The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Nutrition hosted its 4th Annual Scientific Symposium this year at Hotel Yak and Yeti in Nepal this summer. The symposium, funded by USAID, was co-organized and hosted by the Lab’s collaborating institution Johns Hopkins University, Tufts University and in-country partners, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), Nepal Agricultural Research Council, and the Nepali Technical Assistance Group. Suraj Gurau, a MPHN student from IOM who volunteered with the execution of the symposium, and Arvin Saleh, an undergraduate from JHU who interned with the secretariat in preparation of the symposium, share their collective thoughts and experiences from the symposium and its preparations.
Looking back at the moment I was given the chance to be part of the symposium’s organizing committee, I realize that I had no idea what I was walking into. I had extensive experience in event management, but a scientific symposium was a different ball game. Like any other event, a consistent theme is key in executing the purpose and mission of the symposium. However, as the speakers are presenting their own individual work, I learned that it was paramount to select abstracts that not only support the theme and harmonize with all the other entries but also to select abstracts with scientific rigor. This meant that as organizers, we needed clarity in our vision of what the programming outputs of the symposium should be.
Incorporating the work of experts in many different fields was challenging; we had to ensure that the overarching theme and purpose of the symposium was understood so that all presentations were relevant and resonated with each other. The collaboration between policy makers, donors, the scientific community, and other stakeholders was reflected in the working partnerships behind the scenes and illustrated to us students the complexity that is the field of the agriculture-nutrition-health research. Being part of the committee provided unparalleled firsthand exposure to the key players of the field and irreplaceable memories and experience in organizing large-scale scientific events.
This year’s symposium “Minding the Gaps along the Agriculture-to-Nutrition Pathway” highlighted ongoing studies in Nepal and the potential that they have to contribute to developing the evidence base for the linkages between agriculture and nutrition. It addressed new technologies being used in Nepal, such as a crop yield forecasting tool. Similarly, interesting studies such as linkages of transportation development and child nutrition served to emphasize the need for a multi-faceted approach to improve nutrition. This was also an opportunity to learn about the methodologies used to evaluate ongoing nutrition projects in Nepal. Moreover, the findings of studies related to food safety, food security and food production were enriching in that they emphasized the role of agriculture to pave the way for better nutrition. The symposium also included lectures on dietary assessments as well as poster presentations. The lectures illuminated how the challenging task of dietary assessment can be systematically practiced in order to develop evidence. I learned that from the poster presentation that information could be effectively disseminated and shared, and that feedback was easily obtainable at events such as the symposium, and this truly encouraged me to pursue further studies in nutrition and its complementary fields, particularly agriculture.
The symposium was a real eye opener for us to see the many facets of nutrition and the linkages that could be built via other sectors such as agriculture. The variety of presentations were suggestive of where the gaps lay and how these could be addressed. The many months of preparation did not remove stress from the equation of an organizer. Even with all the preparations and precautions, only friends being pillars of support brought us through. The symposium was over in the blink of an eye, leaving only joy that we pulled it off. As students, it was an honor to have been part of what was, hopefully, an irreplaceable learning platform.
Suraj Gurau, Master’s student in Public Health Nutrition, Tribhuvan University
Arvin Saleh, B.Sc. student in Public Health and Molecular Biology, Johns Hopkins University
Photo credits: Arvin Saleh