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At the cutting edge of research in food systems and emergency aid

The Research Council allocated NOK 22 million to two groundbreaking research projects at UiA. One is related to food systems, health, and wellbeing; and the other to how we can provide responsible digital emergency aid to people in crisis.

Wim van Daele and Hossein Baharmand, photo
PROJECT LEADERS: Associate professors Wim van Daele (left) and Hossein Baharmand lead the two groundbreaking research projects that the Research Council has supported with a total of NOK 22 million.

The two projects received the funding through the Research Council’s Researcher Project scheme. The purpose is to promote renewal and development in research within all disciplines and thematic areas in Norway. The projects that receive support will contribute to important new insights in international research.

Hans Kjetil Lysgård, foto

Hans Kjetil Lysgård

“This is great. The Research Council supports two good and important research projects with this. It will  be very interesting to follow the progress, and not least see what they come up with”, says Vice Rector for Research and Interdisciplinary Projects Hans Kjetil Lysgård.

Food, health, and quality of life

One of the research projects is titled ‘EATWELL: A Comparative Material Semiotic Ethnography of Food Systems and More-than-Human Health in Bhutan’. It aims to do cutting-edge research on food systems: the steps from farm to fork; food processes; and how these are interwoven with culture, environment, health, and wellbeing.

The project, which starts on 1 January 2022, has received NOK 12 million from the Research Council. It includes two doctoral/postdoctoral research fellowships, five research positions in Norway - three at UiA, one at UiO and one at OsloMet - and three research positions at three different universities in Bhutan. The project has a duration of six years

“The main goal is to develop a holistic approach to an interweaving of food systems, food processes, culture, environment, health and wellbeing, where we start in a quite different place than we usually do”, says project manager and Associate Professor Wim van Daele at UiA’s Department of Nutrition and Public Health.

Slagord på en husvegg i Thimpu, foto

GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS: Slogan on a wall in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. (Photo: Wikipedia)

He says that the starting point is the small country of Bhutan in South Asia. The country is known for the concept ‘Gross National Happiness’, a term coined by the fourth King of Bhutan in 1972. This governance framework - which is rooted in Buddhism - is used instead of Gross National Product to integrate the various social, economic, cultural, political, and environmental aspects of Bhutan’s development in a holistic way. Today, the concept is used in the UN’s work for greater focus on happiness in global development. It has also affected the UN’s sustainability goals.

“This is what we want to do: We want to be inspired by other ways of life and views to decentralise the prevailing universalising biological narrative on health, nutrition and the environment. We want to expand the nutritional concept of ‘diet’ in the direction of ‘food’. We will develop new methods to study food, health and the environment that include interdisciplinary collaboration between nutritionists, biologists and anthropologists. And we want to establish a mutual and enriching exchange between Bhutanese approaches to food, health and happiness, and our more familiar Western ways of looking at this”, says Wim van Daele.

Responsible use of digital refugee assistance

The second research project, ‘DigCBA: Responsible Use of Digital Cash-based Assistance in Refugee Crises’, pushes at the research edge of emergency aid, specifically how to digitally transfer money to refugees in crisis-stricken areas to help them pay for necessary products and services.

The three-year project, which starts on 1 December this year, received NOK 10 million from the Research Council. It includes one postdoctoral position and engages researchers at UiA’s Centre for Integrated Emergency Management (CIEM) and the School of Business and Law at UiA. Researchers at NTNU; Hanken School of Economics, Finland; the University of Münster; and Makerere University, Uganda are also involved in the project.

The backdrop is the world’s 82.4 million people who are fleeing war and natural disasters. They receive various forms of assistance from a number of private and public organisations. One of the measures consists of cash transfers, to enable refugees to cover expenses for their basic needs for a certain period of time - whether it is toiletries, food, clothes, or other items.

Kvinne med papirer i bod, foto

DIGNITY: Most refugees live in environments where they have access to markets and services. Providing refugees with cash will enable them to meet their needs in a dignified manner and contribute to the local economy. (Photo: UNCHR)

“Digital technology, in the form of mobile money, electronic vouchers or cash, and blockchain-based transfers, strengthens the potential of cash transfers where this is possible by increasing people’s access to financial resources and services in times of crisis. It increases the efficiency of the aid provided, and also saves transfer costs that can be allocated elsewhere”, says project manager and Associate Professor Hossein Baharmand at UiA’s Department of Working Life and Innovation.

“Our project explores how new types of digital cash-based assistance can be developed and used responsibly. We focus on the design, development and evaluation of evidence-based frameworks for this type of assistance. Through this, we help to ensure that decision-makers, in aid organisations and among donors, make informed decisions about the use of digital cash transfers, while also taking into account the recipients, the situation they are in and their familiarity with this type of technology”, he says.

The project has a clear stakeholder-centred approach that addresses the needs of recipients, humanitarian organisations, international and local NGOs, donors, and business partners, while pushing the boundaries of responsible use of digital technology for money transfers to people in crisis areas.