I recently took up a new position as a research communications specialist for a program on Livelihoods, Gender, Impact and Innovation (LGI). As a communications specialist, my roles are mainly on managing producing communication materials- writing and editing, and tracking research outputs among many more (all things communication)! This therefore means that I must have a very detailed understanding of the subject matter in order for me to communicate effectively especially for non-technical audiences. I have been in the program for barely a month and during this period I have been genderised- if such a word exists! In other words I have been compelled to look at issues with the gender lens and in addition, wear these lenses to give a gender dimension to my communication work.
In November 2012, I received a fellowship form the Netherlands Fellowship Programme (NFP) to participate in an International course on ‘Design and Management of Interactive learning for rural Innovation in the Netherlands. This course is offered by the International Center for Development Oriented Research in Agriculture (ICRA) and a significant percentage of the course units focused on gender mainstreaming and integrating gender issues in rural development. It was during this course that I came across the issue of ‘gender lenses’ for the first time, and the course facilitate for this particular unit went to the extent of buying each of the participants ‘gender lenses’ to wear.
A paradigm shift for me
I have not been keen in approaching issues from the gender perspective but for the brief time I have interacted with gender scientists and gone through literature regarding gender mainstreaming in agriculture and development, ‘my eyes have been opened’ on the significant gender differences and contributions to agricultural productivity, which have always been ignored.
During my masters’ degree field study, I looked at the concept of knowledge management and how applicable this is in the ‘informal’ smallholder set up. I carried out a comparative study of Peri-urban and rural areas looking at the aspects of acquisition and sharing as well as dissemination, with respect to agricultural knowledge. During my study, I used questionnaires and Focused Group discussions (FGDs) to obtain data. I guess because my focus was mainly on the KM practices as well as channels used and the extent of adoption of ICT-based technologies, I did not pay much focus on the demographic implications or influence on the outcome of the study.
Suffice to say, only and until when I joined the LGI program did I actually notice that in the rural setting, 68% of my respondents for the questionnaires were women and during the FGDs, almost 90% of the participants were women. One major finding and conclusion of my study was the importance of face to face interactions of individuals in knowledge sharing and acquisition, where 96% of the farmers reported that the main channel they use for knowledge sharing and acquisition of knowledge is face to interaction, as opposed to suing mobile phones. Even though we may argue that face to face interaction is easier and the most feasible method in such a setting, we cannot overlook the social context and dynamics of gender aspects. This is because, people tend to learn from others who are similar to them, and with whom they are familiar. The question then would be “what systems are being put in place to consider the gender differences and dimensions in a smallholder setting, so as to facilitate women farmers’ access to information?”
So important is the subject on agricultural information access, that the International Association of Agricultural Information Specialists (IAALD) convenes triennial meetings to discuss the subject. This year the in the month of July, I had the opportunity to attend the IAALD World Congress 2013which was held from 21st to 24th at the Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The theme for this year was on “Emerging Priorities for Scientific & Agricultural Information”.
This subject has been in my interest for a long time, having worked with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute as a researcher based in the rural parts of Western Kenya, and seen first-hand the gap that exists between the research findings and the target users in the agricultural sector. While there are numerous studies commissioned and completed regularly on problems facing farmers in the sector, there is very little uptake of the technologies developed and recommendations from the studies.
During the congress, I kept on asking one question (access for smallholder farmers): While there is a lot of focus on access among the researchers and hence the emergence of initiatives like The Essential Electronic Agricultural library (TEEAL); Access to Online Global Agricultural Research in Africa (AGORA) and many others, these do not address how farmers will eventually access the information.
My main question during the sessions was “which farmer reads referred journals and have access to online databases?” Looking back at the subject now, I am compelled to ask what options or to what extent have gender dimensions been considered in the efforts to disseminate agricultural information? Going back to my study, I am now in a frame of mind to explore the gender interventions and dynamic in agricultural knowledge management within a smallholder farmer set up, and it is evident that whereas there exists multiple sources of knowledge and knowledge acquisition technologies for farmers, social interactions affect the use of these sources for different identities. I realize that even though I had all this data which was captured from my questionnaire (percentage of men/women respondents, female –headed households), I did not explore the influence of the different gender identities on the subject under investigation.
I am now working on an article (coming soon) that will address these issues and produce a document on the same! I now have my gender lenses on!