Better pest management by understanding gender differences

Better pest management by understanding gender differences

Interdisciplinary teams of scientists across the CGIAR’s Roots, Tubers and Bananas Program (RTB) studied how women and men perceive and manage pests and diseases differently and how this matters in the adoption of crop protection technologies. Without considering gender, innovations will not reach all farmers.  A gender perspective can enhance the design and scaling of pest and disease management technologies.

Training trainers in OFSP production, multiplication, pests and diseases management in Kasungu. E. Abidin (CIP)

Understanding gender can help design better pest management programs. Women farmers often have their way of seeing and managing pests, that may differ from those of men. 

Men may have attended more years of formal schooling, where they learned to read and speak the national language. Training for women may require a female facilitator who can create a comfortable environment for women, by speaking in the local language. 

Women work longer hours than men, so there is a need to avoid new technologies that demand more labor. Labor-saving techniques, like pheromone traps, can be used. 

Even when men and women grow different crops, they can interact in unforeseen ways. For example, in the East African highlands, men usually manage the banana crop, while women oversee the climbing beans that grow up the banana plants. If only men learn to control banana Xanthomonas wilt by removing the diseased stems, they may uproot the women’s bean plants. Therefore, women need to be involved in banana disease management training, even if they are not directly in charge of banana production. Based on these findings, the teams working on banana disease management are developing new strategies to ensure that women receive training, even if they are not directly in charge of banana production.

Female banana-farmers, like this widow in Isingiro district, Uganda, have their own needs, assets and knowledge. A.Rietveld (Alliance)

Pests can even lend themselves to different management strategies, according to the gendered division of labor. For example, in southern Ethiopia, men control millipede pests in sweetpotato by planting early, because men do the plowing, while women hand kill the pests while inspecting the fields.

In Southeast Asia, where cassava is a cash crop of the poor, widows have less money than other farmers and are less inclined to invest in clean seed to manage disease. Some programs are now offering specific support to female-headed households to understand their attitudes towards clean seed, and to help them overcome constraints so they can use it.

“RTB research and interventions have shown that technologies for crop protection are widely available, but appropriate approaches to introduce these technologies are missing. Understanding gender norms and relations is a first step to increase adoption of the technologies,” explains Nozomi Kawarazuka, RTB gender cluster leader. 

By looking deeply at the world of men and women, we learn to see the people behind the crops, with their own needs, assets and knowledge. Men and women farm differently. They have different access to cash, information, labor and land. They may grow different crops and have different tasks on farm. These and other differences give women farmers their own perspective on crop pests and diseases. This understanding is helping to develop and share technologies that respond to the needs of female and male growers of root, tuber and banana crops, so that everyone can improve their pest and disease management. 

Pheromone trap for potato tuber moth in a potato field in Kabale, Uganda. J. Okonya (CIP)