with local NGOs and government. She is also travelling to twelve villages in the southwestern province of Khatlon to conduct original research. There she will collect information about the effect of gender roles on household behaviors and malnutrition using traditional focus groups and a new “photo voice” method, which she introduced into the plan.

Photo voice involves giving cameras to participants, inviting them to document their day-to-day lives, including their food intake. This record of their personal experiences will add context to the data the survey collects.

Research on the impact of gender differences on nutritional wellbeing is challenging because it requires an invitation into some of the most personal or sensitive topics in a household. These discussions could include religious beliefs, traditional customs, gender-based roles, and men’s emigration to work for remittances, which is hollowing out the male population in rural areas.

“There could be a variety of topics—some very sensitive and very private—that come up. We’re trying to figure out how to not only respect but support the individuals who share this information; not just collect it and move on to the next village.”


Leland Fellow Chika Kondo (standing, third from right) with participants in the Urban Food Hives project in Kampala, Uganda.

Building Nutrition in Tight Spaces

Chika Kondo

When families are displaced, either across borders due to conflict, or internally due to economic pressures, their ability to access nutritious food suffers. While diets may be sufficient in calories from carbohydrate-rich commodity aid or fast food in urban environments, fruits and vegetables are often lacking, which can lead to malnutrition. One solution for improving access to nutritious food is to grow it at home—but for people living in cramped settings, whether in refugee settlements or in the nation’s capital, this requires shifts in mindsets and changes in practices.

Leland Fellow Chika Kondo is putting her background in agriculture and agroecology to use in Uganda, where she is working with Oxfam Uganda to help families in refugee settlements and displaced people in urban areas, mainly women and youth, supplement their diet with food they grow for themselves.

Every month about one thousand refugees enter Uganda, fleeing conflicts in Sudan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Somalia. Uganda’s current open-door policy grants registered new arrivals with 30m2 allotments of land (roughly the size of an average American one-car garage) to live on. Many refugees are eager to grow their own food, but face challenges understanding what to grow in their new environment, and accessing the appropriate seeds, fertilizers, tools, water, and other inputs. Chika supports these farmers by helping them troubleshoot their work and suggesting improved practices, including the use of drought-tolerant and local varieties of seeds.

Chika is also supporting Oxfam’s Urban Food Hives project, launched in five countries amid growing concerns about food security in urban areas in developing countries. In these contexts physical access is not the most significant problem; Kampala, for instance, boasts 150 food markets for 1.6 million residents. Rather, affordability of nutritious food is a concern, and many people’s diets are limited in diversity. The program focuses on groups most at-risk for undernutrition—single mothers and youth—and training them to grow nutritious food for themselves in non-traditional ways, such as container gardening.

Access to land for city dwellers is a challenge. “There are no squatting rights in Uganda,” Chika explains, and the public land available for growing food is very limited. Nevertheless, in small backyard plots and even containers, the work of growing and raising consciousness about nutrition continues. “Many project participants say, ‘I didn’t realize you can grow this on your own! I could eat more vegetables like this!’” Chika observes.


Leland Fellow Kaila Balch (fifth from left) with faculty and administrators of Busitema University in eastern Uganda. 📸: Robert Ekinu, CARE Uganda

Expanding Women’s Role in Community through Agricultural Training

Kaila Balch

Elsewhere in Uganda, Leland Fellow Kaila Balch is also working with refugee populations, with women and girls as her focus. Working with CARE Uganda, her placement involves monitoring and scaling up the farmer field and business school model to reach more women and smallholder farmers. The program uses a hands-on, learning-by-doing approach to equip women with the knowledge to grow more nutritionally dense foods in their kitchen gardens, such as millet and maize, along with staple foods that can fetch better prices in the marketplace and help families improve their resilience and livelihoods.

Part of Kaila’s work has been to visit participants at their homes to see and learn the impact of the trainings, and to capture the effects of pests, drought, and climate change on their farms. She has also been working with universities, including Busitema University in Uganda and Sokoine University in neighboring Tanzania, to incorporate the model into their agricultural curricula, so that this proven methodology can be replicated and empower future generations of women and girls.

Some seemingly simple aspects of the program can have significant ramifications for the lives of the participating families. Take cookstoves. “All households build energy-saving stoves out of clay,” Kaila explains. Gathering firewood is a necessary task often performed by the daughters in a family. What many may not realize is that it is a dangerous task: firewood is an increasingly scarce resource, and girls are put at risk of sexual assault as they wander further and further from home looking for fuel. These energy-efficient stoves reduce these risks and free the girls to do other, more productive school- or housework.

While the program has a woman-centered approach, it recognizes the necessity of incorporating men into the framework to address traditional gender norms, and publicly model ways to reduce gender-based inequity at the household and community level. One of Kaila’s site visits included attending a community dinner hosted by men who had been trained in gender dialogues. The men worked together in the kitchen to prepare the meal—“not a common occurrence in Uganda,” she notes—while the women socialized. “It’s a small snippet of seeing how gender norms can be changed, slowly, especially if it’s done in a way that involves and honors both women and men.”

Have questions for the fellows? Contact them through their bios below. Next month we’ll hear from fellows working in Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, and Washington, D.C.

About the Authors

Kaila Balch is a Park City, Utah, native and recent graduate of Duke University with a Master’s of Science (MSc) in Global Health. Her graduate work focused on the the impact of gold mining, mercury, and infectious disease in the Amazon, taking her to Peru, Ecuador and Guyana for fieldwork. Prior to her MSc, Kaila graduated from the University of Utah with a dual B.A. in Environmental Studies and B.S. in International Studies, focusing on Food Systems and Global Health, respectively. Her undergraduate work sparked her interest in areas of environmental justice, conservation, food security and sustainable agriculture. Throughout her academic career, she worked on her campus farms and food pantries; served in AmeriCorps; developed food security materials with the International Rescue Committee; and focused on women’s health and gender-based violence with the Administration for Children and Families (D.C.) and National Coordinating Coalition (Guyana). Outside of professional work, Kaila is an avid climber, skier, and travel enthusiast. As a part of the 12th Leland Fellowship class she looks forward to further engaging in food security and justice work.

Chika Kondo is a dedicated practitioner working at the intersection of agrifood systems, gender, and sustainable agriculture. She holds a PhD from Kyoto University in Japan, where her research focused on the impact of alternative food networks on promoting equitable food access and agricultural sustainability. Most recently, Chika served as a gender and inclusion consultant for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. In this role, she led a regional study on livestock and gender in East Africa, reviewing national policies and initiatives that address key barriers and opportunities for women livestock keepers. Her work aimed to promote climate change mitigation, leverage digital technology, and improve access to finance for women in the livestock sector. Before her work in international development, Chika established a youth of color farmers' cooperative in New Orleans. Through this initiative, she integrated youth organizing, food sovereignty, and solidarity economics as means to combat food insecurity and empower communities to grow food for themselves. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Chika received her B.S. and B.A. in Society and Environment and Political Science from UC Berkeley. Her educational background and hands-on experience have driven her commitment to creating sustainable and inclusive food systems.

Born and raised in Austria, Sarah holds a BSc in Nutritional Science with a minor in sociology from Pepperdine University. Sarah’s undergraduate studies were shaped by her involvement in projects aimed at improving the dietary quality of marginalized population groups facing food and nutrition insecurity. Motivated to understand and help mitigate the impact of socio-structural factors on malnutrition, she pursued an MMSc in Public Health Sciences from Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, graduating in 2023. Her thesis evaluated a childhood nutrition intervention delivered in disadvantaged areas of Sweden, providing insights for program scale-up and the efficacy of targeting behavioral factors in the presence of structural barriers. Sarah has worked with large, multi-country datasets and complex quantitative methods to investigate mechanisms of health behavior and identify opportunities to intervene. Additionally, she has participated in global health educational experiences in Denmark and Kenya. She is fascinated by the interaction between health promotion and social/environmental justice in the agriculture-nutrition nexus. Driven by the conviction that systemic change, multi-sectoral collaboration, and decolonization are essential for achieving a world with zero hunger, Sarah is excited to join the 12th Class of Leland Fellows and contribute to these transformative efforts.

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