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Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia

Authors:
  • De Beersche Hoeve

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It is sometimes argued that women play a more important role in seed and diversity management than men, and that women have greater abilities in managing crop diversity. In The Gambia, men and women also have the belief that women are better in managing and identifying varieties than men. This article focuses on the role of gender in farmer management of crop diversity in two crops, rice which is cultivated by women and pearl millet which is cultivated by men. First a historical overview is given of the role of gender in farming. The management of crop diversity in rice and millet and gendered knowledge in The Gambia is described in detail. Lastly, a grouping experiment with rice panicles and millet spikes is described. The article shows that clear differences exist between the farming practices of men and women, and these are based on a complex interplay of socio-economic and agro-ecological factors. But the differences in seed selection practices of men and women are small, and those differences that exist can best be explained by a complex of agroecological factors and rice and millet characteristics. The grouping experiment showed no significant differences in the way men and women grouped rice panicles and millet spikes. Together these findings suggest that the supposedly better skills of women in crop variety management are related to their gender identity rather than to any biological differences. Instead of taking the supposedly strong skills of women in seed and variety management as a starting point for agricultural development, it is better to understand the underlying mechanism that keep women in disadvantaged positions in rural societies and to try to change these mechanisms for their benefit. Key words: The Gambia, gender, agricultural labor, crop variety management
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Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
Edwin Nuijten
1
Wageningen University, the Netherlands
Introduction
In traditional farming systems, crop diversity provides the opportunity for farmers to keep their options
open. Diversity does not necessarily lead to yield increases, but it is linked to yield stability. Because women
play a bigger role than men in many cropping systems, it is often asserted that they frequently control seed
selection and management of crop varieties (Howard 2003). This would imply women have more knowledge
of plant diversity and have an important role in the management and conservation of plant genetic resources.
It is also stated that "[crop] domestication has often depended on the observational powers of women who
historically have been most associated with seed selection and thus with noticing new varieties which
spontaneously appear in the field" (Prain 1993). This would suggest that women 'naturally' are more
interested in crop diversity than men are, as Vandana Shiva (1988) has argued.
To respond to the question of whether innate gender differences exist in seed selection and crop
diversity management, and if so why, I make a comparison of how men and women in the same compounds
actually manage two crops with different breeding systems. In The Gambia women are responsible for the
cultivation of rice (a self-pollinating crop) and men for the cultivation of pearl millet (a cross-pollinating
crop). The gendered management of crop diversity is analyzed, in order to understand the factors that best
account for apparently better management of crop diversity by women. First, a historical overview of gender
in farming in The Gambia is given, followed by a discussion of the gendered relations of crop diversity
management of rice and millet. The last section describes the results of a grouping experiment of millet
spikes and rice panicles done by both men and women.
Durkheim argued that masculine aspects of culture are related to power and that feminine aspects are
related to compassion (Mestrovic 1992), while Shiva (1988) also argued for strongly gendered
characteristics and attributes. An important question therefore is to try and resolve which characteristics
might be typically masculine and typically feminine, and whether these are acquired ('nurture') or pre-
existing ('nature'). To do so is, however, is very difficult. One of the main problems is how to explain both
the enormous observable variation in cultural understandings of what the categories 'man' and 'woman'
mean, and yet how certain notions about gender appear in a wide range of different societies (Moore 1988).
2
The idea that women are better in crop variety management and conservation seems to be supported by
case studies of rice farming in Southwest Casamance (Linares 1981), of beans in Rwanda (Sperling et al.
1993), and of rice production in the Garhwal Himalaya region of India (Shiva and Dankelman 1992). Other
case studies suggest that seed and variety management is regulated in variable and complex ways. Where
maize is the prime crop in Mexico, it is both men and women who are involved in seed selection - men
select superior plants in the field, while women select superior ears of corn during cooking (Rice et al.
1998). In Peru cassava is a women's crop, but the (male) shamans play a crucial role in cassava variety
management and development (Salick et al. 1997). In central Sierra Leone men and women are both
involved in rice variety management and development (Richards 1986) whereas in Northern Sierra Leone, it
appears that often only men are involved in seed purification (Jusu 1999).
There are a range of reasons offered as to why women are traditionally more involved in crop variety
management and conservation. Because women usually are responsible for processing and cooking, they
need, and consequently conserve, a wide range of varieties and crop characteristics (Worede and Mekbib
1993). In certain areas women might need a greater set of varieties because they are farming under more
marginal and diverse conditions than men. In Zimbabwe, fertiliser is predominantly used on men's crops,
which are also cash crops, grown on the best fields, leaving women to grow subsistence crops on poorer
soils without inputs (van Oosterhout 1996). Higher levels of diversity often occur under marginal cultivation
conditions and are more related to subsistence crops than to cash crops (Nuijten 2005). In the case of maize
in southwest China seed and variety management, together with farming in general, has shifted towards the
women's domain because many men have gone to the urban areas to look for work (Song and Jiggins 2003).
The same pattern is visible in Andean potato producing regions in Peru (Zimmerer 1991). Boserup argued
that in African farming systems colonial capitalism frequently gave more responsibility for subsistence
1
Dr. Edwin Nuijten, Technology and Agrarian Development Group, Wageningen University, Hollandseweg 1, 6706 KN
Wageningen, the Netherlands. edwin.nuijten "at" wur.nl. An earlier version of this manuscript was presented at the
AEGIS Conference, at SOAS, London in 2005. I thank Prof. Paul Richards and two anonymous reviewers whose
comments have significantly improved the manuscript. The research was funded by NWO-WOTRO.
2
In future, it may be possible to disentangle people's endowed and acquired characteristics, by looking at the impact of
the various hormones regulating physical differences between men and women and emotional differences. But for now,
it is difficult to identify strictly gendered characteristics. None of this would alter a true social (or political) fact that in
many cultures, despite their differences, women have a secondary status in society (Boserup 1970).
Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
farming to women (1970). The expansion of capitalism actively created a new sexual division of labor
(Guyer 1980).
After the introduction of a new commercial crop by men, for example, women can lose influence and
power. But it might also be possible that over time they are also able to regain their lost influence and
control until a new power dynamic is established (Haswell 1975). Some argue that any resulting conflicts of
interest are rooted in the nature of social relationships themselves, and the social relations of production,
rather than being 'natural' or inevitable (Whitehead 1984).
The literature illustrates that crop diversity management is influenced by a range of socio-cultural,
economic, political and agro-ecological factors, but they do not refute the possibility that women have a
general affinity for plants that exceeds that of their male counterparts (Howard 2003; Shiva and Dankelman
1992). Because of their limited access to new agricultural technologies, women may have developed certain
skills in the management of cultivars in order to cope with the circumstances under which they farm. If
research finds that women do not have more affinity for plants than men, it may be argued that their farming
skills are an important indicator of a disadvantaged position in society. In large measure, the political
ecology of agriculture in The Gambia supports this assertion. The case studies here explore the differential
skills of men and women in the same communities, in order to test some aspects of this relationship.
Methodology
The research used an interdisciplinary approach, integrating biological and anthropological methods.
3
From 2000 to early 2003 semi-structured and informal interviews were conducted with 77 farmers in the
western part of The Gambia in four villages (Tujereng, Kitti, Faraba and Janack), where agro-ecological
conditions are relatively similar. The reason I worked in the western part of the country was the limited
number of agricultural interventions made there. The majority of the 77 farmers were interviewed several
times during the research period. The four villages were studied in detail to achieve a better understanding of
farmer management of seeds, crop varieties, and pollen flow. In all four villages short duration upland rice
and late varieties of pearl millet were cultivated. The upland rice was cultivated in areas prepared for
cultivation through slash and burning, or in the upper stretches of the lowlands that were usually free of
swampy conditions. The villages were selected so they formed a line from west to east at intervals of 20 to
30 km. The first three villages are Mandinka villages with large populations of Jola. Janack is a Jola village.
In terms of farming practices there are no clear differences between Mandinka and Jola in the study area. In
this region the Jola can be considered 'Mandinginised' (see Linares 1992).
In 2002 a questionnaire on management of crop and variety diversity was conducted with 135
compounds in 11 villages in four regions across the country (Kombo, Foni, Kiang, Fuladu) (Fig. 1). In each
compound a man and one of his wives were interviewed separately about millet and rice production. The
purpose was to understand how biological and socio-economic variables may vary over a larger region.
Rainfall is highest in Kombo region, lowest in Kiang region with Fuladu and Foni regions in between. The
agro-ecological conditions in Foni are relatively similar to those in Kombo for both rice and millet. Foni is a
typical rural region whereas life in the rural areas in Kombo is strongly influenced by proximity to urban
areas. Kiang and Fuladu are also typical rural regions. In the four regions different types of millet and rice
were cultivated. In Kiang, farmers cultivated rice in associated mangrove swamps and early millet (suno) in
the uplands. The late millet (majo) cultivated in Fuladu was a different type from the late millet (sanyo)
cultivated in Kombo and Foni. In Fuladu agro-ecological conditions for rice were similar to those in Foni
but the spatial area was more constrained by geography.
In 2003 a grouping experiment was conducted with 21 farmers from Tujereng and Faraba. Because rice
is grown exclusively by women and millet by men, men often do not know the exact names of rice varieties
and women don't know millet varieties. So, it was not possible to compare men's and women's knowledge of
variety naming. Instead, men and women from Tujereng and Faraba (see Fig. 1) were asked to group
inflorescences of millet and rice, millet spikes and rice panicles respectively, based on their morphological
features. In total, 11 men and 11 women from Tujereng and 10 men and 10 women from Faraba were asked
to group 35 millet spikes and 30 rice panicles from different varieties of late millet and upland rice.
3
The field trials and molecular analysis are described in Nuijten and Van Treuren (2007). For the integration of
morphological data and interview data in relation to mechanisms explaining variety naming see Nuijten and
Almekinders (2008).
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 17, 2010
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Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
Fig. 1: Research sites: A: Tujereng, B: Kitti, C: Faraba, D: Janack, E: Batabut Kantore,
F: Sangajor, G: Kartong, H: Jiroff, I: Massembe, J: Damfakunda and K: Sanending;
Major cities: 1: Banjul (Capital), 2: Bakau, 3: Serrekunda and 4: Brikama.
Change in Gambian farming system from 1800 to 2000
The Gambia is one of West Africa's ecological, social, and cultural frontiers (Brooks 1993). It is a
transition zone between savanna and forest habitats. South of The Gambia rice is the main staple food,
whereas to the north and north-east, pearl millet and sorghum are the main staples, except in areas near
rivers. According to Tosh (1980) agriculture in the savanna zone requires more and better organised labor,
because of the shorter cultivation season and steeper labor peaks. Consequently, it is more common for farm
operations to be shared between men and women: for example, men prepare the land, women sow and weed,
and all take part in the harvest. In certain areas in Mali no gendered division in tasks exist at all (Toulmin
1992, Lewis 1981). But in the forest zone, for example further south in Sierra Leone, there is more gender
segregation. It is easier for men to organise a large labor force than it is for women because they have more
power (Johnny et al. 1981). Hence, they concentrate on upland farming where labor peaks can only be
mitigated by large labor groups, while lowland rice farming and vegetable gardening, regions where women
dominate, have a more of a constant labor requirement.
Labor organisation is not only regulated by practical agronomic factors, but also by economic and
socio-cultural conditions (Guyer 1980). Guyer (1984) argues that the different working rhythms of men and
women emerge from their institutionalised means for mobilising labor, and that the resulting differences in
cropping systems are a reflection of social power, rather than the result of innate gender difference. This also
helps explain the organisation of labor and crops in The Gambia. According to Webb (1992), the Mandinka
rice farming system in The Gambia is gendered, although the term describes the prevailing ecology as much
as it does the Mandinka ethnic group itself. Swamp rice cultivation is less common in the former Mandinka
Wuli kingdom in Eastern Gambia, and yet the organisation of labor in farming there was gendered, which
suggests its labor organisation has an ethnic origin. In Wuli men used to grow millet, sorghum, groundnuts
and beans, and women grew findo (hungry rice), chickpeas, groundnuts and vegetables in the same fields
(Weil 1984). In the few available depressions, women grew rice.
4
According to Weil (1984), this gender
divide reflects the labor requirements of the various crops: vegetables and rice require daily, or at least
regular, care and are thus women's responsibility. However, groundnut, a male crop, also requires regular
care. So, apart from labor requirements a second factor determining a gender-based labor division is whether
a crop is meant for subsistence or for sale. It seems to be a general rule that men take the responsibility for
the cash crops (i.e. groundnut), while women have the responsibility for the subsistence crops (Howard
2003). Whereas in The Gambia rice is a staple food grown by women, in Mali and Sierra Leone men are
involved in rice cultivation in various degrees, depending on the importance of rice as a cash crop (see
Johnny et al. 1981; Nyanteng et al. 1986; Richards 1986).
In addition, Guyer (1984) suggests that differences in labor organisation are also related to the
longevity of individual crops: indigenous staples are characterised by complex and ritualised labor
4
In those Mandinka systems where it is not possible for women to cultivate rice that can be sold, they can sell the
produce of other crops, such as groundnut, sorghum, beans or vegetables. The crop that women are allowed to sell
differs between regions.
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 17, 2010
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Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
organisations,
5
whereas recently introduced staple crops tend to be individuated, gender-specific and secular
in their management. The farming system in The Gambia is perhaps something of an exception, since rice, a
traditional staple, is grown by women. But Guyer's argument is valid in the sense that "the introduction of a
new crop in a farming system is a medium for, and expression of, the re-negotiation for the organisation of
labor" (1984). Hence, cash crops, usually foreign in origin, tend to increase the overall gender-based
division of labor (Boserup 1970). This happened with the commercialisation of groundnuts in The Gambia,
which resulted in rice being pushed into the women's domain.
Before 1860, rice production was primarily the domain of women, but men had the responsibility for
certain tasks, most notably the preparation of the land prior to transplanting the rice (Watts 1993). Only
around 1860 did a transformation occur in Mandinka agriculture from task-specific to crop-specific gender
roles (Carney 1993; Swindell 1992; Watts 1993). With the groundnut industry booming around 1830,
Mandinka men began to monopolise groundnut production, and rice farming became entirely women's work.
Furthermore, compared to swamp rice cultivation, groundnut is less subject to locust ravages and less labor
intensive (Swindell 1980). Because of the high profits from groundnuts, male farmers concentrated more on
them than on food crops (Watts, 1993; Swindell, 1992). Whereas before 1800, The Gambia was known as a
food exporting country (Carney, 1989), it became a food importing country by 1830 during the groundnut
boom. Rice changed from being an export crop to an import crop, and was grown locally for subsistence
(Watts 1993).
For almost all (about 95%) of the rural population, today's agricultural production is gendered. Some
new patterns are visible. In those areas where rice cultivation is not possible anymore because of reduced
rainfall, women cultivate their own millet and groundnut fields, separate from the men. In the irrigated rice
areas, men also work in the rice fields (Carney 1993). To a large extent they have control over women's
labor and over the income generated from the sale of rice paddy. As a result some women prefer to grow rice
outside the irrigated areas where their husbands cannot exert control over them. Another divergent pattern is
visible among the Manjago, who settled in The Gambia in the 1960s and 1970s from Guinea-Bissau. In
Manjago culture, traditionally there is no gendered divide in crop cultivation and men and women cooperate
in rice farming (like the Jola in southwest Casamance). But some second or third generation Manjago, born
in The Gambia, are gradually adopting Mandinka culture.
National and international efforts to improve food production
Before World War II very few efforts were made to improve rice cultivation. The focus of British
agricultural research was on groundnut and other crops that could be cultivated in upland areas (see The
Annual Reports of the Department of Agriculture, 1925; 1926; 1931; 1932; 1934; 1936; 1939). In 1939 it
was mentioned that men concentrated too much on groundnut cultivation for export, causing problems in
years with low prices because they were unable to provide enough food for the family. But with the
introduction of animal traction in the 1950s men increased the size of their groundnut fields even further, at
the expense of food crop production (Weil, 1970).
In 1949 the first irrigation scheme was initiated by the colonial government at Jahally Pacharr, but only
200 acres was irrigated even though 10,000 acres was planned (Carney 1998). A lesser known but more
successful initiative of the colonial government was the clearance of mangroves and the construction of
causeways and footbridges in the central upstream part of the river basin in the early 1950s. This was meant
to improve access to the deep-water swamps and the distribution of formal rice varieties, so that women
were able to increase their rice production, which balanced the decrease in (millet) food production
cultivated by men (Watts, 1993; Haswell, 1991). In these areas women were indeed able to increase their
rice production, this was because they now had access to more fertile fields (compared to the less fertile
upland fields). Women could sell surplus rice and were able to increase their financial independence (Weil,
1973). The surplus in rice was sold on the Banjul market, which reduced profit margins for rice-importing
merchants. In 1954, under pressure from the merchants, the state prohibited the export of rice from the
Protectorate and completely stopped its flow from the provinces (Watts, 1993). However, in the 1950s
awareness also arose that the uncontrolled importation of cheap rice would run counter to the development
of a strong domestic rice industry (Haswell, 1963). By the mid-1960s, then, increases in rice production
increases in the mangrove swamp ecology halted because of growing labor shortages. Machinery did not
substitute for manual labor, and its use in swampy fields may have anyway been problematic. Gambian
women had other reason to avoid the use of mechanical ploughs and other equipment – they feared it would
lead to men gaining more control over production (Baker 1995).
During the 1960s and 1970s the irrigation schemes near Jahally Pachar were enlarged, through funding
from various donors, mainly the Chinese and Taiwanese governments and the World Bank. To reduce the
dependency on rice imports, more than 4,000 ha of swamp was converted into irrigated rice fields suitable
for double cropping (Carney, 1992). The irrigated rice fields are the only areas today where farmers can
produce a certain surplus of rice for sale. But efforts by the government to significantly improve food self
sufficiency through increased rice production have yet to be successful. This is partly because the population
of the Gambia is still growing. The total area cultivated with rice has declined across all ecologies since the
5
An example would be the traditional Jola rice farming system in South-west Casamance (Linares, 1992).
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 17, 2010
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Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
early 1970s, in particular due to rainfall decline. Additionally, about half of the irrigated rice fields are
unavailable for irrigation due to lack of resources (Marong et al., 2001). Further gains in food availability
would only be possible by altering the gender division of labor, drawing men into rice growing (Carney,
1993; 1998). Although rice yields have increased, these are not sufficient to balance the decrease in
cultivated area and rising demand for rice (Nuijten, 2005). The government also tried to increase millet and
sorghum production but again failed. One reason is that male farmers find it unattractive to produce more
food after having been engaged in a monetary economy for 150 years (Barrett, 1988).
After the droughts that affected much of the West African Sahel in the 1970s and ushered in
international development aid, assistance to improve food production in The Gambia emphasised improved
production of rice and vegetables (both traditionally grown by women) to be sold on the market (Carney,
1992). United Nations, World Bank and NGO officials believed cash cropping would benefit poor women
and their children (Baker, 1995). But the commercialisation of rice (applicable only to the irrigated fields in
the eastern part of the country) and vegetables has proceeded amid a welter of conflicting productivity and
equity objectives (Carney, 1992; 1993; Schroeder, 1997). For example, there was no precedent for (male)
household heads to invoke female labor obligations for two cropping seasons a year in the irrigation
schemes (Carney 1992).
6
To increase rice production in upland rice fields, NGOs promoted line sowing in
order to speed up weeding and reduce weed competition. This practice was not adopted because men, who
own the row seeders needed for line sowing, would not assist their wives with the task. As described in the
next section, this was because male and female work units within the same compound largely work
independently from each other (Nuijten, 2005).
The conclusion of all these development efforts is that that tended to reinforce gender divisions in
production tasks and crop types. I will now assess the extent to which gendered crop management is
accounted for by the social conditions of production, or whether innate gender differences in skill and
aptitude are revealed.
Crop diversity and gendered knowledge in The Gambia
In this section I present data from semi-structured and informal interviews conducted in Kombo region
over the period 2000 to 2003, and a questionnaire conducted across the country in 2002.
On and off-farm income sources
Compared to male farmers, female farmers in the study villages have fewer income sources than men,
2.1 and 1.5 respectively (Table 1). Also fewer women (32%) than men (49%) have off-farm income sources.
Table 1 does not give an indication about the relative importance of these income sources, but it shows that
arable crops and fruit trees are the most common on-farm income sources for men and that vegetable
gardening is the most common on-farm income source for women. Whereas men usually have orchards,
women only have a few trees in their faro (a term for a lowland rice field that is not completely flooded) or
garden, and their income from fruit trees is much more limited compared to that of men (Table 1). The high
percentage of women in Fuladu in the east (see Fig. 1) having income from arable crops is because they
cultivate groundnuts and sesame for sale.
The promotion of vegetable gardening by aid agencies as a substitute for rice farming from the 1970s
provided an independent income source for women (Baker, 1995; Schroeder, 1997). In certain areas, where
men's income depends largely on declining groundnut harvests and sales, women's income from gardening
has become indispensable during the dry season (Schroeder, 1997). Traditionally, it is the man's
responsibility to take care of all family expenses, like food, clothing, taxes, school fees, etc. But in practice
women's income has become very important, in some cases indispensible, for household expenditures.
The differences in percentages of off-farm income sources between villages near the urban areas and
those further away are very small for men (Table 1). For women, the differences are larger and show some
irregularity: In Kiang 50% of the women have other income sources, while the equivalent figure in Fuladu is
only 5%. To a large extent, vegetable gardening is related to the percentage of women with off-farm income
sources. In Kiang, for example, not many women are involved in gardening because swamp rice is flooded
with salt water during the dry season and, secondly, because the low groundwater table makes it very
difficult to draw water by hand. An explanation for the rather low percentage of gardening activity in Foni
may be the long distances from markets, in combination with the limited availability of rice swamps with
high groundwater tables. A possible explanation for the low percentage for off-farm income sources in
Fuladu is that many women in that district have other income from the sale of groundnuts and sesame.
6
Because there is already extensive literature on the effects of international development efforts on irrigated swamp rice
production, and the present article does not deal with this environment, the interested reader is referred to Judy Carney's
work (1992; 1993).
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 17, 2010
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Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
District Number of income
sources
Sale of arable
crops
Sale of fruits % women
doing
gardening
1)
% with off-farm
income sources
gender
Kombo 2.3 1.6 93 11 82 44 90 53 31
Foni 2.2 1.1 90 31 80 14 40 48 42
Kiang 1.7 0.9 100 0 20 5 40 43 50
Fuladu 2.0 2.1 85 85 65 40 80 43 5
total 2.2 1.5 92 25 69 31 70 49 32
Table 1: Number of income sources and percentages of men and women who have income from
agriculture and off-farm sources in four villages. N = 127 for men and N = 132 for women.
1)
= mostly during the dry season
Farming resources
One clear difference between men and women in terms of resources is the availability of labor. The
average dabadaa (male labor force in a household) consists of 5.1 men, while the average sinkiroo (female
labor force in a household) consists of 2.9 women. The number of women that work alone is greater than
men. One explanation for this is that the numbers refer to men and women working in the millet and rice
fields respectively. So, some women who only work within the compound and not in the rice fields, may be
excluded from these figures. An additional explanation for the different sizes of the male and female labor
force is that the average number of sinkiroo per compound (1.8) is somewhat higher than the average
number of dabadaa per compound (1.5). In cases of illness or other misfortune in the household, women are
more vulnerable than men. Since the female sinkiroo numbers are smaller than the male dabadaa, it is more
common for women to call in the help of their kafo (working group organised by age and gender) (Nuijten,
2005). The adult women kafo also tends to remain active laborers to an older age than the male kafo. An
advantage of kafo work is that the work is a communal activity and therefore less of drudgery. A
disadvantage is that some members of each kafo group are less active participants than others, leading to
tensions between the members. In that sense being able to marshal a big household labor force (like a
dabadaa or sinkiroo), with a leader and defines tasks, could be preferable.
Traditionally land is owned by men, including the land cultivated by women with rice. In lowland faro
plots, women have usufruct-rights to land, and these rights are passed on to the wives of their sons. Likewise
daughters when married obtain usufruct-rights to the land of their mothers-in-law. Although there may be
exceptions - nowadays land can be purchased by women – elsewhere in the country patrilineal inheritance is
the norm. To secure access, women may obtain cultivation rights from other women, or lend to others in
order to build up patron-client relationships (Kea, 2004). They may also cultivate across an ecological
gradient where possible, on different plots, thus spreading the risk of crop failure. In the upland rice fields,
women depend on men for land access and to do the clearing of the bush for them. Widows, or women
whose husbands are incapacitated, may need to opt for upland fields with low soil fertility because they can
be cultivated with less effort per unit area. In the western part of the country land has become increasingly
scarce and male strangers (farmers who settled in a village recently) may also have problems in terms of
access to land, ending up with fields with low soil fertility.
These land tenure complexities, and their links to labor demands, characterise most West Africa
farming systems but are quite complex in The Gambia because of its diverse production environments. In
addition, rice and millet have different growth characteristics and thus labor requirements. It is important to
note, however, that there is no relationship between the inputs used in rice and millet, when compared at
compound level (Nuijten 2005). In other words, the two crops are produced independent of one another.
Women and men living in the same compound largely work independently as economic actors. If in a
particular compound men use fertiliser in millet, it is no guarantee that the women of the compound will
have access to it, and vice versa. The same is true for the use of sowing machines. The upper stretches of the
transitional zone from lowland to upland, where few trees grow, are well suited for mechanical sowing of
rice; whereas in the inundated lowland fields, rice is transplanted by hand. In the true upland environment,
broadcasting seed by hand is the only option because of tree stumps and other constraints. In all of these
three environments, men are very reluctant to help their wives, or to lend them their sowing machines and
donkeys. This indicates that rice and millet cultivation are two separate, rather independent production
systems, even within the same family compound. It seems that men and women are quite comfortable in
keeping it this way. Possibly, all of them know, as Jane Guyer argued, that technological innovation can lead
to attempts by different groups within a community to exert control over production processes. This might
also explain why women are also reluctant to learn to work with animals (e.g. donkeys) and machines (see
Baker 1995), and why women are reluctant to harvest rice with a sickle instead of a small knife, which is
viewed as a tool suitable for men but not for women. A more practical reason why women are reluctant to
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 17, 2010
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Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
use donkeys may be that they cannot make much use of them in the rest of the year, unlike men who use
donkeys outside the rainy season for carrying loads.
Crop and variety portfolios of men and women
Another gender difference is that in areas where women mainly grow rice, other crops grown by
women are far less significant. Men, on the other hand, grow a portfolio of crops of more or less equal
importance: millet, groundnuts or cassava, maize, and some other minor crops. Whereas women grow about
1.5 types of crops on average, the average man grows 4-5 (Table 2). In those areas where rice cultivation is
not possible anymore, women grow the same crops as men, and, just like men, usually grow just one variety
of each. In these areas no clear differences exist between the genders. In other countries where men are
actively engaged in rice farming, like Sierra Leone, farmers use more varieties of rice than of other crops
(Richards 1986). All this suggests therefore the high number of rice varieties is not because women grow
rice, but rather that a high number of varieties are typical in the rice production system.
The wider spread of crops grown by men can also be attributed to the larger male labor force (the
average dabadaa size is 5.1), when compared to the female labor force (the average sinkiroo size is 2.9).
The number of crops per person is greater for men than for women. There is a positive association between
labor availability and the number of crops grown by men (correlation = 0.285, p = 0,002; N = 120) but not
for labor availability on crops grown by women. Instead, there is a small significant relation between labor
availability and number of rice varieties grown by women (correlation = 0.193; p = 0.027; N = 131). In fact,
it seems likely that the smaller number of crops grown per woman compared to men is compensated by the
rice varieties grown by women. When adding the number of crops and number of rice varieties (3.2 per
sinkiroo, Table 2) together, an average of 1.7 crops and rice varieties per member of the female workforce
(sinkiroo) is obtained, which is higher than the average of 1.2 crops per member of the male workforce
(dabadaa). Unfortunately, male farmers were not asked how many varieties of groundnuts, cassava and
other crops they grow, so an unambiguous comparison is not possible, but from fieldwork it is clear that
usually farmers grow one variety, and sometimes two varieties, of each of these crops. These figures suggest
that there is a positive relationship between work force size and number of crops and varieties cultivated,
which is unrelated to gender.
District Number of crops Number of fruit
tree species
% women doing
gardening
1)
Number of rice
varieties cultivated by
women
gender
Kombo 4.2 1.4 2.4 0.6 90 3.6
Foni 5.6 1.5 2.1 0.4 40 2.8
Kiang 3.7 1.2 0.8 0.1 40 3.8
Fuladu 5.5 2.0 1.3 0.6 80 2.3
Total 4.7 1.5 1.9 0.5 70 3.2
Table 2: Average number of crops and fruit trees grown by men and women, and average
number of rice varieties cultivated by women, shown per district; N = 127 for men and N = 132
for women.
Variety management
The breeding system of rice and millet is one of the main reasons more varieties exist for rice than
millet (Nuijten and Almekinders 2008). Because rice is a self-pollinating crop, a rice variety reproduces the
same characteristics every year, even if it is grown mixed with different varieties in the same field. Millet
varieties, on the other hand, grown in the same field will merge into a single intermediate variety because of
the cross-pollinating nature of millet allowing plants to exchange their genetic material. Hence, farmers can
more easily maintain a large number of rice varieties than millet varieties. Furthermore, because of
ecological complexity and food quality requirements, women need to maintain a wide range of rice varieties.
Another reason why women have a large portfolio of rice varieties is that through marriages outside
their villages they have greater access to new rice varieties than men have to millet varieties.
7
It is difficult,
however, to assess how much this determines a difference between men and women in terms of variety
management, because it can also be argued that men simply do not look for new millet varieties given the
smaller number available and the nature of the crop.
7
When women marry they move to the village of their husband. In that way an extensive seed network is created based
on relatives living in different villages.
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 17, 2010
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Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
Farmers' naming of millet varieties seems less consistent than for rice. It may be that men simply do
not need to fuss about the consistency of names because the total number of millet varieties they need to
distinguish is rather small. In addition, the development and introduction of new millet varieties, despite the
work of crop breeding labs like ICRISAT on short cycle and disease resistant genotypes, is very low
(Nuijten and Almekinders 2008). The difference in naming can largely be explained by the difference in
breeding system, which in turn is related to the rate of introduction of new varieties. A low cross-pollination
rate results in more new varieties. In the case of self-pollinating crops (like rice and beans), but also
sorghum, new varieties are more easily developed and maintained from off-types (Nuijten and Almekinders
2008). When a newly introduced rice variety in a village is rapidly distributed among farmers, the variety
obtains a specific name known by all farmers. In the cases that newly introduced varieties are not adopted by
other farmers, the names are only known by the farmer who introduced them. Women generally have access
to many varieties in rice and often use specific names for specific varieties. In contrast, men often add
references to different plant characteristics onto the variety names, which suggest the existence of many
different millet varieties. This is not really a problem when asking for seed from other male farmers because
most male farmers within the same village grow the same variety of millet.
Selection of seed.
Gender does not seem to be a factor in how varieties are selected. There is no clear evidence that
selection practices of men and women within the same compound are distinct (Nuijten, 2005). For millet and
rice, respectively, most men and women select their seed during harvesting and the selection criteria they
use are similar (big seeds, big panicle, well-filled panicle, absence of diseases). Moreover, men and women
agreed that selection for rice and millet is the same and that they would look for the same desired traits.
The observed differences in seed selection between rice and late millet are related to plant structure.
Since late millet is very tall, it needs. to be pushed down to the ground (making a tangle of stems, leaves and
spikes) in order to cut the spikes; for certain late maturing varieties selection can take place only after
removal of the bristles. Theoretically, because of the shorter height and absence of bristles in short cycle
millet, selection may be done in the field before the main harvest, as is possible for rice. So, selection
methods differ more between the various types of early and late millet, than between rice and millet. Hence,
it seems clear that any differences in seed selection methods are related to differences in the plant
morphology of rice and millet.
It seemed logical, at first sight, that women belonging to smaller sinkiroo, that need to do compound
work as well as farm work, will lack time to do proper seed selection. However, no significant relationships
were found. This shows the importance of seed selection in Gambian rural communities. Although there is
no clear relationship between age and selection practices, there is a tendency, for both men and women, for
older people to do seed selection at a later stage; people who set aside seed after threshing tend to be older
people. Both men and women may vary their seed selection practices if needed, for example, in case of
illness. They may wish to practice careful selection, but if short of labor, they may choose to do it only just
before the new growing season starts, essentially using whatever grain is left for seed.
Men sometimes plant millet seedlings they get from other farmers instead of using their own sowing
seed. The explanation by men is that all millet is very much the same. This could be interpreted as a lack of
interest of men in the quality of millet seed. Genetic analysis, however, confirms millet seed just don't differ
much (Nuijten and van Treuren 2007). Rice, being harvested panicle by panicle, theoretically allows for
careful selection of the best panicles and of mixtures. But large numbers of panicles are needed for sowing
seed, and women only reject diseased panicles and mixed-in varieties they really do not want. Observing
women during harvesting, and seeing the mixed-in varieties remaining in the bundles meant for sowing,
does not give the impression of women as careful selectors. However, once and a while women select
interesting off-types during harvesting. Although it is difficult to find proper indicators, from informal
interviews it became clear that some farmers have a greater personal interest in testing different varieties and
selection methods than other farmers, as Prain (1994) also suggests. The personal interest of farmers could well
have a bigger impact on farmer seed management and seed selection than any other well defined social factors.
Selection of off-types
For both millet and rice, a similar percentage (70%) of men and women said they observe off-types in
their fields (Nuijten, 2005). For both millet and rice, there are no differences here between ethnicities and
across districts. For millet, there are also no differences between ecological zones. But for rice, all women
who broadcast and transplant rice said they see off-types in their field. This is probably due to the fact that
they handle more varieties and that early and late maturing varieties get mixed up and, consequently, are
noticed quicker because of differences in flowering. The rather high percentage of male farmers observing
off-types in millet is because some men said the off-types they find in their fields are mix-ins of short cycle
millet, or sorghum accidentally occurring in late millet. The reason farmers consider sorghum and millet to
be related can be clarified by reference to farmers' nomenclature for millet and sorghum (both being
considered nyo, even although sorghum is called kinto). Some said they never see any off-types in their
field, because in the wider area only one variety is grown.
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 17, 2010
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Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
The occurrences of off-types are explained similarly by men and women but with slightly different
emphases. A majority of women think that off-types in rice are caused by run-off water, followed by mix-
ups during storage or threshing. A few women blamed God, birds, animals, the devil, and improper
selection. The most common explanations given by men for the occurrence of off-types in millet are their
seed mixtures, ants, birds, God, and run-off water. Less common explanations are: disease, improper
selection, continuous cultivation in the same field, and low soil fertility. Some women and men said they do
not have any idea. After sowing, it is very common for ants and birds to carry the seeds away. These
explanations are related to recurrent events in millet and rice fields. That women did not mention ants, which
are not very common in lowland fields, whereas men did, and that more women mentioned run-off water
typical for lowland rice cultivation, suggests that the somewhat different answers by women and men can be
best explained by differences in ecological conditions, agronomic practices and plant characteristics.
Farmers' perceptions of strange off-types
'Strange off-types' are plants that cannot be classified as mix-ins, or as O. glaberrima (in the case of
rice) or early/short cycle millet (in the case of millet). These strange varieties are either unfamiliar existing
varieties or 'new' off-types resulting from cross-pollination.
When women are asked whether they see any strange off-types in their fields, most said they only see
mix-ins (other common varieties that got mixed up) in their field, but some women said they observe both
mix-ins and strange off-types. Most say they are caused by God or Nature. A few women mentioned heavy
rain. Most women said they would thresh and eat strange off-types. Fewer said they would test them in the
next season (Nuijten, 2005). Reasons women consume these strange off-types instead of testing them is that
they do not fit the local ecology, don't look impressive, or because they lack time or 'patience'.
8
When asking men whether they see any strange off-types (unusual varieties never seen before) in their
millet, their first response is often "Yes, it is possible to see mix-ins" or "If you sow sorghum, you harvest
sorghum, if you sow millet, you harvest millet". Another common similar response is "Sanyo (late millet)
gives sanyo, suno (early millet) gives suno". In other words, many men said they never saw any strange off-
types in millet. After more probing, a few men said they have seen some unusual millet plants. None of
those farmers said they tested them. A few farmers attributed the strange off-types they saw to diseases or
soil fertility. Other men said that these have a natural cause. In Tujereng, "AJ" said that there are sometimes
plants with red seeds growing in his field. He had never used them for sowing seed and never tested them,
since he has no idea what conditions they need. He does know the conditions his own variety needs either,
and would eat the red variety. Still, each year, there are some plants with red seeds, origin unknown. "OJ"
said there are plants with shorter or longer spikes, which have fewer bristles. He does not know why, but he
knows that cassava also changes, so it may be natural. "FS" put it this way: "There are always plants that
look different, even if you do the selection very well: This difference has a natural cause - your children also
look different."
"KM" said he has seen spikes with red seeds, but he does not discard them, because it is still millet. He
has never seen any strange sorghum plants. He does not know why rice rather than sorghum and millet
throw up strange varieties. One man in Sangajor identified the same issue - he does not know why rice has
strange off-types, but it happens. "MJ" said that if you sow white millet, black millet sometimes comes out
of it, and that also the reverse is true; if you sow black millet, some white millet results. He also said that this
was the origin of the rice variety Binta Sambou: it was found in a field of Kari Saba; and Binta Sambou and
Kari Saba look alike. He knows that red millet appears in his field every year. Some people, long ago,
separated a small bundle of red millet, which eventually they gave to women to be threshed, pounded, and
made into munkoo
9
, which tasted very nice. He once separated red millet intending to sow it, but eventually
decided not to. He gave no particular reason for this change of mind. He suggested that the reason no man
has ever found a new variety of millet is that men do not have their mind on that, whereas women are keenly
interested:
For sorghum, it also happens that men see new varieties emerging in the field. If the field is
big, you must see several strange plants. These are caused by God. Even if you select your
seed carefully, to make sure that there are no off-types in your seed, you will still find
different plants in the field.
He has never heard of men selecting strange sorghum plants for sowing. "AJ-2" also sometimes sees
spikes with dark brown seeds, which he harvests together with the rest of the field. He does not keep them
apart and does not test them. He said he has never heard of men selecting a new variety of millet. Men never
did that, finding new varieties is something done by women. Women are naturally more curious than men,
he believes. A different explanation was given by "MJ-2", supported by a few other men. "MJ-2" claimed
8
Some women who said they would test any strange varieties said they had, in fact, never seen any, although they knew
they could occur. One woman in Tujereng, aged 50, said the first year she found a strange variety was 2000.
9
Dough made of either millet or rice flour and water.
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 17, 2010
50
Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
that men never selected any new variety of millet or sorghum because they are too busy in the field and lack
time to harvest strange plants separately, whereas women have more time to harvest strange plants
separately. This seems an odd comment, given that, in general, women are far busier. What is different is the
process of harvesting. A millet field is harvested by a few older men and many boys who harvest a field in a
couple of days, while a rice field is harvested by a few women a piece at a time and they may take a couple
of weeks to complete the work. Usually, boys (or youths) are inexperienced in farming, and have little eye
for differentiating off-types.
The only off-type in millet described by men is the red seeded variety. For millet, clearly distinctive
off-types are infrequent occurrences in the field because of its outbreeding nature and variation within seed
lots (Nuijten 2005). Because of the wide variation among plants, an off-type will not be easily considered
distinctive.
A grouping exercise
Very early during fieldwork some male and female farmers made interesting comments in replying to
questions about variety management. Some men mentioned they do not understand how women can
distinguish all those different rice varieties. Men often reinforce gender differences in conversation, arguing
it is typical for women to differentiate so many rice varieties, and that men can't do it. Men would often say
that millet is millet and that there are actually no real differences between plants, despite the obvious visible
differences in plant height, spike size, bristle length, bristle colour, etc. Women would sometimes say that
men lack interest in variety management and do not bother about millet varieties. When visiting women's
rice fields, women will explain the characteristics of the many rice varieties and why a particular plant
belongs to this variety and not to another.
Because of the specific features of the Gambian farming system, women are known as much more
careful selectors than men. A small grouping exercise was set-up to test whether women are actually better
in distinguishing varieties by nature. It was assumed that, since men actually do the work in the millet field
and women in the rice field, men would be more accurate in grouping millet and women in grouping rice.
10
First the results of the grouping of millet spikes are presented, followed by the results of the grouping of rice
panicles.
Millet
Most people - both men and women - made two groups for millet, often calling them black and white
millet. Some made three groups and a few made four groups (Table 3). From earlier interviews it appeared
farmers in Faraba think there are more millet varieties than in Tujereng, but this does not clearly show in the
results of this exercise.
Men Women
# groups Faraba Tujereng All men Faraba Tujereng All women
2 5 6 11 6 7 13
3 4 4 8 3 4 7
4 1 1 2 1 0 1
Average 2.6 2.5 2.6 2.5 2.4 2.4
Table 3: Number of groups that were made with the millet spikes by men and women from
Faraba and Tujereng (N =10 for Faraba and N = 11 for Tujereng, for men and women).
After grouping, the farmers were asked to describe or name their grouping. In total 14 different groups
were identified, 7 groups by both men and women, 4 by men only, and 3 by women only. Nine groups were
named or described by the colour of their seeds, three groups were named according to variety type, and one
group was described by seed size. There were no clear differences in how men and women named or
described the groups. The two most common groups were white and black. These accounted for 79% of all
the spikes assigned to a group. Five groups were identified in Tujereng only and four groups were identified
in Faraba only. The groupings made by men and women were more consistent with each other within each
village than were the groupings made by men from Faraba and Tujereng, and the women from Tujereng and
Faraba. This suggests that within each village there is a somewhat specific discourse on millet, not only
among men of the same village, but also between men and women of the same village.
Further, the number of men and women allocating each spike to a specific group was analysed. If less
than three men or women allocated the spike to a different group than the main group, it is considered as a
10
During the grouping men complained that we should not ask them to group rice panicles, and women likewise
complained they did not know anything about millet and therefore claimed they could not group the millet spikes.
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 17, 2010
51
Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
very consistent grouping. If less than four men or women had allocated the spike to a different group, this is
considered as a consistent grouping. Table 4 shows the number of millet spikes for which men and women
from Faraba and Tujereng produced very consistent or consistent groupings. The results show that in
Tujereng the grouping was more consistent than in Faraba, and that women produced more consistent
groupings than men.
The difference in grouping consistency between the two villages is largely explained by the fact that in
Tujereng fewer strangers were asked to participate compared to Faraba. The village of Faraba as a whole has
more strangers than Tujereng. Hence, village discourse in Faraba on millet varieties is more diverse, because
strangers come from various regions and have experience with more and different varieties.
The reason women do a more consistent grouping than men is probably because they did the grouping
based on qualitative traits, mainly seed colour, whereas men also considered the size of the spikes. For
example, two extremely big, impressive spikes with mixed seed colour (both black and white) were
classified by most men as black, whereas 50% of the women classified them as white, and 50% as black (in
both villages men prefer to grow black millet). Earlier observations also showed that some men from
Tujereng would include impressive spikes with white seed in their seed stock of black millet.
Number of spikes grouped by men Number of spikes grouped by women
Village
very consistent
1)
consistent
2)
very consistent
1)
consistent
2)
Faraba 0 7 1 15
Tujereng 10 14 27 29
All 0 0 0 8
Table 4: Number of millet spikes (out of 35) for which men and women from Faraba and
Tujereng did a consistent or very consistent grouping (N =10 for Faraba and N = 11 for
Tujereng, for men and women).
1)
= number of spikes for which less than three people did inconsistent grouping
2)
= number of spikes for which less than four people did inconsistent grouping
Rice
For rice, a similar exercise was conducted with 30 panicles of 15 O. sativa varieties, 2 O. glaberrima
varieties and 4 O. sativa off-types. Varieties that do not shatter their seeds easily were used. For that reason
more varieties cultivated in Tujereng were used than in Faraba.
11
Table 5 shows that, for rice, both men and
women make more groups than they do for millet and that the number of groups per informant varies a lot,
from 4 up to 21. Women make slightly more groups of rice than men (not significant with Student's t-test).
There is no clear difference in the number of groups of rice panicles between Faraba and Tujereng.
Village Average
number of
groups
Std.
deviation
Minimum Maximum
Men Faraba 9.2 5.16 4 19
Tujereng 10.2 4.94 5 18
total 9.7 4.94 4 19
Women Faraba 12.1 5.32 4 20
Tujereng 11.9 4.46 6 21
total 12.0 4.76 4 21
Total Faraba 10.7 5.31 4 20
Tujereng 11.0 4.67 5 21
total 10.9 4.93 4 21
Table 5: Average number of groups of rice panicles made by men and women from Faraba and
Tujereng (N =10 for Faraba and N = 11 for Tujereng, for men and women).
The analysis undertaken to understand the consistency of the millet grouping was not done for rice,
since the grouping of rice panicles was far more diverse. Instead, I made a standard grouping of the varieties
11
Non-shattering varieties were chosen to avoid people at the start of the experiment doing different groupings to those
at the end, as the appearance of the panicles changed as more seeds are shaken loose in handling.
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 17, 2010
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Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
based on their morphological similarities (each group thus containing several similar varieties) and the
grouping of the farmers was compared to that baseline. Each variety corresponding to my grouping got one
point, and the total number of points was added. This means that 30 points is the maximum score. The
average, minimum and maximum scores are shown in Table 6. Overall, women got a higher score (p = 0.001
with Student t-test) than men, but the differences were not significant when men and women of each village
were compared. The scores for the people from Tujereng were slightly higher than those for the people from
Faraba, which is because the people from Tujereng were more familiar with the rice material (more varieties
suitable for testing – i.e. non shattering – came from Tujereng). This indicates that there is a learning aspect
in differentiating rice varieties. Furthermore, the minimum and maximum scores indicate that there is huge
variation in grouping capacities between individuals of both genders. Some men from Tujereng were almost
as accurate in grouping as certain women.
Village Average
score
Std.
deviation
Minimum Maximum
Men Faraba 14.3 2.31 10 17
Tujereng 15.3 4.63 10 23
total 14.8 3.66 10 23
Women Faraba 17.1 2.81 12 20
Tujereng 21.3 4.31 12 26
total 19.3 4.17 12 26
Total Faraba 15.7 2.89 10 20
Tujereng 18.3 5.34 10 26
total 17.0 4.49 10 26
Table 6: Average scores men and women from Faraba and Tujereng got for grouping rice
panicles (N =10 for Faraba and N = 11 for Tujereng, for men and women).
Discussion
These findings have sought to illustrate clear gender differences in seed selection practices, and the
related crop management of rice and millet in The Gambia. In general men were found to have more
material resources than women in all the study villages. The nature of the differences observed in variety
management of rice and millet suggest that they are the result of a complex interaction of various plant
characteristics and socio-economic and agro-ecological factors. Crucial differences exist between rice and
millet in terms of plant characteristics, the breeding system for these crops, and plant architecture. Of the
socio-economic factors the most important differences between men and women are the nature of the crop
portfolio, and labor organisation, supporting other studies. What may possibly make The Gambia different is
that there is a clear interaction between plant characteristics and socio-economic factors which is less
obvious in other case studies.
The results of the grouping experiment suggest women have a somewhat keener eye for differentiating
varieties than men, but there is no categorical difference in the ability of men and women to recognise and
differentiate crop varieties. Men and women differentiate similar numbers of groups with the millet spikes
and rice panicles. Women group the millet spikes more uniformly than men, but the grouping of rice
panicles shows that accuracy among women also varies considerably. The keener eye of women may, in
fact, be age-related. The experiment was undertaken among married couples, which means that the men, on
average, were considerably older than the women and eye sight deteriorates with age. Another explanation is
that women need to differentiate rice varieties continuously (it is need in rice farming), and thus school
themselves in differentiating varieties, whereas there is less need for men to acquire these skills for millet.
The millet grouping exercise suggests that women made their choices based on panicle appearance,
while men used morphological information. This distinction did not show up in the rice grouping, which
might be because the diversity in rice panicles is not continuous, whereas variation in millet spikes tends to
be more so. This means that a rice variety can be more clearly defined by its traits and therefore is more
generally recognised, whereas the definition of a millet variety is less clear and thus less readily recognised
as a discrete variety. Thus, working with different crops in which variety presents itself differently, may lead
to different didactic outcomes. The grouping exercise also showed that group dynamics and social learning
play a role in selection practices. Men and women of the same village did the grouping of millet in a similar
way, while the groupings showed (small) differences between the two villages. These findings confirm that
differences in variety and seed management are determined by socio-cultural, plant-related and agronomic
factors and their interactions.
Perhaps the most important conclusion to be drawn from the grouping experiment is that, whereas men
suggested that they cannot differentiate rice varieties as well as women, in reality there is no clear difference
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 17, 2010
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Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
between the genders. This suggests that claiming or denying capacities in relation to varietal differentiation
(and other activities) is more part of gender identity than something based on actual skill. Rather, it may be
argued that seed selection is a "feminine trait" that is actually shared by both women and men (see
Mestrovic 1992; Shiva 1988).
One question that remains unanswered in this analysis is whether previously, before a clear gender-
based division of labor developed, women harvested and selected seed in millet (Carney 1993; Swindell
1992; Watts 1993). This could help explain why women seem more eager and knowledgeable in
experimenting with seed and varieties than men - i.e. they have a culture of experimentation with seeds
based on an historical division of labor. Another question is whether the commercialisation of groundnuts
pushed women into a more disadvantaged position, and whether before this, women had a more independent
position in society with less male control. Gender roles are not static and change over time depending on the
dynamics of socio-economic, cultural and agro-ecological factors. Several researchers have suggested that
women gained some economic independence in the 1950s by increasing their rice production (Haswell,
1975, Webb, 1992). With the increased significance of vegetable gardening since the 1970s, some women
are gaining yet more economic independence. Women's sphere of influence must fluctuate over time: it
decreased with the commercialisation of groundnuts in the 19
th
century, and is now increasing with the
increased importance of vegetable gardening.
Conclusions and broader implications
We should be cautious about general claims that seed selection and variety management reside
primarily with women, at least in the region researched for this paper. We should be aware that positive
capacities attributed to a particular gender may actually be the result of social mechanisms of exclusion;
there is a political ecology to gendered seed selection. If we want to improve agriculture it is not enough to
identify seemingly positive aspects of farming systems on which to build. We also need to ascertain whether
these aspects may be the result of social processes that leave women in a disadvantaged position from which
it is hard to access adequate resources or to improve their situation. So, instead of searching for evidence
that women are naturally good in seed selection and maintenance (see Howard 2003; Shiva 1988), research
should look for ways to change the socio-political frameworks in which women usually deal with labor-
intensive farming and are put in disadvantaged positions, while men deal with the cash crops and have a
range of technologies at their disposal. Guyer (1984) noted that with the introduction of agricultural
technologies, social relationships are often reshaped to exert control over the production process. Today the
question is how to reshape these relationships to the advantage of disadvantaged social groups, in this case
women but also youth.
Agricultural development projects in The Gambia that had agricultural improvement and poverty
alleviation as an aim have focused on the distribution of new technologies, such as irrigation and dams,
improved crop varieties, fertilisers, ploughs and row seeders. There has been little attention given by
development agencies to the interactions between technologies and the socio-economic and ecological
environments they reside in (Carney, 1993; 1998). For each farming system, more specific questions should
be asked about who is responsible for which activities and how specific tasks are carried out. For example,
in the context of crop development it is not sufficient to know who is responsible for variety management,
because we also need to understand how labor is organised for a task such as harvesting, and how it shapes
local seed selection practices. This implies that for participatory crop (or technology) development to be
successful, researchers should try at length to understand why certain people are responsible for certain tasks
in a particular farming system, and how these tasks are embedded in the local social framework. These
questions are equally important for understanding the local development of agricultural technologies in
general.
The grouping experiment described in this paper was specifically targeted towards understanding
gender differences. Social factors, such as age and social class could also be studied in a similar way, even if
they are les clear-cut categories. In respect to the relationship between crop diversity and social class,
contradicting conclusions have been reported elsewhere, some linking richer individuals to better crop
diversity management; others just the opposite. Further experiments and qualitative studies may help
understand why these contradictions occur, and reveal the real mechanisms explaining the relationship
between societal groups and crop diversity management practices.
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Abstract
It is sometimes argued that women play a more important role in seed and diversity management than men,
and that women have greater abilities in managing crop diversity. In The Gambia, men and women also have
the belief that women are better in managing and identifying varieties than men. This article focuses on the
role of gender in farmer management of crop diversity in two crops, rice which is cultivated by women and
pearl millet which is cultivated by men. First a historical overview is given of the role of gender in farming.
The management of crop diversity in rice and millet and gendered knowledge in The Gambia is described in
detail. Lastly, a grouping experiment with rice panicles and millet spikes is described. The article shows that
clear differences exist between the farming practices of men and women, and these are based on a complex
interplay of socio-economic and agro-ecological factors. But the differences in seed selection practices of
men and women are small, and those differences that exist can best be explained by a complex of agro-
ecological factors and rice and millet characteristics. The grouping experiment showed no significant
differences in the way men and women grouped rice panicles and millet spikes. Together these findings
suggest that the supposedly better skills of women in crop variety management are related to their gender
identity rather than to any biological differences. Instead of taking the supposedly strong skills of women in
seed and variety management as a starting point for agricultural development, it is better to understand the
underlying mechanism that keep women in disadvantaged positions in rural societies and to try to change
these mechanisms for their benefit.
Key words: The Gambia, gender, agricultural labor, crop variety management
Résumé
Il est parfois affirmé que les femmes jouent un rôle plus important dans la gestion de la diversité des
semences que les hommes, et que les femmes ont une plus grande affinité dans la gestion de la diversité des
cultures. En Gambie, les hommes ont aussi la croyance que les femmes sont mieux dans la gestion et
l'identification des variétés que les hommes. Cet article se concentre sur le rôle du genre dans la gestion
paysanne de la diversité des cultures dans deux cultures, le riz qui est cultivé par les femmes et le mil qui est
cultivé par des hommes. D'abord un aperçu historique est donnée du rôle des femmes dans l'agriculture. La
gestion de la diversité des cultures de riz et de mil est décrite. Enfin, une expérience de regroupement à
panicules de riz et les pointes de mil est décrite. L'article montre que des différences notables existent entre
les pratiques agricoles des hommes et des femmes, et celles-ci sont basées sur une interaction complexe de
facteurs socio-économiques et agro-écologiques. Mais les différences dans les pratiques de sélection des
semences, des hommes et des femmes sont petite, et ces différences qui existent peuvent être mieux
expliquée par un ensemble de facteurs agro-écologiques et les caractéristiques du riz et du mil. L'expérience
de regroupement (grouping experiment) n'a montré aucune différence significative dans la façon dont les
hommes et les femmes regroupées en panicules de riz et les pointes de mil. Ensemble, ces résultats
suggèrent que les compétences prétendûment supérieure des femmes dans la gestion de la diversité des
cultures sont liées à leur identité de genre plutôt qu'à des différences biologiques. Au lieu de prendre les
compétences importantes des femmes comme point de départ pour le développement agricole, il est mieux
de comprendre le mécanismes qui défavorisé les femmes en sociétés rurales et de tenter de modifier ces
mécanismes à leur profit.
Mots clés: La Gambie, genre, main d'ouvre, gestion des variétés de cultures
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 17, 2010
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Gender and management of crop diversity in The Gambia
Journal of Political Ecology Vol. 17, 2010
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Resumen
A veces se argumenta que las mujeres desempeñan un papel más importante que los hombres en la gestión
de la diversidad de semillas, y además, la mujer tiene mayor afinidad en la gestión de la diversidad de
cultivos. En Gambia, hombres y mujeres también tienen la creencia de que las mujeres son mejores en la
gestión e identificación de las variedades que los hombres. Este artículo se centra en el papel que tiene cada
género como agricultor en la gestión de la diversidad de cultivos en dos cultivos en particular: el arroz que
se cultiva por las mujeres y el mijo perla cultivada por los hombres. En primer lugar, se entrega una visión
histórica del papel del género en la agricultura. La gestión de la diversidad de los cultivos de arroz y el mijo
y el conocimiento de cada género en Gambia se describe en detalle. Por último, se describe un experimento
de agrupación con panículas de espigas de arroz y el mijo. El artículo muestra que existen claras diferencias
entre las prácticas agrícolas de los hombres y mujeres, y éstas se basan en una compleja interacción de
factores socio-económicos y agro-ecológicas. Pero las diferencias en las prácticas de la selección de semillas
de hombres y mujeres son pequeños, y las diferencias que existen pueden explicarse más que nada por un
conjunto de factores agro-ecológicos y por las características del arroz y del mijo. El experimento de la
agrupación no mostró diferencias significativas en la forma en que hombres y mujeres agrupan panículas de
arroz y los picos de mijo. En conjunto, estos resultados sugieren que las supuestas mejores habilidades de las
mujeres en el manejo de cultivos diversos se explican por su identidad de género y no por las diferencias
biológicas. En lugar de tomar las supuestas fuertes habilidades de las mujeres en las semillas y la variedad
de gestión como punto de partida para el desarrollo agrícola, es mejor comprender el mecanismo subyacente
que mantiene a las mujeres en posicion de desventaja en las sociedades rurales y tratar de cambiar estos
mecanismos para su beneficio.
Palabras clave: Gambia, el género, el trabajo, manejo de cultivos diversos
... In general, local communities on the Ghanaian side of the Togo Hills favour Asian rice for commerce, and reserve African rice for ceremonies and ritual usage (Teeken et al., 2011). This suggests that farmers' practices influencing gene flow need to be explained with reference to a range of cultural and environmental factors (Nuijten 2005(Nuijten , 2010Teeken et al., , 2011Nuijten and Richards, 2011). But only a handful of studies exist on how farmers 'manage' gene flow in these diverse circumstances (Dyer et al., 2011). ...
... The role of men and women in seed selection and seed exchange may also be very different across different ethnic groups. For example, in The Gambia both male and female farmers think that women have the skills and patience to develop new rice varieties by selecting off-types in the field and then testing them for several years (Nuijten, 2010). In Sierra Leone, by contrast, men and women are thought to be equally capable of developing new rice varieties (Richards, 1986). ...
... Some farmers even prefer mixed material, since (with small plots) they may have time to sort and try out off-types (Richards, 1986), or be able to rediscover lost varieties (Nuijten and Richards, 2011). Depending on their socioeconomic position, some farmers may have sufficient time -in their own words 'patience' -to look for off-types (Nuijten, 2010). Such farmers exercise positive selection for off-types, having learned the value of experimenting with 'new' types (often on difficult land). ...
Chapter
This book provides a comprehensive overview of the rice sector in Africa and the ongoing rice research and development activities in the region. Specific topics are classified under the following headings: overview of rice in Africa (chapters 1-4), rice genetic diversity and improvement (chapters 5-14), sustainable productivity enhancement (chapters 15-22), rice value chain development (chapters 23-27), working with rice communities (chapters 28-31), and future prospects for rice in Africa (chapters 32-33).
... For example, Jones, Shrinivas, and Bezner-Kerr (2014) find that female-headed households in Malawi have a stronger association between higher crop diversity and household dietary diversity than male-headed households. Across Africa, women have been found to be key conservers of crop diversity (Amri & Kimaro, 2010;Wooten, 2003), although in some instances better access to land and other productive resources appear to facilitate a more diverse portfolio of crops for men than women (Nuijten, 2010). Gengenbach et al. (2018) and others (Carr & Thompson, 2014;Jost et al., 2016;Quisumbing et al., 2014) recognize that gender intersects with an array of individual, institutional, and contextual factors in shaping crop choices across households. ...
... This study draws on a detailed original dataset applying an identical survey instrument across rural communities in three countries to explore how the gender composition of smallholder households in East Africa relates to their cropping choices. Building on many previous studies of gender and smallholder decision-making using a range of methods in a variety of contexts (Amri & Kimaro, 2010;Anderson et al., 2017;Bentley et al., 2017;Fisher & Carr, 2015;Me-Nsope & Larkins, 2016;Nuijten, 2010;Pincus et al., 2018;Teeken et al., 2018), our analysis provides two key findings: female-headed households that generally have less access to land and other resources are more likely to diversify their food crop production than male-headed households, and that gender must be considered alongside other variables such as country context and socioeconomic status to more comprehensively understand decisions around crop cultivation. ...
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... Proximity to emerging urban food networks and trends may encourage the adoption of new cultivars, including tree crops. In some rural locales with male outmigration, females create agrobiodiversity through informal seed networks that encourage risk-averse farming practices and fl exibility in farm labor demands (Nuijten 2010). For example, women rice growers in The Gambia exchange seed varieties of differing maturities which are adapted to the diverse microenvironments that comprise a rice landscape. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
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... These strategies include the close planting of varieties with similar flowering times, the acceptance of some admixture in seed stocks, and the intentional cultivation of admixed varieties. 22 While all of these planting strategies are used by farmers in Jenoi, farmers explained that unique off-types appear under specific circumstances, conditioned by the actions of both people and plants. Most explained it thus: Allah (God) sends jinn, or spirits that sometimes take human form, to sprinkle off-types into farmers' fields. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
How do new crop varieties-those relatively discrete groupings of plants often classified below the taxonomic level of "subspecies"-come out in the world? 1 This chapter provides an account of how new plant variation emerges and eventually becomes a new variety. While a reader of English might best recognize this as the work of "plant breeding," with all its implications of mastery and control, what I relay here would be poorly captured by that term. 2 Instead, I chronicle a wide range of beings-and-doings carried out by humans, God, spirits, and plants, as described by rice farmers in a predominantly Mandinka-speaking district of The Gambia between 2010 and 2012. In transmitting these accounts, I reflect on the different ways in which labour is rendered visible and invisible in stories about who works and how work proceeds in the "breeding" of new crop varieties. I thus weave farm-ers' accounts with three others: the legacies of colonial agricultural science, research on farmers-as-breeders, and work attentive to more-than-human agency. Different processes, modes, and degrees of invisibility run through each of these accounts (my own included)-erasure, elision, and translation, to name a few. 3 Attending to these processes, I argue, is not only important for understanding the workings of power in the production of scientific knowledge, it also provides a vital space in which to grapple with the ethical and economic worlds brought into being by the making of people and plants. Questions of who breeds plants and how plant breeding happens matter because they structure contemporary agricultural development initiatives. The breeding of new crop varieties emerged as a key focus of agricultural "modernization" projects
... Crop diversity is the foundation of sustainability, resilience, and food and nutrition security, and conserving it is an active and purposeful part of smallholder farming [1,2]. A decade ago, de Boef and colleagues [3](p. ...
Article
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Crop diversity contributes to yield stability and nutrition security and is valued for its potential use in breeding improved varieties and adaptation to future climates. Women across the globe contribute to biodiversity conservation, and, in the Central Andes region, the cradle of potato diversity, rural women play a vital role in the management of a wealth of native potato diversity. To examine how gender roles and traditions influence the agricultural and conservation practices of male and female custodians of native potato diversity, we undertook a qualitative study in eight farming communities high in the Andes, in the Pasco region of Peru. This article reviews agricultural and crop diversity management practices, farmer motivations for conserving potato diversity, the role that agrobiodiversity plays in family diets and economies, and support of in situ conservation by external actors. It examines how gender norms limit the potential of women to fully benefit from the crop and argues for more gender-responsive approaches that empower both women and men, enable women to overcome barriers, and contribute to a more inclusive, community-based management of agrobiodiversity that ensures its long-term conservation and contribution to community development and well-being.
... In addition to varietal introductions, the selection and development of new varieties is an important source of diversity for farmers. In The Gambia and other parts of West Africa, farmers use a number of agronomic strategies to manage varietal and genetic diversity within their seed stocks (Nuijten 2010;Teeken et al. 2012). For rice, practices like clustering varieties with similar flowering times, accepting some admixture in seed stocks, and intentionally mixing varieties all enhance gene flow and increase the likelihood that unique off-types will emerge via hybridization (Longley and Richards 1993;Nuijten and Richards 2011). ...
Article
Full-text available
Recent efforts to draft plant variety protection (PVP) legislation in The Gambia and sub-Saharan Africa have sparked criticism from civil society organizations. Citing incongruences between intellectual property law and practices of farmer seed management, these organizations have emphasized the importance of “unfettered” seed exchange among farmers even as they have called for farmers to be granted certain exclusive rights to the varieties they develop. Where the appeals invoked a language of limits familiar to PVP, they also departed from Gambian farmers’ accounts of varietal innovation and its rewards. For farmers, attaining varietal namesakes that could travel across vast networks of farmers generated the rewards of innovation. In this way, farmers articulated a version of claims that pushes against the analytical limits set by calls for exclusive rights. [agriculture, intellectual property, innovation, value, nonhumans, Gambia, West Africa] Kata kuwolu be keriŋ saaying ka turu kantoo luwa (PVP) londi Kambiya aniŋ a jenjeŋolu la Moofiŋdu jaŋ ye jalayiroo warandi kabo Mansakundariŋolu la kafolu bulu. ˜ Niŋ kafolu la daliloo mu ˜ nineti ko, wo luwalu niŋ senelaalu la turu kuluroo maŋ ˜noo taa, wo kamala, ˜ niŋ kafolu ye turu faliŋo bambandi senelalu teema hanniŋ a ye a tara kumandiroo keta le puru ka samaalaalu la ˜nantoo yiriwandi turoolu la i faŋolu ye meŋ dooku. I ye kumandiroo ke dulalu la meŋnu muluntaŋ˜noyata turoolu la tanko la, i naata bondiri ke Kambiya samaalaalu la karoo la turoo kutakutayandoo la aniŋ a la nafaa. Puru samaalalu, turu toomalu soto meŋ ka taama samaalaa jamaalu teema wo ye turu kutakutayando londi le. ˜ Niŋ silo la, samaalaalu la kumoolu aniŋ kumandiroo meŋ keta puru samaalu la ˜nantoolu nanee wolu maŋ ˜noo taa. [senoo, turu kantoo luwa (PVP), ˜nakeseyaa, tinewo, sarililalu, Kambiya, Moofiŋdu Tilijiyoola]
... Rules of the game, the access to and control of resources, are often affected by gender issues which were set long time ago as the basis of the development of the society. The institutionalization of the belief that women do not play an important role in managing productive resources led to the unequal distribution of power in decision-making processes (Shiva, 1988;Howard, 2003;Nuijten, 2010). In the case of Indonesia, the dominant system is a patriarchal one which is not limited to the households, but it also concerns the public sphere such as decision-making processes in a village. ...
Chapter
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Following the concept of political ecology, this chapter will explain the essential role women play in stabilizing resources regardless of the limited role they usually play in decision-making processes both in the household and the public sphere. Three villages in the highland areas around the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park (BTSNP) were selected for case studies. Based on qualitative research (150 semi-structured interviews, 30 in-depth interviews with key informants and five focus group discussions), we found that women have a pivotal role in stabilizing land productivity, rationalizing energy consumption, promoting food security, and taking over men’s duties as men tend to enter the rural labor market. Unfortunately, such phenomenon was not followed by changes in the structure of decision-making processes.
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Book
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This is a very important book. Taken together, the collected papers present a rich picture of the vital role played by peasant women around the world. They are struggling to preserve, in the face of modern agribusiness, the agricultural wisdom of the past and the diversity of plants that have been used for both food and medicine. It is vital that decision makers, especially in the developing world, heed the knowledge of these women who understand so well the art of a sustainable lifestyle. Women and Plants must be in the library of every individual who cares about the future of our planet.' Jane Goodall 'Women and Plants offers a uniquely gender-sensitive perspective on the management of biodiversity. These case studies empirically substantiate a broad range of cultures and ecologies, and offer keen insights for policy development and application.' Professor Nina L. Etkin, Associate Editor, Pharmaceutical Biology 'Focusing on traditional knowledge of indigenous people and local communities, and especially on the relationship between biodiversity and women in traditional societies worldwide , this book provides a well-marked path for the better understanding of biodiversity, its values and its importance for humans, while at the same time highlighting community and ecosystem interrelations.' Dr Hamdallah Zedan, Executive Secretary to the Convention on Biodiversity 'At long last, the predominant role of women in the management of plant genetic resources has begun to be scientifically documented in this highly important book. While men were occupied by hunting and defending their territories, women were most likely domesticating many of the world' s crops. Recognition that they hold much of the related knowledge and skills today is clearly overdue. But recognition is not enough-Farmer' s Rights as per Article 9 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture must be assured now and for the future, if we are to give farmers-both women and men-incentives to continue to be the developers and custodians of the world' s genetic resources. All those with responsibilities for promoting the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources should certainly read this book.' Professor Jose Esquinas Alcazar, Secretary of the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organization, and Father of 'Farmers' Rights' 'Wonderfully rich in evidence, persuasive in its argument, and wide-ranging in coverage, this timely edited volume on the gendered nature of knowledge about biodiversity enriches both scholarship and policy. It points to the critical need not only of recognizing the specificity of womens knowledge about plant species, but of strengthening their conservation efforts and bringing their interests to bear in arrangements for biodiversity development and benefit sharing.'
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