Building trans-disciplinary partnerships for exploring the impact of population displacement on nutrition interventions in rural Zimbabwe

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary University of London
Department Name: Geography


Stunting affects nearly 30% of children in southern Africa, and leads to reduced human capacity, increased long-term risk of chronic disease and an inter-generational cycle of poverty. We recently conducted the Sanitation Hygiene Infant Nutrition Efficacy (SHINE) trial, which showed that stunting can be reduced by 20% through improved infant and young child feeding (IYCF). Despite this modest reduction, it is evident that current interventions are insufficient to eliminate stunting. Countries including Zimbabwe are therefore unlikely to achieve World Health Assembly targets for improving maternal, infant and young child nutrition by 2025. There is a clear need to test new and broader approaches for stunting through interdisciplinary partnerships aimed at tackling the multi-faceted determinants of this intractable problem.

Analysis of SHINE trial data has identified substantial gaps in infant nutrient intake despite an intensive IYCF intervention. Greater gains in linear growth can be achieved by enhancing the nutrient quality of infant diets. We have therefore recently broadened the disciplinary scope of researchers in this partnership to further build research capacity and capability. Having shown that linear growth can be modestly improved in the first 2 years of life with an intensive IYCF intervention, our partnership has been extended to include agricultural expertise in a follow-on randomised controlled trial. Collaborating with agricultural scientists and economists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, the ultimate goal of this partnership is to further close the nutrient gap experienced by rural households in the immediate and longer term by integrating an enhanced 'IYCF-plus' intervention with a sustainable intervention aimed at improving agriculture and animal husbandry practices.

As this call identifies, the long-term success of interventions such as ours depends on better understanding the cultural and historical contexts within which they take place as well as their reception by intended beneficiaries. This is acknowledged by the researchers involved in this partnership, who have an established track-record of working closely with the communities within which their work takes place. Despite this, important gaps in knowledge remain. Zimbabwe, like other southern African countries, has been subject to considerable population displacement in the past several decades, involving rural-urban, regional (e.g. Botswana, South Africa, Zambia) as well as overseas migration (e.g. Canada and UK). Population displacement is known to have multiple influences on household food security and relatedly agricultural production capacity.

In addition, the familial structure and support systems of rural households has been significantly impacted by the devastating legacies of HIV/AIDS. Of importance to nutrition interventions such as ours is the increase in the number of child-headed and elderly-headed households. It is widely acknowledged that child-headed households are especially vulnerable to food insecurity and households headed by elderly relatives are less likely to diversify crops and rely on growing cereal crops and other staples more vulnerable to adverse weather patterns (intensified with climate change) as they are less able to procure hybrid seeds and fertilizers.

In order to support LMIC countries like Zimbabwe in achieving WHA targets for improving maternal, infant and young child nutrition by 2025 it is vital that interventions take account of population displacement, changing household structures and the intersection with the gender-related and household dynamics that may shape household food security and agricultural capacity. This application seeks to achieve this by extending and more effectively integrating humanities and social science perspectives into an already existing partnership and by adopting a more radical approach to inter- and trans-disciplinary working.

Planned Impact

As indicated throughout case for support this proposal seeks to develop radical transdisciplinary approaches to the challenge of stunting which affects nearly 30% of children living in southern Africa. We will do this by (1) identifying inter- and trans-disciplinary partners (2) building equitable and sustainable partnerships (3) building capacity and capability through participatory research (4) developing future intervention strategies.

To achieve those 4 objectives we will be building upon, and extending an existing network in Southern Africa; by working collaboratively with our partners we will be able to realise and co-develop our impact goals: (1) improve child survival, health and potential by finding new ways of tackling undernutrition and especially stunting to help reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 1,2,3,8 and 10) (2) create a network of researchers, policy makers and practitioners working on child stunting and food cultures (3) facilitate knowledge exchange and south-south and south-north learning (see case for support)

Those 3 key areas of impact throughout the project will be developed by inclusive practices, regular communication and workshops with relevant stakeholders. It is expected that early, and regular, engagement and communication will enable a reflexive and proactive approach to pathways to impact. Dialogue with, and between, all non-academic users will be facilitated through project activities where participants will be invited to contribute to better and shared understandings of effective transdisciplinary approaches to child stunting. Non-academic users will be integral to refining partnership building through inception meetings on co-creating the knowledge and practices.

In order to close the nutrition gap experienced by rural households in the immediate and longer term in countries such as Zimbabwe and others on the DAC list, we believe wide-ranging inter- and transdisciplinary approaches are necessary. Such approaches would have direct and indirect impact, including wider societal impact and benefits related to our contribution to the further development of research-related capability and capacity in this area across Southern Africa.
We anticipate that the interventions we devise would ultimately be best delivered as a single comprehensive and integrated nutrition programme, and will have a strong impact in building knowledge exchange and south-south and south-north learning.
Description Analysis of the qualitative materials gathered for this project is complete and two NVivo datasets have been created (one for Zimbabwean and one for the UK based research). Findings from the qualitative materials has been utilised in the strengthening and development of the partnership with Zvitambo (in the form of additional funding applications) and in growing partnerships within Zimbabwe (including with academics and international NGOs working in the country e.g., UNICEF). Publications currently being prepared include - working paper/reports, book chapter, and a journal article in a Special Issue on Global Food Security (journal tbc).

Preliminary findings can be reported from the work conducted in Zimbabwe, and include:
• Migration and mobility amongst the households participating in the research (n = 30), reflected patterns established under settler colonialism. Although women were mobile and some migrated to neighbouring countries, many of the female household members remained in the rural homes where they were expected to undertake domestic labour, including that related to crop production. Male migration was circular (rural to urban), varied in relation to time away from the household (daily, weekly, monthly, longer) and was principally driven by the need to secure wage-paying employment. There was only limited evidence of long-distance migration within the households who participated.
• All households who reported having migrant members received a mix of in-kind and cash remittances. Although a variety of mechanisms are available for sending remittances, the primary means of sending financial remittances was via Ecocash and in-kind remittances were sent via a mix of routes. Remittances played a vital role in sustaining the food security and agricultural capacities of receiving households, with significant variation between the participating households in terms of the scale and variety of items received. There was only limited evidence that migration and/or remittances resulted in variation in household diets or significant changes to existing food cultures.
• Household structure and the strength of patriarchal gender-relations played a significant role in the decision-making capacities of female participants. For women living in highly patriarchal households, usually within extended family settings, decisions were primarily made by males or older female members (e.g., mother-in-law). This impacted the extent to which decisions could be made about diversifying crops grown by the household, about the keeping of livestock and their utilisation, and the types of food consumed. Nuclear families tended to operate along more equitable lines, with decision-making shared and women having a greater say on the use of household resources (including income received from remittances).
• There was strong evidence of traditional food systems and practices operating alongside other forms of household agricultural production, such as the incorporation of wild fruits and African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs) into household diets. In most instances these were seasonal, associated with household taste and local availability, and were a response to household food insecurity. Traditional food systems and practices, such as collective or community farming methods, referred to locally as nhimbe or humwe, were in evidence in some households and appeared to result in a greater diversity of crops grown and heightened food security.
Exploitation Route The outcomes of the funding can be divided into partnership development activities and research-related findings. With regards the former, partnership development has been ongoing with further international collaborations established (see new funding). The project team strengthened their relationship with the partner organisation in Zimbabwe (Zvitambo) and extended this to include active partnerships with humanities and social science scholars based at several universities within and outside of the country (e.g., Cornell University, Great Zimbabwe University, University of Namibia, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Zimbabwe). The project team have successfully applied for two seed corn funding grants to support the development of further applications that respond to questions raised by the project, and research in these areas is ongoing. In addition to partnership development activities in Zimbabwe, the project team have extended their activities to include engagement with Zimbabwe-based researchers in the UK (e.g., Edinburgh University and University of Glasgow). These activities will be further extended when disseminating findings from the UK-based arm of the project. With regards the research-related findings, a report from the a partner-development workshop has been made available (see project website), an extended literature review was submitted for publication in the interdisciplinary journal Social Science and Medicine (decision - revise and resubmit) and a book chapter published in an edited collection. Further dissemination of findings will include the submission of one further open access paper to an internationally recognised journal by the end of the calendar year. The findings from the project have also been presented to local policy makers (e.g., The Food and Nutrition Council, Zimbabwe) as well as to international NGOs (e.g., UNICEF).
Sectors Agriculture

Food and Drink

Communities and Social Services/Policy



Museums and Collections

Description Cornell Center for Social Sciences
Amount $12,000 (USD)
Organisation Cornell University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United States
Start 03/2022 
End 10/2022
Description New Frontiers in Research Fund - International Remitting for Resilience (R2)
Amount $2,401,993 (CAD)
Organisation Government of Canada 
Department SSHRC - Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
Sector Public
Country Canada
Start 03/2024 
End 02/2027
Description Queen Mary Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences Large Grant Seed-corn Funding
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Organisation Queen Mary University of London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2024 
End 07/2024
Description Queen Mary Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences Large Grant Seed-corn Funding
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Funding ID n/a 
Organisation Queen Mary University of London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2022 
End 07/2022
Description Remitting for Resilience 
Organisation Wilfrid Laurier University
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The involvement of Prof Kavita Datta (Co-PI) and myself (Co-applicant) in this collaboration, which includes an extensive network of researchers headed by Prof Jonathan Crush and involving co-PIs and co-applicants from 13 separate African and North American universities, draws on the expertise developed through the 'building transdisciplinary partnerships' grant and especially its focus on migration and nutrition in Zimbabwe and across the Zimbabwean diaspora in the UK. Prof Datta and I, contributed to the intellectual development of a successful application for a project entitled 'Remitting for Resilience (R2): Enhancing Food Security and Climate Adaptation Through Gender-Inclusive Migrant Remittances' to the Canadian New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF).
Collaborator Contribution The collaboration is headed by Prof Jonathan Crush who took the intellectual lead on developing the overall focus of the application to the New Frontiers in Research Fund and identified the partners (including ourselves) who were invited to participate.
Impact This collaboration is at the very early stages of its development and there are not outputs to report at this stage.
Start Year 2024
Description Zvitambo 
Organisation Zvitambo Institute for Maternal & Child Health Research
Country Zimbabwe 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution One of the main goals for this project is to extend and deepen Zvitambo's engagement with social science and humanities research, both conceptually and methodologically. Although the plans as originally outlined have been significantly disrupted by Covid-19, there are a number of ways in which this has been achieved to date and will be extended in the future: 1. Intellectual and methodological: Professor Datta (Co-I) and myself (PI) are experienced social science researchers with backgrounds in development and migration and health and development geographies respectively. Zvitambo is primarily established as a research institute with expertise in the biological and food sciences, and has extensive experience in quantitative research methodologies and other techniques relevant to the biological sciences. Through this project we are able to provide expert support in a range of qualitative methodologies relevant to our project, to other ongoing research, as well as to the development of subsequent programmes of research. 2. Skills development and mentoring of social science researchers: two Masters level social scientist researchers are employed on the project, one in a full-time capacity and another seconded from associated projects. Their roles on the project entail the development/extension of research skills under the guidance and supervision of the lead researchers, to date this includes: conducting literature reviews, policy analysis, and delivering in-person workshops. Outside of their specific project-related roles, both researchers have been supported through the process of gaining Honorary Researcher status at Queen Mary University of London. This provides them with access to resources (e.g., academic publications, career professional development training) that are difficult to access in Zimbabwe and also allows them to take part in on-line research activities of the School of Geography (which is a centre of research excellence). As project PI, I have discussed additional areas of training need and career development with the two researchers and will continue this though the project. 3. Partnership development: two streams of research activity (literature review and policy analysis) have helped to identify relevant academic partners working on or at the intersection of food security, population migration, and agriculture. Workshop events planned for April and May will help to extend the visibility of our main partner organisation as well as the project as they will include individuals and representatives from across these thematic areas.
Collaborator Contribution As the project's main research partner, Zvitambo performs a vital role in the management and delivery of this programme of research. The Institute has a well established research support team and provides support on all aspects of project management, including: 1. Budgeting and resource allocation: Zvitambo's finance director supports the project PI in ensuring that funds allocated to the project are effectively managed throughout the lifetime of the project. 2. Human resources and employment: Zvitambo's HR lead and research manager supported the project team in all stages of local recruitment and provide line-management in situ as well as the necessary resources to perform the role (desk space, internet connection, computer equipment etc). Zvitambo will facilitate the process for the PI and Co-I to obtain any necessary researcher status documentation with the relevant agencies in Zimbabwe. 3. Project planning: Zvitambo's research team have supported the project through the process of local (Zimbabwe) and UK ethics approval (including translation of project protocols and related documents) and through workshop and event planning (e.g., space hire, access to online services, refreshments etc). Further support is in place in readiness for fieldwork related to this project. 4. Partnership development: Zvitambo is a well established research institute and has provided access to important policy makers within Zimbabwe at national and district levels. To date these include the Ministry of Health and Child Care and Food and Nutrition Council. Workshops planned for April and May will extend this to other national and international agencies working around food and nutrition in Zimbabwe.
Impact N/A
Start Year 2019
Description Workshop 1 - Chimanimani 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact An in-person workshop event was delivered in partnership with another Zvitambo-based research project (Mad4MAD) with District stakeholders in Chimanimani between 30th November and 4th December 2020.

The four day event was supported by Zvitambo and the Ministry of Health and Child Care, and employed a participatory approach to engage key stakeholders in discussion around several interrelated topics:

1. Diet and nutrition status in Zimbabwe and Chimanimani - focusing on minimum acceptable diet (MAD), risk factors and health consequences

2. Food consumption and production practices - focusing on dietary norms, knowledge of traditional foods, migration and diets in transition, food security.

3. Diet and nutrition interventions - focusing on types of interventions, timing of interventions, sustainability and engagement.

The workshop provided an opportunity to explore questions around food cultures and migration with stakeholders in a District neighbouring the project's main study area (Shurugwi, Midlands District), to develop contact with potential partners (individuals and organisations) as well as to pilot topics and approaches.

All discussions at the workshop were recorded (and some were filmed), and these are currently being prepared (including translation where necessary) for subsequent analysis and write-up.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Workshop 2 - online 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact The goals for the workshop were to engage cross-disciplinary researchers and civil society organisations based in Zimbabwe in discussion around three dimensions of
food security: how it is conceptualised, the influence of mobility and migration, and the role of 'food cultures'. Discussion across these areas was facilitated by the researchers on the project and note-takers were employed to capture the main points for discussion. The workshop was recorded to ensure accuracy and allow for elaboration on key areas and a workshop report was produced and disseminated to participants via the project website. A total of 21 participants took part in the workshop which was delivered online via Zoom. The participants were a mixture of researchers from universities across the SADC region and UK and representatives of third sector organisations working within Zimbabwe.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021