Employing Gender-Responsive Research in Plant Health: Breaking Barriers at the Gender and Plant Health Workshop

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Global scientists converged in Nairobi for a two-day workshop on gender and plant health hosted by International Potato Center (CIP). Starting on November 22, 2023, it gathered 34 participants from 6 research teams across 16 countries. This gathering aimed to share insights from interdisciplinary case studies and seek to identify alternative approaches to address gender-related challenges in plant health. 

Employing Gender-Responsive Research in Plant Health: Breaking Barriers at the Gender and Plant Health Workshop

Dr. Nozomi Kawarazuka, a social scientist with the International Potato Center and the gender lead for CGIAR Plant Health Initiative, said “the value of this workshop is that biophysical and social scientists from across the globe share their expertise and contribute to providing insights and developing recommendations for gender-responsive plant health interventions, which can transform not only plant health research but also future extension work.”

Nozomi Kawarazuka speaking at the workshop. (credit: Regine Joy Javier/CIP)


Setting the tone for the meeting, Dr. Paul Demo, Regional Director for Africa at the International Potato Center (CIP), cautioned researchers against assuming equal participation between men and women. "If we don’t deliberately plan to include gender in plant health research and intervention, women’s roles are under-recognized and they are less benefitted from innovations."


Dr. Prasanna Boddupalli, the CGIAR Plant Health Initiative lead from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), highlighted the disproportionate impact of major pest and disease outbreaks on marginalised communities, particularly women in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. "This workshop, a vital component of the five CGIAR Plant Health Initiatives work packages, aimed to formulate actionable recommendations for gender-responsive interventions in research practice."


Rabecca Zakeyo, an agronomist from PlantVillage, outlined the disparity faced by women in Malawi within extension services and training programs: "Women farmers conduct a lot of pest and disease surveillance using PlantVillage Nuru, but men represent them in events like training and field days. It might be a husband, brother, son, or father."

Rabecca Zakeyo speaking at the workshop. (credit: Regine Joy Javier/CIP)


Her sentiments were echoed by Dr. Geoffrey Onaga, a plant pathologist from the Africa Rice Center.  He stressed the need for gender inclusivity in rice production, a cash crop dominated by men in Côte d'Ivoire where the management of rice diseases is a challenge for rice producers due to a lack of knowledge in disease monitoring. “Women are especially limited in information access due to dependence on men to get information,” he said.


Rhiannon Pyburn, a Gender Team Lead at KIT Royal Tropical Institute, said that researchers need to be conscious of the gender differences and stereotypes, which vary culturally and contextually. She emphasised that understanding these diversities among women, including their opportunities, challenges, and privileges based on their positions, geography, and age, was crucial. 


She added, “As researchers, our actions and mindset while designing research questions, who presents the research, research composition, all these decisions can stimulate change over time.”


Throughout the discussions, participants rallied around the significance of employing gender lenses to enhance agricultural interventions. 

Global scientists at the Gender and Plant Health workshop in Nairobi. (credit: Mercyline Tata/PlantVillage)


Dr. Nancy Castilla, an entomologist from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), highlighted their commitment to deliberately involve not only household heads but also their spouses in both research and interventions.  "This time around, we will include gender-specific questions to understand women’s interest and concerns to participate in the capacity development of integrated pest management."


Representing research organisations involved in mechanisation, Nancy Njeru, a crop protectionist with Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research (KALRO), pointed out the lack of gender consideration in technological designs. "Lack of gender consideration in designing some technologies is what slows adoption, especially among smallholder farmers in Kenya, majority being women,” She said.


Speaking on gender-responsive communication strategies, Faustina Obeng, Gender and Social Inclusion Lead at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), outlined plans for advisory interventions. These initiatives, to be piloted using radio programs and Training of Trainers (TOT), aimed to cater to women's needs. 

Faustina Obeng speaking at the workshop. (credit: Regine Joy Javier/CIP)

“We plan to use radio programs that are at specific times of the day that women can listen to and in a language that they can understand. We will also use women lead farmers as trainers and conduct mobilisation at specific times and locations suitable for women. These interventions will be conducted in Kenya, Cameroon, Ghana, and Tanzania," she said. 


Dr. Ramasamy Selvarajan, a plant pathologist with the ICAR (National Research Center for Banana), said that upon returning to his organisation in India, he will incorporate the gender lens in pest and disease management in banana production. “I will assess who is included when we are using the Tumaini mobile application in banana disease management.”


Concluding the workshop, participants had collectively formulated five cross-country, interdisciplinary research reports and a research proposal, all centred around gender-related research questions. Employing gender-responsive methodologies, these endeavours aimed to address specific issues related to fall armyworm, banana bunchy top virus, aflatoxin, cowpea nematodes, cassava pests and diseases, and rice pests and diseases. The culmination of the workshop marked a significant stride toward fostering gender-responsive approaches within plant health research.

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