Study on Push-Pull Technology Shows Valuable Links to Women’s Empowerment
This post is written by Sara Hendery, Communications Coordinator for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management.
Arbe Tafesse is a female maize farmer in rural eastern Africa. Along the outskirts of her maize field, Brachiaria fodder grass lines the edges, and intercropped within the field are patches of Desmodium, a fodder legume. The cropping system is a technology called Push-Pull, named for its ability to “push” or repel yield-threatening pests like the stemborer or fall armyworm, and “pull” or trap the same pests in the maize field, effectively increasing agricultural productivity in food-insecure communities. The technology provides additional benefits such as improved soil fertility, reduced soil erosion, and suppressed weeds. It also provides nutrient-rich animal fodder, which contributes to improved incomes and nutrition security. In Tafesse’s case, Push-Pull earned her enough money to build a new home. She sells two liters of extra milk every day for $2.00, has sold enough Brachiaria and Desmodium to her neighboring farmers to purchase a goat, and is able to pay her daughter’s school fees.
A recent study led by the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in collaboration with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management shows that Push-Pull impacts can cut even deeper. With findings that Push-Pull has positive links to women’s empowerment by enhancing women’s and household nutrition security, the study heightens the value of pairing or promoting agricultural technology dissemination and women’s initiatives together rather than separately.
Around the world, women comprise nearly half of the agricultural workforce. Women also shape family nutritional outcomes in fundamental ways, both indirectly through their nutritional status and directly through caregiving practices, such as breastfeeding and food purchasing. Nevertheless, women continue to have limited access to resources such as land ownership and are more at risk than men for nutrient deficiency. Using the Abbreviated Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (A-WEAI), which considers several critical factors for identifying “empowered” and “disempowered” women, icipe researchers surveyed 711 farmer households, exploring the effect of women’s empowerment in combination with adoption of Push-Pull on women’s nutrition security in western Kenya. According to the results, empowered women benefit in a multitude of ways:
- Push-Pull adopting households with empowered women show higher per-capita maize consumption and higher per-capita farm income compared to households without either Push-Pull or empowered women or both.
- The number of food groups consumed by empowered women in Push-Pull adopting households is higher (9 percent) than for disempowered women in non-adopting households.
- Empowered women belonging to Push-Pull adopting households show an increase in women’s dietary diversity score(WDDS) by 9 percent compared to empowered women belonging to households that did not adopt Push-Pull.
- Push-Pull adoption increases WDDS by 4 percent for disempowered women compared to disempowered women belonging to non-adopting households.
- The WDDS is higher (3 percent) for empowered women belonging to households that adopted Push-Pull compared to disempowered women belonging to households that adopted Push-Pull.
Push-Pull benefits on the field are clear. For adopters, annual milk production: increased. Plowing and weeding labor: decreased. Farmer income: up. Maize loss due to pests: reduced. Off the field, those impacts have even greater significance, such as improved nutrition, for households with empowered women. This not only highlights the value of increasing women’s access to productive resources such as education and financial resources, but further, that strategies aimed at improving women’s health status and production capabilities should consider integrating empowerment with technology adoption for even more widespread results.
For that reason, farmers like Arbe Tafesse have more than extra household goods after adopting Push-Pull. She is now armed, as well, with one of the most significant resources of all: knowledge of the agricultural mechanisms she can use to better herself, her household, and her community for seasons to come.