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VII. Abstracts of case papers

Rural women’s role in local agrobiodiversity conservation in Bangladesh: the PROSHIKA perspective

Zahid Hossain
PROSHIKA, Bangladesh

This paper examines the role of rural women in local agrobiodiversity conservation, and its attendant needs and problems in Bangladesh. In a country where agriculture contributes 30 percent to GDP and is the dominant source of livelihood of a rapidly expanding population of 111 million, agrobiodiversity is an important asset.

The loss of agrobiodiversity in Bangladesh is a complex process that is attributed to different factors, including acute poverty in rural areas and inequities in land ownership and wealth. Other causes include high rural-urban migration and conversion of agricultural lands to shrimp culture.

Gender inequities that hinder the country’s ability to achieve its full potential have implications on agrobiodiversity conservation. It is important to note that while Bangladesh has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world at 32.4 percent, the literacy rate among women is even lower (25.5 percent). Yet, women directly participate in many field activities such as seed production, processing and other post-harvest activities, and actively conserve agrobiodiversity as preservers and consumers. These roles, however, have remained misunderstood, unrecognized and ignored by policymakers and development planners at the national level. The National Plan of Action for Women’s Advancement, for instance, has been put in place to enhance the roles of women in food security and resource management. However, no effective effort has been made towards improving women’s contributions and opportunities in local agrobiodiversity conservation.

To improve the overall situation of rural women in the country and to enhance their contribution in agrobiodiversity conservation, steps should be taken to address the constraints they face and to foster a congenial atmosphere for agrobiodiversity conservation at the local level. Such an atmosphere should provide enough opportunities for women’s participation.

PROSHIKA, one of the largest non-governmental organizations in Bangladesh, has been trying to conserve local agrobiodiversity through the direct participation of women at the community level in sustainable crop production and diversified farming systems. It has created an Integrated Multisectoral Women’s Development Programme, which emphasizes equal opportunities among men and women. About 62 percent of its groups are women who are involved in agricultural programmes, namely: (a) agriculture in crop; (b) homestead gardening to improve the nutritional status of marginal groups (72 percent are women); and (c) vegetable seed production (2 097 females involved). Other related activities include a revolving loan fund, training, demonstration farms, 500 of which have been put up, and government-supported participatory forest management.

Agrobiodiversity conservation and the role of women in Bhutan

Mumta Chhetri and Nar Bahadur Adhikari
Renewable Natural Resources Research Centre (RNR-RC), Bhutan

Bhutan is declared as one of the ten global “hot spots” for the conservation of biological diversity. Although women in the country play an active role in agrobiodiversity conservation, no gender-specific case studies have been carried out in relation to biodiversity management and food security. Hence, this paper focuses on a mini case study on gender analysis conducted by the Renewable Natural Resources Research Centre (RNR-RC) and describes the agronomic context of women’s participation in agrobiodiversity conservation in Bhutan.

Bhutanese society is predominantly equitable in terms of gender. Women enjoy equity before the law and are actively involved in socioeconomic and political life. In fact, the inheritance law is favourable to women who head most of the households. An estimated 62 percent of the women are involved in agriculture. Except for ploughing and building terraces, women do most of the production and post-production work. In addition, they are engaged in other income-generating activities such as selling textiles and handicrafts, and they work as hired labourers. In walled forest areas, women gather fuelwood, leaf litter and fodder for local community use.

In a farmer field school on plant genetic resources conservation, women are highly involved since they make the final decisions on selecting the best varieties in terms of cooking quality and taste. Activities under the participatory varietal selection project being implemented by RNR-RC with support from the Biodiversity Use and Conservation in Asia Programme (BUCAP) include upland rice germplasm collection and evaluation, participatory pedigree selection of entries in F4 generation, and management and selection of degenerated seeds.

Domestication of taro Colocasia Esculenta and its application to in situ agrobiodiversity conservation in Yunnan, southwest China

Xu Jianchu and Yang Yongping
Centre for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge (CBIK), China

Agrobiodiversity is one of the most important resources that indigenous communities should have control over and access to. It can be defined as the synergy and interaction among organisms, land, technology and social organisms that serve to fulfil production goals and sustain livelihood systems. In this paper, the conservation of taro in Southwest China is described using ethnobotanical methods. The ethnobotanical surveys involved farmers in identifying distinct taro types and grouping them according to their associated knowledge and morphological classification.

The wild types of taro are mostly found in humid habitats such as swamps, waterfalls, hot springs, and riverbanks. The cultivated taro is adapted to a range of microenvironments, namely, swidden fallow fields, permanent uplands, rainfed and irrigated rice fields, and home gardens. Some of the primitive cultivars tend to have narrow ecological niches.

Farmers report that all cultivars in swidden agro-ecosystems exhibit flowering. This may be due to the humid tropical environment and the fact that farmers maintain them in fallow fields for many years. Cultivars with edible inflorescences have high market value and hence, are increasingly grown by farmers. The cultivation of the single corm type, for instance, is becoming popular because of its good taste, cooking quality and market potential. However, the germplasm of some traditional cultivars such as gouzhuayu is diminishing, as farmers commonly plant only three to five cultivars in their fields.

In general, the ethnobotanical survey found that there remains considerable interest by farmers and consumers on different types of taro and their uses. Moreover, different cultural contexts provide different perspectives on agrobiodiversity such as those that emphasize reciprocal relationships and the nurturing of life, which are related to culture, spirituality, humanity and nature.

A key to maintaining the diversity of taros is the ability to maintain and move distinct taro populations across environments and statuses. And, as genetic material has its links to culture, the introduction and exchange of new genetic materials need cultural integration. The use of wild, managed and intensively cultivated taros as a single complex may be the best way to maintain taro diversity within Yunnan.

Enhancing the role of rural and tribal women in agrobiodiversity conservation: an indian case study

R. Rengalakshmi (coordinator), G. Alagukannan, N. Anilkumar, V. Arivudai Nambi,
V. Balakrishnan, K. Balasubramanian, Bibhu Prasad Mohanty, D. Dhanapal, M. Geetharani,
G. Girigan, Hemal Kavinde, Israel Oliver King, Prathiba Joy, T. Ravishankar, Saujanendra Swain,
Sushanta Chaudary, P. Thamizoli, Trilochan Ray and L. Vedavalli
M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), India

The rate of agrobiodiversity loss has been hastened by the combination of several economic, social, environmental and political factors in many marginal hilly ecosystems. Such ecosystems are characterized by diversity in both space and time dimensions. The conservation of agrobiodiversity in the context of global food security assumes greater importance with specific reference to women.

This study focuses on understanding gender roles, responsibilities, and access and control over resources of rural and tribal women in agrobiodiversity conservation in three different field sites. The study areas are the Jeypore tract of Orissa, Wayanad region of Kerala and Kolli hills of Tamil Nadu. The focus crops are traditional rice cultivars in the former two sites and minor millet species in the third case.

The study attempted to use multidimensional approaches and strategies by creating partnerships with local communities in promoting women’s role in agrobiodiversity conservation. These multidimensional strategies include:

a) creating an economic stake in conservation by establishing market linkages at local, regional and international levels;

b) crop development through participatory productivity enhancement and breeding;

c) seed supply through community seed banks;

d) reducing the drudgery in post-production processes;

e) recognizing and rewarding women’s contributions to conservation through documentation and policies; and,

f) institutional partnerships and building community ownership among the local people.

This paper primarily deals with gender relationships and gender-sensitive strategies in promoting conservation of agrobiodiversity through partnerships with local communities. It recommends that it is important to internalize agronomic and genetic needs in agricultural research for directing participatory generation of technologies for productivity enhancement. In addition, the creation of new market channels and enhanced access to information to use niche markets (i.e. organic products) can facilitate conservation. Moreover, benefit-sharing methodologies need to be advanced to provide incentives for women conservators, as well as for local communities.

For policy recommendation, the paper highlighted the recognition of women farmers’ capacity in seed management, which can be the primary step in building an integrated and effective system for the use, enhancement and conservation of on-farm crop genetic diversity.

The role of women in sweet potato cultivation: a study of the dani people in Balliem Valley, Irian Jaya, Indonesia

Herry Yogaswara
Indonesian Institutes of Sciences and Nippon Foundation, Indonesia

The Dani are an indigenous community that dwells in the Balliem Valley of the Jayawijaya district of Irian Jaya or West Papua, Indonesia. They maintain crops of hipere or sweet potato (Ipomea batatas, sp) as staple food and pig feed, as well as for medicinal and ritual purposes. They grow sweet potato in two kinds of ecosystems: swampy and hilly mountainous areas or upland. In swampy areas, they practise the wen hipere system, using alluvial wetlands in the valley. The system is characterized by raised beds and drainage ditches. The upland is called yawu, with or without a terrace system. Both ecosystems have different soil types, and are planted with sweet potato varieties suitable to their respective soil conditions.

This study focused on the varietal level of diversity of sweet potato, although it also explored the production system, uses of sweet potato, and gender division of labour. Three factors are significant in supporting sweet potato agrobiodiversity conservation, namely:

a) the intrinsic value of sweet potato to the Dani culture for ritual purposes, food and as security in crisis situations, such as a serious calamity;

b) the existence of local, national and international development agencies, such as the International Potato Centre, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, local agricultural offices and universities; and,

c) market demand from migrants, who like to process sweet potato for business and for daily consumption. It encourages the production of more diverse sweet potatoes, including traditional or original varieties.

In many cases, change comes as a threat to agrobiodiversity conservation. However, instances of change are viewed as inevitable due to increasing population growth, development activities and conversion of lands from sweet potato gardens to roads and buildings. Recently, farmers’ extensive adoption of wet-rice (sawah) triggered the conversion of more sweet potato gardens to sawah.

Undoubtedly, the role of Dani women in sweet potato cultivation is very significant, as well as their role in the family and community. They take care of the children, cook, and serve in various rituals. Moreover, the Dani women are mostly responsible for planting, maintaining and harvesting sweet potato. Post-harvest management, such as selecting sweet potato for food, pig feed, and marketing are also women’s work. However, women are constrained by factors that go beyond their traditional role, especially in conservation management. Women traditionally “put themselves behind” the men. Moreover, there is not enough effort to strengthen women’s roles in the world outside their house, especially in the market situation.

The study recommends a policy to improve the role of women in development programmes. It also recommends preparation and capacity building among the Dani women at the field level to deal with the changing local market situation.

Women and agrobiodiversity conservation in Lao PDR

Viengsavay Sengsoulivong
National Integrated Pest Management Programme, Lao PDR

This paper describes the participation of women in promoting rice diversity in Lao PDR. This is within the context of rapid changes in the economy and development in the country due to the introduction and adoption of improved rice varieties as well as the open market economy.

The ecosystem of Lao PDR is mostly hilly and mountainous with some fertile floodplains. It lies within the primary centre of origin and domestication of Asian rice varieties, particularly of glutinous rice. In fact, an estimated 80 percent of its rice area is planted with glutinous rice, the people’s staple food. The other food crops are maize and tuber crops (taro and cassava). The Lao-IRRI project reported a collection of 13 193 samples from all over the country representing 3 200 varieties, of which 85.5 percent are glutinous types.

The Biodiversity Use and Conservation in Asia Programme is a Lao PDR country project funded by the Development Fund of Norway. The project was started in 2000. It is an institutional experiment that brings together extension and research institutions in active implemention and monitoring of community-based projects in cooperation with Oxfam Solidarity Belgium. BUCAP Lao PDR is designed to serve as a model of a multi-stakeholder approach to project management. At the village level, it is a follow-up activity of integrated pest management and builds on its methodologies by implementing farmer field schools to enhance farmers’ capacity to conduct learning experiments on rice.

Women play a significant role in implementing BUCAP. Aside from their participation at the village level, women also run BUCAP at the provincial and national levels. To date, 67 women have been trained by the BUCAP project for conservation, breeding and selection of local varieties. In varietal selection, aroma and good eating quality of rice are usually the preferred characteristics of women farmers while men prefer high yields. For women, plant height is not as important as good-yield and good-quality rice grains.

There are many lessons on agrobiodiversity conservation and the role of women from BUCAP. Since BUCAP’s aim is policy advocacy, it has influenced the direction of NARC by directly engaging the centre in decentralized research on rice breeding and conservation. The full support of the Ministry of Agriculture to the programme is an indication of the importance given by the government to plant genetic conservation and improvement. It is hoped that this commitment can be translated into more concrete policies.

Ethnic communities and agrobiodiversity conservation in the eastern Himalayas

Chanda Gurung
Resources Himalayas, Nepal

This paper records the experiences from the project “Gender, ethnicity and agrobiodiversity management in the Eastern Himalayas” funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The project had two components: (a) a research study component, which was conducted in three sites: Sikkim (India), Nagaland (Northeast India) and Sankhuwasabha (Eastern Nepal), representing three ethnic groups in the study, and (b) an action research component on participatory seed management conducted in three adjoining village development committees of the Sankhuwasabha district in Eastern Nepal. The objective of the first component was to understand the causal links between ethnicity and gender, and how these components affect agrobiodiversity management practices. The second component aimed to enhance local capacities for effective management of existing genetic resources through the development of crop improvement skills.

The research found that within the context of agrobiodiversity management, gender relations are well reflected in the practices of the ethnic groups. Men and women’s roles, knowledge and “spaces” are well defined at all the levels of agrobiodiversity (agro-ecosystems, species and genetic levels). With the introduction of the new technologies, dominant land use patterns emerged in the project communities that were associated with gender categories. Wet terraced fields were classified as a “male domain” while home gardens were considered as a “female domain” by the three ethnic groups. Swidden areas were categorized differently among the three ethnic groups. Among the Lepchas, these areas are a “joint domain” of men and women. However, among the Nagas, swidden areas are a “female domain”, while the Rais consider them as a “male domain”. Agroforestry is a land use which is particularly associated with the Lepchas. With cardamon as the main cash crop, agroforestry areas are regarded as “male domain”.

The action research component on participatory seed management provided a strategy that supports agrobiodiversity conservation while helping the community overcome the problem of food shortage. The initiative was implemented among the Rais in the Sankhuwasabha district in Eastern Nepal, a food-deficient area. The research process involved two stages: diagnostic stage and seed management stage, in which seed enhancement technology was introduced.

The dynamics and complexities of gender relations within households and communities came about in their present form as a result of historical encounters and movements of people and hegemonies across the borders of the Himalayan region. These influence, and are reflected in, the systems of agrobiodiversity management of the community. In such systems, women play key roles as principal custodians of agrobiodiversity due to the responsibilities assigned to them. Traditional systems of seed management, food habits, food preferences and food preparation methods, rituals and socioeconomic significance attached to certain crops are all factors on which crop diversity depends, and are highly related to what women do and value.

The paper puts forward the following recommendations: (a) provide institutional support to the informal networks of farmers; (b) ensure support of government agencies for local agrobiodiversity conservation initiatives; (c) provide methods for adding value to women’s indigenous knowledge on increasing diversity in crop species and varieties, and (d) set up a women’s network which will serve as the “voice” of women farmers.

Gender roles in the traditional swidden-based production system of the Ayangan of Haliap-Panubtuban, Asipolo, Ifugao

Mariliza V. Ticsay and Zenaida F. Toquero
SEAMEO-SEARCA, Philippines

The study conducted in the Cordilleras, Northern Philippines, partly aimed to identify and investigate bio-social factors influencing resource use, management and conservation of biodiversity (as measured in taxonomic diversity) using the household as the unit of analysis. Two case studies were presented to illustrate gender roles within the household on management strategies employed by Ayangan farmers to enhance biodiversity in the area.

Results of the study indicated that the cropping system in Haliap-Panubtuban is the result of farmers’ perceptions of the subsistence requirements of their households, as well as of the need for some surplus to meet other requirements including cash and offerings during cultural feasts and rituals. As the cash and material needs of the households increase, modifications in the traditional resource management systems are made to include more income-generating activities. The Ayangan’s resource bases appeared to be associated with some well-defined gender roles. The men took charge of higher elevations, especially for the initial opening and clearing of agricultural lands. The women, on the other hand, took care of the swidden and home gardens, especially in the aspects of planting, weeding, harvesting and processing (including cleaning, drying, seed selection and grading, storage, etc) of agricultural products.

The study outcome indicated that these gender roles and responsibilities might change through time, as influenced by various factors such as sociocultural adjustments, demographic changes, economic and institutional variables, and government policies and programmes. It can be said, therefore, that the conservation of biodiversity does not only involve species or habitat preservation, but proper resource management and use to maximize the benefits that these species provide and maintain their potential for future needs. In this perspective, biodiversity conservation cannot be separated from the gender dimension and human needs, and the process of sustainable development.

The paper further recommends that changes in cropping patterns and biodiversity conservation have to be assessed both from an environmental and from a gender perspective. Finally, there is a need to know how men and women’s perceptions are changing as livelihoods are in transition (from home- to market-oriented economy) and as education and market forces are affecting people’s aspirations.

Secondary crops for secondary farmers? Meta-analysis of women’s role in root crop livelihood in the Philippines

Dindo Campilan, Raul Boncodin, Irene Adion and Rizalina Mondala
CIP-UPWARD, Philippines

The paper describes a FAO-funded UPWARD project which seeks to empirically reexamine the notion of women in root crop livelihood as “secondary farmers of secondary crops”. The meta-analysis project consists of 10 case studies in the Philippines focusing on inter-relationships between and among root crop agriculture and genetic resources conservation, sustainable livelihood and food security, and gender roles and householding. These are explored in this paper, and for the purpose of the workshop, through the case of sweet potato livelihood in Central Luzon, Philippines. The case specifically analyses the sweet potato livelihood in Central Luzon, local management of sweet potato diversity in a changing livelihood system, role of women in the local sweet potato livelihood system, and finally, some formative lessons.

In Central Luzon, sweet potato is traditionally a post-rice crop grown in lowland and mid-elevation areas. Sweet potato cultivation is part of a diverse livelihood portfolio maintained by local farming households, which includes on-farm, off-farm and non-farm activities. Cultivation, planting materials production and trading of sweet potato are among the key livelihoods of local households. The sweet potato livelihood system in Central Luzon has undergone rapid transformations resulting from changes in the agro-environment, market trends and production constraints. These changes in the livelihood system have had a key influence on the local management of sweet potato cultivar diversity. Market diversification and adaptability to natural stresses have been positive factors, while single-market dominance has been a negative factor. High susceptibility of dominant cultivars to a major disease led local households to recognize the value of sweet potato diversity.

Women play key livelihood roles among local farming households. They participate in nearly three fourths of household livelihood activities - mainly in raising animals and in sweet potato cultivation. In sweet potato livelihood, women act as managers of cultivar diversity as they are in charge of selecting and preparing planting materials. They also participate in field planting. Women are also active learners; they comprised nearly half of the participants in the field schools conducted, and obtained knowledge test scores that were comparable to those of their male counterparts. However, women tended to have more erratic attendance in training sessions compared to men. This was usually due to their multiple and often conflicting roles in the household. Given women’s distinct roles and circumstances, gender-sensitive research and development interventions are necessary so that they can contribute more effectively to sustainable livelihood and to the management of genetic resources.

Traditional cultivation and local variety management: gender-role case studies from northern Thailand

Triyada Trimanka
Northern Development Foundation, Thailand

Whilst focusing on the gender perspective, this paper discusses the issue of agrobiodiversity and natural resource management by a local community in the highland area of Northern Thailand inhabited by the Karen, one of its ethnic groups. It examines their situation, the critical external and internal factors influencing local communities in agrobiodiversity conservation and management, and gender roles in agrobiodiversity and community-based natural resource management, with particular attention to women’s involvement.

The upper northern region in Thailand can be classified into three agro-ecological zones, namely lowland, highland and intermediate zones. The highlands are the home of several ethnic minorities that have been migrating to Thailand for a century. Most of these people traditionally practised swidden agriculture with rice, corn and opium as main crops. The case studies were conducted in one of the Ban Orn villages located in the Ping watershed area with 78 households and 422 people. Their knowledge of the traditional agricultural system of rotational cultivation is the most important knowledge they possess. In rotational cultivation, villagers grow rice as the main crop, integrated with maize, beans, cucumber, pumpkin, mustard green, eggplant, taro and other crops, which are associated with supplementary food from forest products.

Women and men have different roles in rotational cultivation. Field site selection is done by the spiritual leader, through various rituals in selecting suitable sites from secondary and primary forests. Men cut tree branches and allow the field to dry for two to three weeks, after which they burn it. Then, they make planting holes with a sharp stick, while women select the seeds and carry out the planting. The women have to take care of the field and do the weeding. Women usually do the harvesting, athough both men and women do threshing. Each village conserves around 25 local varieties of rice. With the traditional local varieties, the women select the best seeds from the field for the next crop planting. The kitchen is the best place for keeping seed. Over the stove, they build shelves where seed and agricultural tools are stored. The tools are kept in the upper shelves, while the middle shelf is used for keeping seed. The seed and tools get the warmth and smoke from the stove. This helps prevent damage by molds, weevils, ants and other insects.

The paper recommends strategies to enhance women’s participation in community-based biodiversity conservation. These are: capacity building among women villagers; increased participation of women and men in sustainable agriculture development and community-based natural resource management, both at the community and policy levels; empowerment of women by organizing and strengthening the network of women organizations; support for exchange of local rice varieties between and among communities; and support for women village leaders as they network with their male counterparts in other villages and participate in the development of state laws and policies through advocacy.

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