The Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab seeks to ensure that every project includes gender as an integral part of its design. The program works with gender specialists at each of our sites to develop solutions to agricultural challenges that allow all members of a community to benefit. Leaders are encouraged to consider the questions, “How do our programs affect gender?” and “How does gender affect our programs?”

women do mapping exercise in Uganda
Women in Uganda engage in a gender exercise.

Here’s a more in-depth look at why it’s critical to consider gender in agricultural development work:

Everything we do in life—whether we are aware of it or not—is gendered. Keeping this in mind in developing countries is especially important as access to resources, use of time, and ability to take certain actions are governed by gender considerations.

Women’s important role in decision-making and allocation of household finances in many cultures alone warrants targeting them in IPM research and training. What we know is that men and women spend money differently based on their different interests, risk exposure, and perceptions. Yet there are many obstacles to incorporating women in IPM programs around the world, ranging from traditional culture to the fact that gender influences access to resources such as land, labor, education and credit—all important to the adoption of IPM.

In many countries, the “farmer” is thought of as male even though in practice, a majority of women work the land. Farm tasks are often gendered, with some carried out exclusively by women and others by men. Crops too are gendered, with peanuts or groundnut considered a women’s crop in some places, and men’s in others. Sometimes the crops or varieties men prioritize do not even register in women’s rankings of key crops. A focus on men’s crops in IPM may inadvertently create livelihood hardships for women. These roles and responsibilities can also change as migration, market forces, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and other factors alter labor patterns, sometimes leaving women in charge of farm tasks that were previously men’s responsibilities and for which they are not prepared.

In Albania, men spend the summer as migrant laborers, leaving the women behind to look after the farms. In Bangladesh, women may not work in open fields, but do cultivate vegetables and care for animals. Agricultural knowledge is also gendered. For instance, in the Kumi district of Uganda, men told IPM Innovation Lab researchers that women did a better job of identifying an indigenous weed that looks very similar to finger millet at the seedling stage.

Studies conducted across all IPM Innovation Lab sites show that women have an important role in pest management. When scientists fail to take women’s knowledge into consideration, they lose vital information and even reduce their chances of success. In Mali for instance, one approach to combating the Tomato yellow leaf-curl virus destroying tomatoes and peppers is to apply a “no-host period.” This means that farmers wait a couple of months between plantings of these two crops in order to reduce opportunities for virus to spread from the white fly that carries it. Since the virus can only live on tomatoes and peppers, when the farmers plant other vegetables for these months, the virus dies out in these areas. Yet if only men (and men’s fields) participate in IPM projects while women and their home gardens are ignored, the no-host period does not work, as the virus would continue to proliferate on these uninitiated fields, and when the no-host periods ended, the white fly would spread the virus to the tomatoes and peppers again.

Women have multiple roles beyond agriculture that include care-giving and household chores, so their responsibilities must be accommodated. Sometimes, this means childcare must be provided and IPM activities timed to fit into women’s schedule of daily obligations. In some settings, cultural sensitivities require that women interview women, or that women be interviewed separately from men and participate in training and other activities in women-only groups. It also makes sense to target farm decision-makers and farm families, rather than male farmers. To increase gender equity in development and IPM research in particular, women and men alike must be interviewed, and education about IPM should be provided to male and female farmers in various accessible formats, accounting for women’s networks, literacy, mobility, and cultural constraints.