Understanding the information gender gap when talking to women farmers about seeds

 Suchaita Tenneti, Pooja Kori, and Ranjitha Puskur   |  

Participatory approaches, such as user testing, to assess the effectiveness of information pathways provide insider knowledge about the dynamics of the relationship between communication systems and gender in seed systems. Involving women in determining the effectiveness of information pathways and understanding their communication needs creates new possibilities for innovations in seed information systems as well as facilitates the process of unpacking gender to understand the intersectional dynamics therein.

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Women are critical actors in agricultural systems and actively engage in various agricultural activities from pre-production to post-production. Yet, their agricultural decision-making power remains limited compared to men.

Information and knowledge are vital for agricultural decision-making. Women farmers are often at risk of being disempowered because of their limited access to timely, accurate, and reliable information that could improve their productivity and overall household status.

Information and power imbalances
Women’s sources of information are often restricted to informal and personal networks owing to their limited mobility and formal education, social norms, and other barriers. This poses a major constraint to them in accessing new information emanating from technological innovations in the formal agricultural sector leading to “information asymmetry” and expanding the gendered knowledge gap among farmers.

Information asymmetry prevents women farmers from learning about innovations in the formal seed sector, sources of quality seed beyond their areas, and schemes that could help them buy seeds of improved varieties, among others. Inadequate and untimely information on quality seeds leads to lower varietal uptake and potentially compromises the health and diversity of seed systems.

However, the gender dimensions of information systems are often ignored. It is assumed that the same communication products and channels can reach and be understood by all social groups equally well. However, understanding women farmers’ unique needs and preferences when designing communication products and the pathways to effectively deliver information is essential

Understanding how women get their information
For these reasons, there is an emerging emphasis on identifying and designing communication pathways most conducive to providing women farmers access to information on quality seeds. This is one of the key objectives of Work Package 6 (WP6) of the Seed Equal initiative of the CGIAR

Seed Equal promotes and strengthens the delivery of seeds of improved, climate-resilient, market-preferred, and nutritious varieties of priority crops to accelerate genetic gains in farmers’ fields.

A key objective of WP6 is identifying and testing information and delivery pathways that are most conducive to providing seed and related information to women and smallholder farmers.

The initiative directly engages women farmers for feedback on communication products and delivery strategies on seed and seed-related information, especially about new varieties.

This study, a collaborative effort between the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), was conducted with two groups of farmers in Rajanna Sircilla and Karimnagar Districts in Telangana, India. CSA designed a brochure and a video to provide information on a new paddy variety while the video depicted a few improved cotton varieties. The materials were evaluated based on usefulness, attractiveness, reader comprehension, relevance, persuasiveness, and users’ recommendations.

Gender influences perceptions of information, but not exclusively
The differences in the farmers’ perspectives on the brochures and videos reveal gender as an important but not an exclusive influencing factor. All farmers found the videos more engaging than the brochures because of the audio and visual components. However, they found the sound quality inferior, which they said reduced its effectiveness.

All the farmers appreciated the yield information of the varieties and the depiction of farmers in the communication products. They said it helped make the materials relatable and gave them authenticity.

The male farmers and a few of the women farmers identified the following additional information that needs to be in any communication product:

● Specific seasons and months when a variety can be cultivated
● Duration of the variety
● Superior traits of the variety
● Package of practices for a variety, including guidance on using fertilizers, pesticides, and other inputs
● Market information

Although there were similarities in the responses of both men and women concerning the information in the communication products, only a few women farmers felt that the information in the brochures was adequate. Similarly, almost all the farmers said the visual depictions of key varietal traits would motivate them to take up seed production for that variety.

The brochure had additional depictions of some popular dishes that could be prepared from that variety. None of the men found these images useful while the women were divided in their opinions.

Some women in the mixed group said that the images were interesting but wouldn’t persuade them to undertake seed production of that variety. However, a few other women responded that the images were more relevant to grain producers than seed producers.

These demonstrate that, while gender differences exist across the farmers’ responses, there are still differences within women farmers’ groups and similarities in the reactions of mixed farmers’ groups. Therefore, gender alone is not a distinguishing factor in their responses.

“Even if we can’t read by ourselves, someone else can read it out to us”
Despite low literacy levels, farmers of both genders highly valued printed materials because they could hold onto them and refer to them whenever they needed more information.

“Even if we can’t read by ourselves, someone else can read it to us,” said a woman farmer.

Most participating farmers could not read or write and asked for pictorial representations of key information in the communication products in addition to written information.

The gender divide
The men reported that they access seed information through different sources including input dealers, agricultural extension workers, online messaging farmers’ groups, and meetings at the farmer producer companies (FPCs).

The women said they received most of their seed-related information from their husbands or trusted representatives from their villages often associated with private seed companies. The women further mentioned that they do not directly engage with these representatives but do so through their husbands.

This gender disparity demonstrates how women’s limited social and institutional networks and the gender digital divide in agriculture limit the avenues through which they can access seed and seed-related information and how they often depend on men.

The men recommended displaying posters in public places such as schools, bus stops, and small tea stalls and restaurants to help attract the attention of more farmers. They were most likely to view the posters in the evening after work. They suggested playing the videos and distributing brochures at panchayat (village council) and FPC meetings and subsequently sharing them through online messaging groups would be effective.

However, the women had very different perspectives claiming that information distributed in public places or meetings would not reach them because of their limited mobility and access to these spaces. Instead, they preferred meetings conducted in the homes of FPC members or other well-known women in the village. They further mentioned that, unlike the men who gather at tea stalls in the evenings, it was not a permissible time for them to be outdoors at that time.

Diversity among women
It is essential to reiterate that women’s experiences are not uniform. While some women spoke about their limited access to public spaces, a few others in the all-women’s group mentioned that they would like information to be displayed in key areas of the village including panchayat offices as they often traversed public spaces, accompanied by their husbands.

While it is hard to establish the reasons for women’s differential access to public places, several factors including caste, belonging to a woman-headed household and other factors could potentially influence women’s agency to move beyond their homestead at their own will.

An important lesson from this comparison is that an intersectional representation of women in user-testing sessions is important to capture the diversity of their perspectives and experiences. Despite women’s generally limited decision-making power and mobility, there are intra-group differences in women’s agency. This diversity needs to be considered when identifying and testing information pathways best suited to reach women farmers.

The Seed Equal Initiative has and is dependent on a wide array of demand, innovation, and scaling partners including AGRA, Wageningen University Research, Seed NL, TAAT, Syngenta Foundation Seeds2B, Resonanz Grop, New Markets Lab, The Seed System Group, Universities of Florida and Wits, and others.

1 Comment so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. DR PRADEEP KUMAR BISEN May 28, 2024 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Sir,
    As we know the dissemination of knowledge at gross root level required in a very holistic approach as well as efficient manner to sustain the yield with a quality and quantity.
    In rural areas information must be reach at right time and at real place to help the resource poor farmers.

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