CGIAR Gender

CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research

Connecting social and natural sciences: GRIT experiences from the field

By Eileen Nchanji (International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Nairobi, Kenya), Lilian Nkengla (International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, Bamako, Mali) and Susan Ajambo (Bioversity Internationa, Kampala, Uganda).

The Gender Research and Integrated Training (GRIT) program is a three-year collaborative program between Pennsylvania State University and CGIAR. This collaboration has led to various training courses aiming to see interdisciplinary teams integrate gender, get evidence (data), write proposals and papers and build future networks that strengthen the work and career of young scientists. For most of us GRIT trainees this year, what stood out was how social and natural scientists (e.g. breeders and seed system specialists) could work more efficiently together.

From the personal experiences of most gender fellows, we realised that connecting social and natural scientists is challenging. These scientists have different epistemologies and ontologies across and even within disciplines. This is echoed by Kockelmans op. (1979: 145-146): “Each individual discipline has developed its own general conceptual framework, its own set of theories and methods”. Even when researchers are working towards a shared goal, their processes and methodologies tend to differ. Structures in place defined by the discipline, research institution and donor requirements also shape some of the processes put in place to achieve these goals.

GRIT training (photo credit: )
GRIT training (photo credit: GRIT)

All three authors of this blog work for CGIAR and are social scientists who have had some experience working with natural scientists. Do we need a paper clip, glue, an office pin or clippers to keep these disciplines together? And what is the effect of this dynamic on our individual and joint work?

Experience 1: International Center for Tropical Agriculture/Pan African Bean Research Alliance (CIAT/PABRA)

In CIAT/PABRA, gender is integrated by design in all outcome areas (breeding, seed systems, nutrition, markets and climate services). What is challenging is that we work with many local partners (national agricultural institutes, non-governmental organizations, universities, private sector) who are expected to integrate gender in their work plans despite coming from different disciplines. To address this, we have year-round gender integration training: during regional meetings, national agricultural institute planning meetings etc. These training sessions are costly and cover a challenging set of 30 countries. Gender champions have been trained in all national agricultural institutes to continually interact and create trust-based relationships with other scientists and appreciate each other’s work. This has created a unified team spirit which makes our interventions efficient.

Experience 2: Bioversity International

Gender integration is a cross-cutting theme for all strategic research initiatives (healthy diets from sustainable food systems, productive and resilient farms, forests and landscapes and effective genetic resources conservation and use) at Bioversity International. In the Banana Bunchy Top Disease management project, we developed gender responsive guidelines, though it was challenging. The rationale for these guidelines, was to give scientists the opportunity to understand and appreciate what each other does, and to meet a larger goal as a team. Working across disciplines is challenging but the benefits of multi-disciplinary teams outweigh the efforts.

Experience 3: International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)

ICRISAT has as a mandate to integrate gender into all its research initiatives (crop improvement, integrated crop management, systems analysis and policy and impact). In the project ‘Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement of sorghum and millet in sub-Saharan Africa-phase II (HOPE II), we had to develop joint data collection protocols. Team members spanning different disciplines had to collaborate on that, and it was challenging. Through multiple sessions, team members had to understand and appreciate each other’s methods and scientific practice. This form of interdisciplinary collaboration has led to greater flexibility, interdependence, collective ownership and reflection on project goals and processes to ensure that all scientific perspectives are considered.


Interdisciplinary collaboration is a challenge. Each discipline has a distinct approach and mode of operation. However, the benefits of working collaboratively as a team are enormous. Bioversity International, CIAT/PABRA and ICRISAT work with partners to achieve their respective missions and ensure that gender is integrated in all their partner activities.

Is there one specific approach for linking gender with other disciplines in our work? What do we need? A paper clip that provides flexibility? A glue that sticks methods together? A pin that displays our different outputs or designs? A clipper that might put together information only on a discipline separate from others? Should we entertain flexible collaboration or not? At CIAT/PABRA we are revolutionalizing gender work. Instead of integrating gender in all our activities, we conceptualize our work as gender activities. Breeding, seed system, crop pest and disease management interventions are carried out to address gender issues. We think this approach should be adopted across the CGIAR.


Kockelmans, Joseph J. (ed.). op. 1979. Interdisciplinarity and higher education. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.