As part of an effort to improve income in Bolivian potato farming communities several years ago, CIP and partners developed, tested and delivered machinery for sorting potatoes, to reduce the time and labor needed to select marketable tubers by size.
However, a follow-up assessment revealed that the technology wasn’t being used. The machines had been designed for and validated by men, but selecting potatoes is traditionally the job of women, who found it too difficult to lift and pour bags of potatoes into, and operate the machine.
“The moral of the story is that it is important to engage women to understand their roles, perceptions and responsibilities before designing a technology, in order to ensure that what you design responds to their needs,” said Vivian Polar, a Gender, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist with RTB.
Vivian is the lead author of a study titled Technology is not Gender Neutral, which was completed by a team of CIP researchers in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru in 2017. They conducted focus group discussions in potato farming communities in the three countries and interviewed agricultural development professionals who work in those areas to identify factors that influence the adoption of agricultural technology by men and women farmers, and provide recommendations for the gender-responsive design and development of agricultural technologies.
Vivian noted that such research applies to a wide range of innovations: from improved crop varieties to seed systems to postharvest technologies. The study adds to a growing body of gender research by CIP and partners, which includes several studies of sweetpotato interventions in Africa by CIP Gender Research Coordinator Netsayi Mudege. Given that women provide somewhere between 40% and 60% of the labor for small-scale agriculture, and are in charge of household diets, research for development professionals have come to realize that understanding the roles, needs and constraints faced by women in developing countries is essential for widespread impact.
“I think that gender awareness and responsiveness is gradually being internalized by researchers,” Vivian said.