Building Blocks: Learning from Gender Studies to Close Gaps

“Gender” has become quite a buzzword in development circles these days. This is increasingly evident with prominent publications by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the emergence of the new UN Women. Though at the moment this topic may be en vogue, the long-time neglected issues related to gender are important blocks missing in the bridge from agricultural research to practice. It was therefore encouraging to see several posters at this year’s Tropentag conference conveying the multi-faceted nature of gender-sensitive approaches and issues. Poster Session I For instance, labour demands and access to resources and information are major constraints that Karoline Hemminger, from Wageningen University, has seen emerge through her research. At a poster session, she presented a conceptual framework on how gender relations affect agricultural research and vice-versa. The draws on a woman’s time are many and often not fully considered – from household activities (e.g. cooking, collecting firewood and water) to caring for children (especially where HIV has left many orphans) to taking over men’s tasks when they migrate to cities. Hemminger notes that there is substantial anecdotal evidence of gender differences, such as women occupying less fertile land parcels; but more work is necessary to quantify the scale of the disparity. Obtaining information and inputs are also often cited as hurdles for women in farming. Pawan Kumar, representing the S.M. Sehgal Foundation in India, showed that yields and incomes increased in response to trainings, field days, and site visits that improved access to scientific information on agricultural practices. While only a year into the project, the results also speak to the benefits of more collaborative research between academic institutions and domestic organizations. During Tropentag this year, we tried identifying ways to connect technical research and to the on-the-ground efforts addressing diminishing natural resources. What is interesting is that some of the research itself identifies keys to forming those connections. The technical knowledge of agricultural systems is a vital element, but these studies focusing on gender uncover the social factors and mechanisms to be considered as complementing technical understanding. According to Hemminger, “Researchers are willing…the needs or interests [of practitioners and researchers] are different, but complementary, working towards the same goals.” Perhaps “gender issues” can become more than a passing buzzword, and rather a means to bridge the gap.


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