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MyCQU - News Article

News Article

CQU project to empower Fijian women through dietary diversity

Published:02 September 2020

Dr Cathy O'Mullan and Ms Melanie Ohl (TOP) are two of the researchers working on a dietary diversity project in Fiji (BOTTOM)

CQUniversity researchers in Public Health, Agriculture and Nutrition have collaborated on an international project to empower the lives of Fijian women with the potential to strengthen food security, health outcomes and maximise economic impacts.

Public Health Senior Lecturer, Cathy O'Mullan explained the project was developed after a recent research project undertaken by CQUni alumnus Lydia O’Meara, supervised by Dr Sue Williams - Senior Lecturer in Nutrition, highlighted food disparities in the region.

“Lydia’s research revealed that rural Fijian households who sell produce for income experience low dietary diversity due to seasonal fluctuations in crop production and revenue.

“In response, we hope to develop interventions to support dietary diversity. Our research extends the work led by agricultural scientist Professor Phil Brown around low-cost greenhouse production systems to increase vegetable production.”

Both Dr O'Mullan and Dr Williams believed that the current multidisciplinary research approach would work to achieve a better and more sustainable future for Fijian communities across multiple United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“Goal 2, for example, seeks sustainable solutions to achieve food security and improve nutrition,” Dr O'Mullan said.

Dr Williams explained that the arrival of COVID-19 has further exacerbated food security challenges.

"Immediate action is required to mitigate the impact. Tackling such challenges requires a multi-dimensional, integrated research approach.”

Research Higher Degree student Melanie Ohl joined the team recently to undertake her Master's degree. Last month, she was awarded a prestigious Crawford Fund Scholarship aimed at building the next generation of Australian researchers in international agriculture development.

The scholarship funds will be used to support research work in Fiji and incorporate her expertise in household gender roles and food-related responsibilities to the project.

“I am extremely passionate about gender equity and improving the health and livelihoods of women and girls.

“My research Supporting families to improve dietary diversity: A Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach in rural Fijian farming communities will develop capacity-building activities that support dietary diversity and gender inclusion in Fijian farming households."

Ms Ohl explained that her interest in gender inclusion and women's empowerment grew in 2018 after she received a Global Voices scholarship to attend the Commission of the Status of Women at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

“It was a privilege to attend the United Nations conferences. I was inspired by the amazing people from diverse backgrounds working towards the same goals to enhance gender equity.

“It provided the opportunity to reflect on Australia’s privileges in comparison to other countries such as Fiji, which in turn motivated me to work in international health promotion initiatives," Ms Ohl said.

“Building capacity among rural farming families has the potential to empower women into agricultural activities to improve their skills, knowledge, and nutrition."

CQU Institute for Future Farming System Director Prof Phil Brown agreed in the importance of integrating social impact initiatives within agricultural development projects.

“Our previous research has shown that greenhouse production can increases crop yield and quality, and more importantly allow vegetables to be produced all year round, but positive nutrition outcomes for farmers and their families don’t automatically happen.

“A multidisciplinary approach that integrates practical farming developments with culturally appropriate strategies to deliver broad community developments is highly desirable.”