Gender Approaches in Agricultural Research

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Participatory approaches to agricultural research can be more beneficial if they give special emphasis to the involvement of women in the dialog. The case of Malawi is instructive about the benefits of taking into account the viewpoints of rural women in both research and extension:

throughout the 1980s and early 1990s uptake of . .. improved maize varieties was disappointing. . .. the vast numbers of farmers producing maize for home consumption were reluctant to adopt them for several reasons. They required expensive fertilizers and pesticides to grow successfully which women and poor farmers could not afford, they were not as drought resistant as local varieties of maize and hence posed a risk to food security, they were much harder to store and pound into meal so placed extra demands on women's scarce time and they did not have the favored taste characteristics of local maize which women knew their family preferred.. . .

In the late 1990s the Malawi Government . . . successfully re-oriented its research and extension activities to take into account the above problems. Research has successfully focused on developing an improved maize that has the taste, storage and pounding features of local maize and its uptake has prompted comments [that Malawi is experiencing a] 'delayed green revolution'.107

Although a gender orientation is still not widely used in agricultural research, the FAO's

SEAGA Macro Manual (2001) cites other examples in which it has been successfully employed:

In Peru the International Potato Center is testing and improving staple food crops grown by women in Africa, such as the sweet potato, to find combinations of early maturity and high yield with a degree of drought tolerance. Such crops are often used by women during periods of famine and shortage and are eaten before the main harvest or when the staple harvest is poor.

In the Côte d'Ivoire the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) has been conducting surveys to identify the preferences of men and women in adopting improved rice varieties. They found that while men prefer short statured high-yielding varieties, women are reluctant to grow these varieties due to the difficulties of harvesting them with infants on their back. In response WARDA has shifted its research emphasis towards the development of medium to tall statured varieties.

In Burkino Faso the study of gender dynamics of irrigation led to the adoption of appropriate technology that boosted production possibilities for women and the poor. Small dams for irrigation were introduced enabling the planting of trees for fruit and firewood as well as providing a convenient supply of domestic water. A training package was also introduced covering technical, organizational, credit and input uptake and marketing skills. This enables the technology to benefit all members of the community and household.108

As these examples show, incorporating a gender focus in agricultural research is not difficult but it requires a sustained commitment on the part of research institutions. An important starting point is the carrying out of a gender analysis of new and existing technologies. Another is the identification of rural women's activities. They vary by context but often include post-harvest and marketing activities, the cultivation of staples and/or vegetables, weeding field crops, breeding and raising small livestock, collection of water and fuelwood, and many other domestic chores. A participatory emphasis in the research program helps identify these activities and the ways in which women's labor can be made more productive. Of the 249 CIALs operating as of 2000, 7% were women-only and 37% were mixed in gender.109

Gender-sensitive research can generate household and field technologies that liberate women's time for more productive activities by reducing the labor demands of some of these tasks. The potential benefits of better household technologies were quantified for the case of Burkina Faso in the study by Lawrence et al. cited in Section 8.2 above. Research can also be directed towards improving the yields of crops that women typically produce and the efficiency of activities such as post-harvest management that they typically engage in.

It always is necessary to accompany agricultural research with infrastructure investments, programs of enhanced access to land, and other efforts directed towards improving the farmers' resource base, but this is especially true for women farmers. In studying factors that determine the rate of technology adoption among women farmers in Ghana, Doss and Morris concluded that:

On the whole, these results from Ghana suggest that technology adoption decisions depend primarily on access to resources rather than on gender per se. This conclusion should be interpreted with caution, however, because it does not necessarily mean that modern varieties and fertilizer are gender-neutral technologies. If adoption of modern varieties and/or fertilizer depend on access to land, labor or other resources, and if, in a particular context, men tend to have better access to these resources than women, then in that context, the technologies will not benefit men and women equally. Policy changes thus may be needed to

108. Ibid.

increase women's access to the key resources; alternatively, it may be desirable to modify research efforts by deliberately targeting technologies that are particularly suited for the resources that are available to women. The bottom line is that it is important to examine both the technology itself and the physical and institutional context in which the technology is implemented. . . .110

On the one hand, this is a reminder of the value of a holistic approach to agricultural and rural development, and on the other hand it suggests the potential scope for re-orienting at least part of the effort of agricultural research in each country, to take better account of gender-related factors that influence the rate of adoption of new technologies.

Above all, a gender-sensitive research program requires a continuing effort to maintain adequate channels of communication with women farmers, and this requires changes both in the way research is carried out and in the ways that extension services are organized and operate.

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