2016 Fall Borlaug LEAP fellow Dadirai Fundira is a PhD candidate in International Nutrition at Cornell University. She hails from Zimbabwe, which is among the countries with the lowest food security due to widespread poverty stemming from significant economic issues over the past decade. A majority of the population has limited access to food and often lacks sufficient knowledge on how to use the food they do have access to maximize nutrition. Dadirai is currently investigating the impact of behavior change communication strategies and lipid based nutrient supplementation on infant feeding practices and nutrient intake in children 0-18 months. She is also assessing the impact of a novel intervention to minimize fecal oral contamination in children. Her research uses qualitative methods to understand processes at the household level that influence behavior change. She aims to understand how behavior change strategies impacts decision-making, time and daily routines and explore decision-making trajectories that can be leveraged to improve household decisions around food security and sanitation.
Prior to joining the graduate program at Cornell, Dadirai worked as a research assistant for a large Sanitation Hygiene Infant Nutrition Efficacy (SHINE) trial in Zimbabwe where she helped lead the development and implementation of intervention strategies to improve infant feeding and hygiene behaviors in two districts in rural Zimbabwe. Within the project itself she trained, provided support, and supervised a team of thirty-two research nurses, a role that challenged and strengthened her leadership capacities. She has also had the opportunity to work on other research projects, including one that sought to strengthen capacity in delivering nutrition interventions in Tanzania and another that investigated the acceptability of interventions to reduce fecal-oral contamination in children in Zambia. Experiences with these various projects led her to pursue graduate studies in order to gain expertise and skills to critically assess the impact of these projects.
During her fellowship, Dadirai will be working with Dr. Rebecca Stoltzfus, a professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University. Dr. Stoltzfus has more than twenty years of experience in the field of maternal and child nutrition and will provide overall guidance needed for Dadirai’s research. Dadirai will also be working with a CGIAR mentor Dr. Deanna Olney, who currently serves a theme co-leader for Nutrition-Sensitive Programs in IFPRI’s Poverty, Health, and Nutrition Division. Dr. Olney has extensive experience in evaluating integrated nutrition programs. Her work has included comprehensive evaluations of nutrition-sensitive programs to examine their impacts on maternal and child health, nutrition and well-being outcomes, how they are achieved and in some cases, their cost. Dr. Olney will provide mentorship and guidance, based on Dadirai’s needs during fieldwork. Both Dr. Stoltzfus and Dr. Olney will also help establish and strengthen networking and contacts future research and collaborations. Dadirai expects to complete her PhD in 2019.