Enset is a Good Thing: A documentary film about gender
and enset in Jimma Zone, Ethiopia
Katie MacEntee1, Jennifer Thompson1, Sirawdink Fikreyesus2 and Kemeru Jihad3
1Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University, 3715 Ave Peel, Montreal, QC, Canada
2Department of Post-Harvest Management, Jimma University, P.O. Box 307, Jimma, Ethiopia
3Department of Horticulture and Plant Sciences, Jimma University, P.O. Box 307, Jimma, Ethiopia
Inspirations for the Documentary Film
This film was inspired by Jimma University lecturer Sirawdink Fikreyesus. After
completing Gender Training, as part of the Post Harvest Management to Improve
Livelihoods (PHMIL) project, Sirawdink wanted to explore gender in enset production
through documentary film. Collaborating with Jennifer Thompson and Katie MacEntee,
PhD students from McGill University interning in Ethiopia with PHMIL in 2012 with
expertise in visual methods and gender studies, the team’s intent was to produce a film
for use as an educational tool to better incorporate gender into agricultural research and
teaching. Kemeru Jihad, born and raised in Jimma Zone and an M.Sc. student at JU, was
then enlisted as an interviewer and translator. The film was supported by Jimma
University, the PHMIL project, and the Canadian International Development Agency.
Enset is praised for being drought resistant, preventing soil erosion, and increasing soil moisture content.
GENDER DIVISION OF LABOUR:
Once planted, women do the bulk of the physical labour associated with the growing, processing and
marketing of the plant. One female participant put it simply, “For the processing of enset, men are not
involved. They are involved only on sanitation inside the enset plantation and at the time of planting.
Men don’t know how to process. We haven’t heard of any men who know how to process.” Another
woman explains, “According to our culture, no one is involved in the processing except women. The men
don’t touch enset with their hands. They do not process or cut enset.”
When men are not present, women do all the labour associated with this crop as well as other farming
duties traditionally done solely by men and boys. One woman farmer states, “But we, who don’t have
husbands, are involved in the planting.” Other women were adamant about their ability to perform
physical labour such as ploughing and using a pitchfork, traditionally considered too physically strenuous
Women control the income garnered from selling enset products. Processed enset is mainly sold at times
of crisis to supplement household income. One woman farmer says, “It is decided by me and I process
when I am faced with problems.” Income from selling enset products returns directly to the household
income and is used mainly to buy staples such as salt, oil, and soap.
Most farmers report tradition as a reason for the gender division of labour, although most noted that
tradition is starting to change. One male farmer explains that he is encouraging this sons to learn how to
cook. Another male farmers without children states, “Because she is killing much of her time on kocho
preparation, I fetch water and collect wood. If it is possible, I clean cow dung from the house.”
Although men are not participating in enset processing, they can help in other ways. One woman
explains, “They cannot help us with kocho, but they are helping us fetch water and collect wood.”
Agro-science challenges to enset production:
Enset processing is labour-intensive and time-consuming for women.
Crop loss as a result of disease and rot are a primary concern to farmers. New plant varieties which are
disease and rot resistant was the most requested need expressed by the participants.
Unlike cash crops such as teff, barley, and maize, the participants had not experienced any training or
support in enset farming development from the Agricultural officers. In fact, one farmer cited providing
the Agricultural Bureau with plant varieties. One DA voiced a need for an enset manual and training to
better be able to respond to farmers needs.
There appears to be a gap between what enset farmers need, and the types of technologies being
developed. Safer, more efficient tools for scrapping are needed. One women farmer clearly states, “We
do everything using wood, and I need other tools.”
Research at the JAMRC has developed metal and wooden technologies for the scrapping and squeezing
parts of enset processing. This includes a metal clamp to attach the enset sheaths to the scrapping board,
as well as both wooden and metal squeezers to squeeze water from the fermented kocho. While these
technologies have been developed, due to a lack of funding, they were not currently being distributed. To
date, there have been no reported technological developments regarding the fermentation process.
Participatory and feminist theoretical frameworks consider research participants as
experts in their own lives and, in this case, in enset production. Feminist theories also
consider central to the analysis the gender relations which mediate our everyday world
and considering how power inequalities affect contextually specific understandings of
what is ‘normal’, ‘natural’, and ‘valued.’
Action research is concerned with how the research process contribute directly to social
change, in this case through the decision of putting the views of women farmers first in
developing our understandings about enset and in the development of a teaching tool.
Qualitative and visual methodologies were used in order to explore particular details
about enset production, to engage the research participants and audience in a visual way,
and to help disseminate research findings.
Through the Jimma Zone Agricultural Office, the team contacted Agricultural
Development Agents (DAs) in four Woredas: Dedo, Manaa, Seka, and Sekoru. Farming
families in each Woreda (4 women and 3 men) were interviewed about their enset
farming practices, gender division of labour in the household, and technological
development needs in terms of enset production. Also interviewed were the four Woreda
DAs, the Jimma Zone Agricultural Office Home Economics and Gender Specialist, the
Director and a Technology Developer from the Jimma Agricultural Mechanization
Research Center (JAMRC), and a Jimma University College of Agricultural and Veterinary
Medicine (JUCAVM) academic specializing in enset research. The interview transcripts
were analyzed using content analysis.
Tsegaye & Struik (2002)
Mitchell et al. (2010)
Amedea, Stroudb and Aune (2004)
SCALING UP ENSET PRODUCTION?
Despite the multiple uses and benefits of enset, the plant has largely been overlooked as a
sustainable food source. However, interest is growing: Amedea, Stroudb and Aune (2004) argue that
household nutrition would benefit from land allocation towards enset crops. As a “woman’s crop,”
increased enset production would certainly affect women. But how might this impact women? This
research raises critical questions about how agricultural research can, on the one hand, respond to
the multiple and overlapping labour responsibilities placed on women farmers while, on the other
hand, ensure women’s continued access to and control of this valuable resource. We want to stress
that any increase in the land distribution towards enset would have to take into consideration how
this might impact women and their households. Technology developments could significantly reduce
the physical strain and time required for enset processing. They could also increase the yield, and
consequently, the potential value of crop to rural households.
AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH AND TEACHING
In rural Ethiopian settings, close to 70% of post-harvest labour is carried out by women, however
they are often excluded from household decision-making (what to grow and how to market it) and do
not have equal access (compared to men) to resources and to status more broadly (Mitchell et al.,
2010). This research takes the division of labour in enset production as a starting point to explore the
benefits of enset and processing methods, men’s and women’s roles in its production, and –
importantly – the ways that research can better meet the needs of enset farmers in Jimma Zone.
Integrating a gendered perspective into the teaching and research practices of agricultural training
institutions means building insight about the roles of both men and women as well as how their roles
affect each other and food sustainability. How agricultural researchers and lecturers address gender
in post-harvest management affects how agricultural problems are perceived, the types of solutions
developed, what research questions are prioritized and the methodologies used, and the way
agricultural sciences are taught (therefore how the next generation of researchers and teachers is
trained). All this is critical to consider if research and teaching are going to help promote gender
equality, and better respond to the needs of rural Ethiopian farmers.
Jennifer, Kemeru, Katie and a group of
women enset farmers in Sekoru.
Enset farmer, Dedo.
Sirawdink interviewing Manaa DA.
Kemeru and Katie interviewing Manaa
Enset Scapper with metal clip to improve
sanitation during processing.
Enset Squeezer, developed but not distributed by the
Jimma Agricultural Mechanization Centre.
Metal squeezer, displayed by a researcher at the JAMRC.
Currently not for sale or distributed.
Women farmer scrapping enset sheath using traditional tool.
The man is tying rope between two plants over which the
decorticated fibers will be hung to dry.
Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman has
many names – Enset, False Banana, Kocho.
A perennial crop, it is grown and consumed
predominantly in the south and southwest
regions of Ethiopia and is considered one of
the oldest cultivated plants in the country
(CITE). Plant products include a
carbohydrate-rich food source (as kocho,
amicho or bulla) and fiber for making mats
and rope. Enset is known locally and in the
literature as being predominantly a
“woman’s crop” (CITE). Women are
responsible for the growing, as well as the
labour-intensive processing, cooking, and
selling of plant products. Enset plays an
important role in the food security of
households in this region (Tsegaye & Struik,
2002). Yet very little current research which
examines enset as a sustainable food
source, and the important social relations
around its use in rural households.
ENSET IS A GOOD THING:
Enset is a staple crop for the farmers in this region, and is used for many purposes. One participant
expressed, “It is basic to our life. When we need many things - we can sell it, we can eat it. If we sell it, we
fetch a high price. If processed, we can use it as food.” Women farmers discussed the importance of enset
in keeping their family well fed. One woman describes, “it is better to have a small piece of kocho to get
energy to do work. You don’t get hungry.” Another woman says, “bulla is extracted from enset. And mixed
with butter or oil, it is used for fattening. Especially for thin people, if they eat bulla daily with butter or
oil, it is good. This is for fattening, and to fill the blood.”
There are few costs associated with enset production.
The heart of an enset plant being processed. This inner part of the
stem will eventually be pounded in preparation for fermentation.
I’m wondering one or two Merkato shots here?
What do you think?