Originally published at: http://humidtropics.cgiar.org/gender-and-technology-development-at-the-crossroads-in-ethiopia/
Farmer Etafa and his wife standing in their plot of Rhodes grass.
When farmer Bultu Etefa was told that she must look after her cattle and the family while maintaining natural resources, she did something interesting: she joined the training delivered at wereda level on fodder production. Now she is among a group of smallholder farmers behind various efforts under Humidtropics to improve livestock feeds. She said, “Fodder is useful to the women who control over the use and sell of milk products in the community. It brings significant changes in both quality and quantity of milk. I sell butter myself and use the money for whatever purpose on my discretion”.
Gender differentiated technology is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, most technologies are developed and tailored according to the stereotyped roles of men and women in society. Men and women’s use of and associations with technology reflect their major roles within the farming system, inter and intra-household relationships.
The farmer field day and Innovation Platform meeting organized in Arjo Kabele, Diga Woreda, last September, provided an opportunity to explore perceptions of men and women farmers about the technologies and practices being tested to promote sustainable intensification. Diga is one of Humidtropics' Field Sites in Ethiopia facing high levels of land degradation, serious soil erosion and loss of soil fertility as well as unstable land use and market failure challenges. Since early 2014, improved maize, fodder, teff and orange fleshed sweet potato are new farming technologies that have been tested in Diga under the framework of Soil and Water Conservation (using soil structures) to enhance crop productivity and animal feed availability. The technologies are implemented in an integrated manner and promoted by ILRI in collaboration with IWMI, CIP, local universities and research institutions. Our goal during the farmer field day and Innovation Platform meeting was to observe and explore the implications of these technologies on gender relations within the households, and their potential to increase crop productivity, rehabilitate soil fertility and improve livestock feed availability in these areas. This blog presents the insights focusing on gender perspectives such as women and men’s participation, their role in the Program and the lessons learned; captured during the events.
Farmers’ Representation and Women Participation
About 30 farmers (18 male and 12 female) are participating in maize technology development, 28 (22 male and 6 female) are participating in fodder development, 21 male farmers are engaged with teff technology development while 20 (9 male and 11 female) are participating in an orange fleshed sweet potato adaptation trial. Only one of the female farmers is widowed and she is participating in fodder development. Interviews were conducted to capture farming stories from four farmers participating in maize and fodder interventions including two men and two women. All the interviewees were married and this enabled us to explore the gender dynamics within households with both the adult male and adult female.
Discussions with the farmers revealed that more women have taken over fodder development and management since they are responsible for feeding animals kept at home while the men are more involved in maize and teff technology development, which are income generating activities and require cultivation of land by oxen. Except for teff technology development, women’s participation is apparent. The interviews generated a mixed pattern of decision making including both joint and individual, with men and women exercising dominance in different domains. Although women participants tend to dominate decisions on milk, men are dominant when making decisions on allocation of the most critical production resources such as land.
When asked who would decide if they were to continue with the innovations, the male fodder farmer, Leta Tuge, boldly revealed that he was the one to decide what to implement and what resource to allocate. The female fodder farmer, Bultu Etefa responded in a similar way saying, “Although I have opinions to be considered, my husband is the main person behind decisions. In most cases, he is the one deciding which technology to adopt and what land to allocate. However, I solely made decisions on milk and use of proceeds from sale of milk products.” In addition, older children in the family also participated in decision making. All these facts imply that although women are spearheading adoption of fodder technologies as observed in the sites, their ability to move forward is very much determined by the husbands’ acceptance of the technology and willingness to allocate land to fodder development. This has implications on adoption of this technology by women and sustainability of the intervention.
Outcomes of the Interventions
On fodder production: According to the informants, the fodder intervention can bring better quality and quantity of milk and dairy products for market. In the community, women have control over the use and sale of milk products. They do not have a tradition of selling fresh milk. Farmer Etafa noted that “she used to extract two cups in two weeks but after the introduction of the technology she is getting four cups. She sells each cup at 12 birr and can have 48 birr every two weeks. She added that “women are also responsible for taking care of the calves so having more fodder is helping to keep their calves healthy and mature faster. Since they now have enough feed, definitely they want to have improved breeds as productivity of their local cattle is low”. Etafa would like to expand the fodder field. She reported that: “I want to expand the fodder up to 0.25 hectare but land is a limiting factor. As my husband is also happy we have a plan to decrease a small portion of land from our maize plot and use it to grow fodder. The benefit from fodder is better, it saves us from selling our cattle” (Farmer Etafa, Sept 22, 2014).
In addition to this, the male fodder farmer (Leta Tuge) also reported that: “for the last two years I have been benefiting from the fodder intervention. Recently I have started fattening oxen for sale. Last season I bought 5 oxen for 4000 birr each and after they ploughed for one season, I fattened them with the available feed and sold them for 8000 birr each. I now bought another 5 oxen and they are being fattened”. At the time of reporting, the farmer has enough fodder (Desho and Rhodes grass) on land close to 2 hectares, his primary plan is to have more productive cattle breeds. He has some of his local cows artificially inseminated with a “FerenjKebt” (Holstein Friesian) and if the result is as he expects, he will even be happier with the fodder intervention.
The men and women farmers interviewed were very happy to be involved in fodder development which has and is expected to increase the quality of livestock, save families from selling cattle due to feed shortage and save women’s time spent looking for feed.
On soil and water conservation and raw planting: Farmers and the research team observed significant differences in maize performance on plots with and without soil and water conservation structures. The plots with terraces were greener and the maize cobs were bigger in size compared to the maize on plots without terraces. Both men and women farmers whose plots have soil and water conservation structures expect to get a good harvest which will improve food security and income while conserving soil and water, the essence of the intervention.
The project exemplifies the simultaneous consideration of men and women’s roles in agriculture, and giving due consideration to both. In the maize experiments, the emphasis on soil and water conservation structures, and planting fodder to reinforce the bunds caters for both men and women’s role in the households. Women are able to utilize the space between the plots to grow fodder.
Challenges Experienced and Envisaged from Using the Technologies
Although all farmers interviewed appreciated the technologies and expressed interest to continue using them, they are facing major challenges irrespective of gender differences which need to be tackled. These include:
- Shortage of land to expand fodder production, mostly amongst female farmers who have less control over allocation of land;
- Lack of pure improved maize seed;
- Livestock disease, limited access to and availability of veterinary services as well as high cost of the services and medicine;
- Lack of credit facilities to buy fertilizer and rent land which can have adverse impact on the expansion of maize and fodder production;
Farmer Ayantu showcasing her Desho grass planted in the backyard.
The technologies are time and labor intensive, mostly in digging trenches, making soil bunds and application of fertilizer. In this regard, the female farmer stated that: “The technology demands more of my time. I applied nitrogen 3 times (during planting, after 30 days and before flowering). It takes much time. I also planted haricot beans between rows and it takes time. This year, we planted half a hectare of improved maize and in the coming year, it’s going to expand to one hectare. I am worried about the amount of fertilizer, seed and the number of fertilizer applications required (Ayantu Abraham, maize female farmer, Arijo kabele, Sept 22, 2014). Ayantu was more concerned about the inability to access fertilizer compared to the male farmer. Farmers who practice terraces and row planting methods are obliged to work extra hours compared to the traditional practices. Wakishum, the male maize farmer overcomes the challenge of labor demand by hiring labor, while Ayantu the female maize farmer does all the work by herself, although the children helped in weeding. This is proving to be a constraining factor for women without extra help e.g. the widowed, which is one of the reason that women without husbands and children to help might not adopt it (Ulfina Shiferaw, Diga Wereda Administrator, Sept. 22, 2014).
The labor concern was also raised by the male teff growing farmers visited. Although teff farmers where not our major focus, documenting their perceptions about labor demand posed by planting teff in rows gives additional insights into the issue. All the aforementioned observations imply that adoption of agricultural intensification practices increases women’s workload which suggests that sustainable intensification interventions might not be gender neutral. Therefore projects promoting adoption of sustainable intensification practices need to be cautious about the undesired gender related outcomes by conducting gender analysis to identify gendered constraints, assess the consequences of the interventions, prioritize for action, monitor and evaluate the success of interventions. Linking farmers to better markets will provide an avenue for men and women farmers to further re-invest in the interventions such as hiring labor and purchase of other inputs. Participants agreed to continue the dialogue and exchange of ideas.
Blog by Annet Mulema, Social Scientist - Gender, ILRI; Elias Damtew and Tamene Temesgen, both Research Technicians, ILRI. Photos by Desalegne Tadesse/IWMI.