Published: 2017-07-17


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Figure 8. A family working together on their groundnut plot. Source: Edward Nkwirize

Sara Delaney is a Senior Program Officer of International Programs with Episcopal Relief and Development. She read the article “Women and Agriculture” in EDN 134 and shared some insights about how to promote farming as a family business.

I really enjoyed the January EDN article on Women and Agriculture, and it resonated with my experiences. In particular, I liked what Angela Boss added at the end, about farming as a family. Working with the whole family is something that we at Episcopal Relief & Development have been trying to do more often when designing our programming with small farmers.

It is true that each family member typically has designated roles in the fields, gardens, at home, and at market. We are learning that working with those, rather than against them, or without knowledge of them, is really important. From this starting point, we can have discussions about how these roles could potentially be shifted.

In February I participated in an activity organized by Lutheran World Relief (LWR), as part of their Learning for Gender Integration initiative. I worked with a small team to evaluate a project they had recently completed in Uganda. The ‘Namubuka’ project ran from 2013 to 2016; it used a ‘Farming as a Family Business’ (FaaFb) approach to focus on gender issues in the communities, with the aim to improve overall family food security and incomes. The FaaFb methodology involved an intensive series of trainings and conversations over the course of the project. Together, husbands and wives learned about and discussed household gender roles; roles in agriculture; and general business concepts including household budgeting and marketing.

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Figure 9. A woman riding her bike to market, to sell a crop that her husband would have sold before. Source: Fairuza Mutesi

I did not get to see those training sessions, but I did see the results. For evaluation, we used a unique combination of PhotoVoice and Most Significant Change (two methodologies that go beyond the traditional survey; learn more about them from links found here), in a ten-day process. Participants shared, in their own words, what changed for them as a result of the project. Both project staff members and farmers confirmed that a lot had changed. Men and women showed us daily activity timelines that they had recorded both before and after the trainings. The differences were striking.

The biggest difference was that, after the FaaFb trainings and conversations, men were working with the women a lot more, both on agricultural tasks and on household chores (preparing dinner, fetching water, etc.). There were still activities deemed 'men’s' and 'women’s', but there was more crossover, and the roles were based more on individual skills and strengths, rather than only on tradition.

The overall feedback from project participants was that things were better, both in terms of agricultural production and of family life. When we looked at some of the data from the broader project evaluation, we could see that it was true – for example, women’s production of maize increased by 195% and their production of beans increased by 430%! Women increased their

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Figure 10. Husband and wife working together to transport their cassava harvest. Source: Janat Mutesi

total income by an average of 125%. We enjoyed seeing the photos that the farmers took of the changes – everything from women using oxen and ploughs for the first time, to men getting their own bath water, to families sitting together to plan out budgets. Some of these are things that they never thought they would see – and neither did I.

As Angela said, communication and joint-decision-making are key. Some of the materials from the FaaFb project have helpful discussion guides that could be good starting points. My biggest takeaway is that neither men nor women can be considered in isolation when it comes to family farming. Even if it takes more time, working with families can lead to greater long-term positive change.

The site for LWR’s Learning for Gender Integration initiative (LGI) at lwr.org/gender has links to LGI evaluation reports, the photobook, and a facilitation guide on combining the PhotoVoice and Most Significant Change methodologies.

Other helpful resources include the Farming as a Family Business Training Manual (FaaFB) and information about Gender Action Learning for Sustainability at Scale (GAL).