How Integrated Pest Management Practices Could Provide a Pathway to Improved Crop Production and Increased Technical Knowledge for Women
This post was written by Sara Hendery, communications consultant for the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovation Lab.
Considering gender in research, implementation and policy around agricultural practices is vital to increasing food security.
Gender often shapes one’s access to resources and opportunities. Despite holding crucial roles in agricultural production, women face countless barriers compared to men, including limited access to inputs, information, extension services, financing and beyond. These limitations put women at a disadvantage before they even plant a single seed. To achieve sustainable production, inclusive approaches that consider the preferences and lived experiences of different groups, including women, are essential.
The Feed the Future Bangladesh Integrated Pest Management Activity (IPMA), a USAID-funded associate award under Virginia Tech’s IPM Innovation Lab, develops suites of agricultural strategies — called IPM packages — that farmers can choose from based on their needs, conditions and preferences, and that address problems faced by farmers from the time of planting seeds to harvest. Thus far, IPMA has developed IPM packages for rice, maize, lentils, mangoes and eggplants. Targeted training on the technologies has the potential to increase women’s participation in, technical knowledge of and income-generation around agricultural activities.
Take, for example, Trichoderma sp., an IPM package component that helps control soilborne pathogenic fungal diseases of crops. IPMA has collaborated with public and private institutions and female entrepreneurs in Bangladesh in promoting the production of Trichoderma-inoculated compost (tricho-compost) for commercial distribution, as well as local personal use. Those who produce a large quantity of tricho-compost distribute directly to or through local agricultural input providers, while individuals who produce tricho-compost in their backyards use it in their kitchen gardens and their own fields. Use of Trichoderma in seed treatment or in compost application, in which the technology can act as an alternative to synthetic chemical fungicides for control of soilborne fungal pathogens, has become a familiar practice in Bangladesh. It is often incorporated into practices at plant nurseries, which are typically small, family-owned enterprises in Bangladesh and where women are often involved in a number of tasks, including watering and sowing seeds.
Sreeti Rani, who lives in Jessore, operates a nursery where she and her team produce tricho-compost as well as implement other IPM practices, such as pheromone traps, on their farm. Rani is one of the women IPMA supports through technical training and extension.
“Tricho-compost not only gives nutrients to crops,” Rani said, “it also protects crops from diseases.”
Similarly, in recent years, introduction of coco-pith, a bioproduct in coconut processing, has resulted in its widespread use in seedling production. In the past, farmers in tropical countries raised seedlings in the soil, resulting in sometimes poor seedlings due to infection with soilborne pathogens. Coco-pith, an IPM package technology, is a sterile cellulose material and its use in nurseries prevents infection of seedlings by bacteria, fungi and nematodes that are commonly present in poor soils. Sreeti Rani is one of many women who operate nurseries that IPMA has trained on applying the technology.
Bacterial wilt is a common soilborne disease in Bangladesh that typically affects tomato and eggplant crops. When these crops are planted in infested soil, they grow up to the flowering stage and then wilt due to bacteria blocking the flow in the vascular system. To overcome this problem, IPMA introduced the IPM package technique of grafting scions (shoots) of desired varieties on rootstocks of bacterial wilt-resistant plants, such as wild eggplant. Grafting of seedlings is often conducted in plant nurseries.
IPMA is in the process of establishing a collaboration with Maxim Agro, a commercial seedling industry with high demand for grafted seedlings. IPMA targets women to be involved in grafting trainings; then, once trained, women will be connected to Maxim Agro to supply grafted seedlings. Increasing women’s technical knowledge in such an area could be a potential pathway for the generation of income. In fact, in an earlier IPM Innovation Lab activity, women who participated in grafting training in Bangladesh used the money they earned from their sales to purchase important household staples, such as milk, or supplies for their children’s schooling.
“It’s very important to the success and sustainability of our program that we don’t just aim to increase women’s participation in agricultural activities,” said Madhab Das, IPMA chief of party, “but opportunities for long-term skills development. Importantly, IPM packages are very adaptable, and allow different types of farmers with varying skills to choose technologies based on their preferences.”
It is projected that if women’s access to agricultural resources were equal to men’s, crop yields would significantly improve — by up to 30% — ultimately leading to increased global food security. While IPMA’s targeted training on components of IPM packages has led to increased technical knowledge and income-generation opportunities for some women, there is still a great deal of work that must be done to ensure women have unlimited access to agricultural resources and information. Timing and length of technical agricultural trainings, for example, often do not always account for the many other tasks women must address in a day, such as water fetching and food preparation. It is also known that women are often excluded from decision-making power on their family farms, in part because of the patrilineality of land ownership. It is vital that the development and implementation of agricultural technologies and innovations consider the preferences of many types of farmers — especially those who have been marginalized — for long-term, sustained impact.