Building Equity in Agriculture and Markets (BEAM)

Case Studies
Food Security, Gender, Agriculture
Helen Keller International (HKI) - Bangladesh
South Asia
Resource Publication Date:
October, 2013
Content Format:

This is one of 50 Harvesting Nutrition project case studies. Harvesting Nutrition was a contest held in 2012 and 2013 that showcased active projects working to improve the impact of agriculture and/or food security on nutrition outcomes. Co-sponsors were SecureNutrition, Save the Children UK, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Learn More.

Project Description: ​

The BEAM vision is that of a revised model of Homestead Food Production (HFP), which puts gender equity at the centre of the livelihood strategy, creates expanded market opportunities for women, and deliberately seeks to transform gender relations at household and community level.  BEAM focuses on three components: 1) standard HFP package, including gardening, poultry and goat rearing; 2) the Essential Nutrition Action package, accompanied by a specific gender training and intra-household communications at community level; and 3) a set of "life skills" activities aimed at strengthening the social capital and cohesiveness of the Village Model Farmers (VMFs) groups. The ultimate goal of the project is to empower women food producers through a nutrition-sensitive approach that builds women’s food security, bargaining power within the household, and ability to access and negotiate markets. For this purpose, BEAM has established 200 VMFs who will work with groups of 20 beneficiaries each, covering a total beneficiary population of 4,200 women in two upazila of the Nilphamari district.

However, in its 35 years of program implementation in Bangladesh, HKI has found that young mothers have limited ability to act on new knowledge, due to their low status in the household and heavy work burdens. Effective behavior change requires the involvement and commitment of more influential household members and community leaders, especially husbands and mothers-in-law (MILs). To accomplish this, HKI has introduced an innovative method in the country by developing an integrated gender-nutrition manual, "Building Communities of Care", which targets not only young women, but also their husbands and mothers-in-law.

Impact of project:

​HKI has recognized the importance of involving all family members to address gender-based discrimination within the household to bring about change, and is unique in implementing it in Bangladesh. The manual is inspired by the peer-based “Stepping Stones” approach developed in Africa, successful in helping communities talk about the gender-power relations that are underlying causes of HIV/AIDS transmission. "Building Communities of Care" also draws on approaches developed through HKI’s integrated gender and nutrition interventions, which have been used over decades of programming in Bangladesh to empower women in improving the nutrition of themselves and their children.

The aim of our training manual is to create a safe space and structured activities for communities, where wives, husbands and mothers-in law can directly discuss and challenge existing intra-household inequalities that underlie food insecurity and malnutrition. While the manual is oriented around nutrition and food security problems, it also builds skills in communication, assertiveness, and problem-solving to share mediated perspectives on gender-related problems. This innovative curriculum is simple to use, easily adaptable, fun and brings change by challenging cultural and traditional norms at their basis. As it addresses gender constraints on multiple aspects for social change, it is appropriate for inclusion in programs across sectors.

Why this project is a Good Practice example: ​

Discriminatory gender norms result in high rates of women’s malnutrition across social classes, as well as poor infant and young child feeding practices. For example, even in times of mild household food scarcity, adult women are almost always the first – and often the only ones – to reduce their consumption.

To improve women’s and children’s nutrition outcomes, including dietary diversity and knowledge of maternal self-care and infant/young child feeding practices, HKI puts a strong focus on women’s empowerment. However, women's empowerment cannot be achieved by targeting women only: in order to have effective behavior change, all main household members need to be aware of the benefits of improved nutrition of their women, especially during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as well as of their children. In "Building Communities of Care", this understanding takes place while challenging existing cultural and traditional norms that are often an obstacle to good practices for health and nutrition.

To maximize the nutrition impact, the curriculum has been integrated within an appropriate model for HFP in BEAM, which encouraged: 1) the production of both indigenous and new vegetable varieties rich in nutrients; 2) the rearing of local chickens in confinement to improve household food security and nutrition;  3) women’s market access, nutrition and gender integration; and 4) women's empowerment.

The combination of these two components has guaranteed improved access to diversified foods among target households and increased income; as well as nutritional status through market access, especially over a short period of time. 

Impact Evaluation:

Impact evaluation in progress

Lessons Learned: ​

Key challenges:

  1. Language and understanding: when adapting the manual, it is important to use the local words and idiomatic expressions that are typical of the area of implementation.
  2. It is essential that staff is aware of and well acquainted with the difference between facilitating and teaching.
  3. Time: at least two full weeks are required for the training of facilitators; and up to six months for a proper implementation of the curriculum.

Key learning:

  1. It is best to have one week break in between each session in every community, so that participants have time to practice the learning.
  2. Sessions should not run for longer than 2-2, ½ hours in order not to overload participants with information and ensure that they do not interfere significantly with their daily activities.
  3. Female beneficiaries expressed that involving their husbands and MIL in this curriculum has had a positive impact on relations within the household. Women are now more supported in their household tasks, more respected, and more involved in key household decisions.
  4. The adaptation in a completely different context requires pilot-testing in the field. In our experience, differences were noticed even among community groups within the same union, however of different religious and traditional groups.


Funders: Oxfam-Novib

Primary Contact: Ramona Ridolfi, Gender Advisor

Country: Bangladesh

Project Dates: August 2011 to December 2013

Interventions: Incorporate explicit nutrition objectives and indicators, Assess the context at the local level, Target the vulnerable and improve equity, Empower women, Facilitate production diversification, Expand markets and market access for vulnerable groups, Incorporate nutrition promotion and education,

Target Population: Women,

Project Stage: Ongoing activities

Geographic Coverage: Village/Municipality