This document presents a number of considerations regarding the theoretical and methodological aspects involved in rural development activities (projects and programmes). These considerations are derived from a specific case in which the main aim was to monitor the ongoing transformations taking place in peasant economies. From a methodological point of view, when the issue is addressed, this can be summed up in one question: How can the gender perspective be mainstreamed into the systemic analysis approach of the rural production systems?
In the experience of the project GCP/NIC/020/NOR, gender analysis was not addressed as an exclusive or isolated study, or as a complement to the analysis of the agrarian issue for which the action was intended. Rather, the construction of a methodological process started from a framework of the reality of the peasant economy and the FFPU as the object of the study. The interpretation of this reality arose from previous processes of observing the social, economic and technological dynamics that characterize the functioning of the units present in the study area. On this basis, methods and techniques deriving from a combination of farming systems analysis and gender analysis were selected as the most relevant approach to reflect that reality. The approach was then put into practice first by completing the appraisals described as the basis for the formulation of community plans.
It is important to note that several existing conceptual and methodological initiatives attempt to tie the two key issues of agrarian systems and gender in the formulation of plans for agricultural and rural development. In this case, after the revision of the general guidelines, it was intended to examine a number of instrumental aspects and give a practical answer to questions relating to: (1) What is the conceptual framework for integrating these two approaches? (2) What process should be developed in order to integrate a gender perspective into the framework of a systemic analysis approach, bearing in mind the Latin American reality and taking the Nicaraguan project as an example? and (3) What methodological, procedural and research guidelines emerged from this concrete experience?
It is also important to note the conceptual contrasts found between the farming systems and the gender analysis approaches, because their aims are different despite the interrelatedness of their fields of study. When applied to the agricultural system, the systemic approach methodology starts by considering the rural family production unit as an essentially productive system made up of subsystems. The focus is on agricultural production, especially on its techno-agronomic and economic aspects. The central scope of gender analysis, on the other hand, is the study of gender relationships in the spheres of production, reproduction and community life, as interrelated spheres. So far, a large number of efforts in applying gender analysis to agriculture have focused on the division of labour, the access to and control of resources, management/decision-making, and practical and strategic gender needs. These are considered four of the fundamental pillars for achieving equal opportunities and access to productive resources. Coordinating both approaches (gender and systems) will open the space for mutual enrichment.
From the methodological and practical standpoints, the case of the project GCO/NIC/020/NOR represents a concrete example of the integration of both approaches. The farm family production unit and its farming system were taken as the starting point "highlighting, in particular, the analysis of the different tasks integrated to the roles played by women in the family nucleus and that are conventionally not identified as contributions". The analytical focus was thus simultaneously on the FFPU and farming systems and on women as the central axis of the family. Different gender roles, as well as the contributions and responsibilities that both women and men assume in the planning and implementation of income-generating and reproductive activities within the family, were also identified.
The approach applied is not intended to be a tool kit for a participatory appraisal, nor an exhaustive methodology for systemic analysis, or even a gender study of the districts. It represents an attempt to combine the two approaches with the objective of producing analytical methodological guidelines that ensure the technical interventions in farming systems are of equal benefit to women and men, and hence to the FFPU as a whole. Indeed, the main interest of this kind of appraisal is to guarantee that the technical assistance and extension activities are more relevant, and help to increase women's productivity and incomes through technical and economic improvements to farming systems. In conclusion, it may be said that the main objective of this effort is to achieve the goal of gender-sensitive farming systems analysis, which may contribute to a better understanding of the development dynamics and of the roles and contributions of women and men within those dynamics.