Reducing Post-Harvest Losses through Better Gender Integration
This post is written by Maria Jones, Ismat Ara Begum, Md. Monjurul Alam, C.K. Saha, Md. Abdul Awal
Post-harvest management is an important, although less visible, step in ensuring a community’s food security. Poor post-harvest management reduces both the quantity and quality of food available for consumption undermining all four pillars of food security — availability, access, utilization and stability. A food secure community is resilient to external shocks and threats, and good post-harvest management can bolster that resilience.
Globally, women smallholder farmers are responsible for multiple post-harvest activities such as threshing, drying, winnowing, storage, cleaning, processing and marketing. At the household level, women smallholder farmers are specifically responsible for storing grains after harvest for household consumption and as seeds. They traditionally store grains in earthen pots, bamboo baskets, and other storage structures which are not insect-, pest- or moisture-proof. In fact, research shows that 50-60 percent of the post-harvest losses occur at the storage stage, resulting in loss of both grain quantity and grain quality. These losses affect food available for consumption and impact sale prices.
While multiple improved post-harvest handling technologies exist, smallholder farmers (both male and female) face barriers to adoption. Specifically, women smallholder farmers face barriers such as technology design and access to it (income, credit, land). Limited access to information to learn about and purchase improved technologies is another barrier that women face. Furthermore, women also face intra-household barriers that hinder them from participating in a household’s decision to adopt new technologies. To make an impact in reducing post-harvest losses, organizations and programs need to consider gender dimensions of post-harvest technologies, and address gendered barriers.
The INGENAES Gender Technology Assessment tool is a successful method to assess a technology’s gender sensitivity and develop solutions to address barriers. The method has been adapted and successfully piloted by USAID projects and programs such as the Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest (PHLIL). The methodology assesses a technology’s effect on men and women’s time and labor, and income and assets. It also looks at gendered barriers and enablers at various stages of technology uptake: design (user’s needs), dissemination (learning), adoption (access) and continued use (intra-household dynamics). The “lean” assessment completed in a week also focuses on identifying practical recommendations that can be easily and quickly incorporated into program activities.
In Bangladesh, Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) researchers utilized the Gender Technology Assessment tool to assess the gender sensitivity of hermetic bags and the BAU-STR dryers promoted within the PHLIL project. The BAU-STR dryer reduces grain loss during drying to 0.5% (compared to 3-4% using conventional methods) and coupled with hermetic storage, farmers reduced storage losses due to insect infestation or moisture control and achieved 95% germination (compared to 35% for conventional methods). The gender technology assessment team led by Dr. Ismat Ara Begum interviewed female and male farmers and other stakeholders in three districts Mymensingh, Netrokona and Jashore on the BAU-STR dryer and hermetic bags.
The gender assessment of the technologies highlighted the role of women in post-harvest activities. In Bangladesh, conservative socio-cultural norms restrict women’s ability to participate in paid work outside the home; however, within the homestead women are responsible for post-harvest activities, especially in rice production. Specific post-harvest activities which take up a bulk of women’s time were found to be winnowing, parboiling, drying, bagging of paddy, cleaning of the rice, and storing paddy seed for the next season. These post-harvest activities were in addition to other tasks, such as rearing livestock and poultry, processing and preparing food, collecting fuel and water, maintaining homestead vegetable production, and domestic care work.
The assessment revealed that women farmers saved time and labor by using hermetic storage for storing paddy seeds. In traditional seed storage methods, women monitor and clean the stored seed multiple times over a storage period to ensure rodents and weevil damage was immediately cleaned up. Most female users of the hermetic bags for seed storage mentioned that by using hermetic bags they saved the time they would traditionally spend monitoring and repeatedly cleaning the seeds. Farmers also referred to the ease of use and tangible benefits of using the bags, such as proper seed color, lack of insects, and overall good quality of the grain. A gendered barrier was the size and weight of the bags which currently store 50 kg of seed, which resulted in men moving a filled hermetic bag from one place to another. Multiple farmers suggested having bags of smaller volumes such as five, 10 and 20 kg, which would also enable them to store different varieties of paddy or other seeds in smaller amounts. The higher price also posed a barrier in purchase and adoption. Additionally, a massive rodent problem led women farmers to store filled hermetic bags in plastic containers or within jute sacks.
Women are responsible for sun drying, where paddy is exposed to sun and wind in the yard or field. However, it is a labor intensive task requiring attention to the weather and frequent shifting of the grain to ensure even drying. The gender assessment of the BAU-STR dryer showed that the dryer saves women’s time and labor. Sun drying takes at least four or five days of constant effort to dry 500 kg of paddy. In comparison, the BAU-STR dryer takes on average 4-5 hours to dry 500 kg of paddy, bringing the moisture content from 28 to 12 percent, which reduces moisture-caused post-harvest losses. The dryer is also weather-independent, enabling grain drying even during the rains. In many households, men carried the components and set up the dryer, and women transferred the paddy and operated the dryer. Using the dryer enabled women to use the saved time on other homestead activities, such as rearing poultry, fish pond culture, and homestead vegetable gardening.
A barrier for adoption was the high initial investment cost of approximately 70,000 BDT (875 USD) and multiple farming households were willing to pay up to 40,000 BDT (500 USD). While women have access to credit through Village Savings and Loans Associations, these are typically insufficient for large capital investments. A recommendation was to work with rural women entrepreneurs and women farmer’s associations, who can offer drying services to farmers on an affordable fee-for-service basis. BAU is currently working to train female entrepreneurs to provide community drying services for a fee. BAU is also helping connect interested farmer-entrepreneurs with the Department of Agricultural Extension to procure the dryers at a subsidized rate.
In conclusion, improved drying and storage technologies have the potential to save women’s time and labor, and play both a direct and an indirect role in increasing smallholder farmers’ income. Improved post-harvest technologies can enhance all four dimensions of smallholder families’ food security - increasing physical availability, improving economic access, ensuring safe utilization, and improving stability by providing continuous access to cereals, and thereby enabling community resilience. However, programs promoting improved drying and storage technologies need to consider and address gender and constraints to ensure that women smallholders benefit from the process.
The authors would like to acknowledge the PHLIL-Bangladesh project directors, researchers and implementers at the Bangladesh Agricultural University who organized and conducted this research: Dr. Md. Monjurul Alam, Dr. Ismat Ara Begum, Dr. Md. Abdul Awal, Dr. C.K. Saha, and Dr. Md. Rostom Ali.
This research, performed as part of the “Post-Harvest Loss Innovation Lab Phase II – Bangladesh,” is made possible by the support of the American People provided to the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Post-Harvest Loss at the University of Illinois. The contents are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.
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