The Benefits and Constraints of Integrated Pest Management in Nepal: Findings and Recommendations from a GESI Analysis
This post is written by Sara Hendery, communications consultant for the IPM Innovation Lab, and Soma Kumari Rana, iDE Gender Specialist.
Are the different needs and priorities of women, men and marginalized groups addressed by integrated pest management (IPM) technologies and tools? This question was at the heart of a recent Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) analysis led by the Feed the Future Nepal Integrated Pest Management (FTFNIPM) project, which aims to strengthen the capacity of Nepal’s agricultural system to respond to plant health threats, sustainably and inclusively.
FTFNIPM, funded by USAID and implemented locally by iDE, works directly with small-scale farmers to ensure the knowledge, tools and training needed to protect crops from current and emerging threats is readily accessible, especially to marginalized groups. The gendered dimensions of farming in Nepal and elsewhere around the world have evolved in recent years. While women have always engaged in agricultural activities, male out-migration — where men migrate to urban areas or wealthier countries for work — has resulted in many women taking on additional or new farming responsibilities.
FTFNIPM wanted to better understand how different farmers were or were not benefitting from applying IPM in the context of this changing environment, and, importantly, the complexities or constraints surrounding the application of IPM.
While IPM offers farmers safe and ecological approaches to growing food, do all farmers have equal access to such technologies? Does a GESI-responsive IPM supply chain exist?
In Banke, Surkhet, and Kanchanpur districts in western Nepal, FTFNIPM held focus group discussions, semi-structured interviews, and key informant interviews with dozens of farmers and local agricultural businesses and organizations. Respondents discussed the nature of agricultural decision-making at the household level, noting that joint decision-making around farm production activities between spouses is common. Both men and women respondents reported they felt decision-making dynamics had shifted in the community recently, with greater awareness of women’s contributions leading to more collaborative decision-making at the household-level. Control over income, too, was changing, respondents said. As men migrated to cities more often, some women felt they held greater control over the family income in their husband’s absence. Women respondents also reported high levels of control over the decisions to try new agricultural technologies, including IPM.
Respondents noted that women farmers in Nepal typically have the responsibility of applying pesticides and other agro-chemicals, but even so, have more limited access to information on pesticide safety and safe storage than men. Both men and women farmers noted that they observed benefits of IPM application, for example, indicating that IPM saves them time since they do not need to spray as many chemical pesticides. They also indicated that a trusting relationship between farmers and Community Based Facilitators (CBFs) — local entrepreneurial farmers that help other farmers access agricultural supplies, information, and advice — is integral to facilitating the dissemination and application of IPM practices, especially for women producers. IPM cooperative group meetings in particular were distinguished as vital public spaces for equal access to information and joint agricultural decision-making.
“It’s important that we know how different farmers access information. In the case of the Nepali communities we work in, it seems that cooperative farmer group meetings are one of those spaces,” said Komal Pradhan, FTFNIPM Chief of Party. “We can leverage this finding, as well as other critical farmer relationships, such as with the CBF, to reach farmers in the most convenient and productive ways.”
Women respondents noted that while IPM application can be beneficial, constraints stand in the way of consistently gathering knowledge on IPM. Despite increasing access and availability of IPM products, including bio-pesticides, the cost of such products can still be a limitation for women producers. Focus group discussion participants in Banke and Surkhet noted that women’s lower levels of literacy can make it difficult to interact directly with agri-businesses, such as those that supply and share information on how to use the products, in order to learn about alternatives to chemical pest management approaches. While SMS messages were effective in reaching farmers with valuable information on IPM application during COVID-19 lockdown periods, women’s access to digital technologies and certain levels of digital literacy remain more limited than for men. Closing the gendered digital equity gap will be critical to more effectively reaching women with IPM and other agricultural technologies moving forward.
Additionally, applying IPM can reduce women’s labor on certain activities like pesticide spraying, but women respondents still faced time constraints due to their multiple simultaneous responsibilities regarding household management and caring for children. Because of these time constraints, women acknowledged that hands-on experience is needed to reinforce IPM information given in technical trainings. More fundamentally, structural changes are needed in order to free up women’s time from the burdens of unpaid labor if they are expected to dedicate more time to increasing agricultural productivity and incomes. While IPM technologies and practices have the potential to save time in the long run, they require initial upfront investments of time for training and learning.
Given findings from the GESI assessment, the FTFNIPM team compiled a number of considerations and recommendations to ensure GESI-responsive IPM implementation, including:
- Community spaces have the potential to challenge prevailing inequitable norms: FTFNIPM must continue to engage community power holders to foster community learning spaces where women and men, members of all caste, ethnic and religious groups, including Dalits, Janajatis, Brahmins, madeshis, and Muslims, can learn, discuss and share information about IPM.
- Leverage safe pesticide and handling information in other USAID Government of Nepal-funded activities and programs for wider reach: Conventional training and awareness programs to address pesticide safe handling practices may still not improve the safety behavior of farmers, especially women and other marginalized groups. Such information could be integrated into existing health and nutrition Social and Behavior Change activities to more directly reach women farmers.
- Gender-responsive Technology Dissemination: There is a need for additional information on the factors that affect the ability of young women to pursue careers as CBFs in the agricultural supply chain. In response to this finding, FTFNIPM will further adapt the data collection tools associated with the planned gender-focused technology assessment.
- Rapid Stakeholder Engagement and Feedback: As the COVID-19 situation in Nepal continues to fluctuate, regular and routine brief feedback calls with women CBFs and agro-vets can ensure FTFNIPM training and recommendations are meeting their evolving needs.
- Promote a culture of reflection and learning: FTFNIPM’s implementation team needs to continue implementing weekly review meetings; however, specific guidance is needed to stimulate reflection on gender and social inclusion issues linked to training accessibility.
Looking ahead, FTFNIPM is focusing on reach: when, how, and with what information to reach small-scale farmers in Nepal. The project especially considers how this reach can be sustained in the long term. The GESI analysis results were clear — every farmer accesses resources differently; therefore, we must also vary our approaches to how we deliver them. Importantly, there are gaps, such as the gendered digital equity gap, that need to be addressed not only so that these varied approaches can be delivered, but so they can be utilized.