Gender analysis provides new insights into CIP’s work with indigenous farmers in the Andes


An important component of CIP’s research for development has been to help smallholder farmers gain access to new, more profitable markets. An example of this strategy’s potential is the Papa Andina Initiative, which promoted innovation processes in potato market chains in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru from 2000 to 2011. Through Papa Andina, CIP and partners supported the creation of new markets for native potato varieties while developing and validating the Participatory Market Chain Approach (PMCA), which has since been applied in other regions.

Papa Andina focused on tapping the commercial potential of native potato varieties that indigenous farmers in the Andes have grown and eaten for centuries. There are thousands of native potato varieties in the Andes region, yet just two decades ago, few of them were known or consumed outside of highland communities. Today, those colorful and delicious tubers can be found on the menus of gourmet restaurants in South American cities and – as potato chips – on the shelves of stores on several continents, in large part thanks to the work of CIP and its partners.

Papa Andina’s achievements have been widely reported, but recent research in indigenous communities in the Andean highlands of Peru provides new insights on its role in promoting gender equity, while strengthening traditions that help to preserve native potato diversity. The research is reported in “Gender and innovation in Peru’s native potato market chains,” a chapter in the book Transforming Gender and Food Security in the Global South, published by Routledge.  Its authors are: Silvia Sarapura, an adjunct professor at the University of Guelph, in Canada, Graham Thiele, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) and Helen Hambly Odame, an associate professor at University of Guelph, Canada, and chair of the RTB Independent Steering Committee.

The chapter is based on mixed-method, participatory, feminist research led by Sarapura in two regions of Peru’s Central Highland where Papa Andina worked. The research included in-depth interviews and focus groups with 42 indigenous smallholders who belong to a consortium of farmer groups known as COGEPAN, which participated in Papa Andina. The results of these were complemented with quantitative data from 184 indigenous farmers who didn’t participate in Papa Andina and 36 who did.

Thiele, who was involved in Papa Andina from its inception, noted that while the initiative was very successful at connecting value chain actors and driving innovation, researchers who coordinated it didn’t give gender issues as much attention as they should have. He thus welcomed the opportunity to have Sarapura – who he and Hambly Odame guided during her doctoral studies – lead gender research in some of the communities where Papa Andina worked.

“This chapter is a great step forward in addressing that gap through a detailed analysis of gender roles and relations in the initiative’s Andean context,” Thiele observes. “It is also encouraging to note that it produced evidence that Papa Andina contributed to empowering female farmers through improved access to resources.”

Sarapura found that women who participated in the PMCA, stakeholder platforms and other Papa Andina activities gained access to new markets for native potatoes, and increased their production and crop quality, which has improved food security and family incomes. Approximately 11 percent of the women farmers associated with COGEPAN reported that they have purchased land under their name, whereas more than 30 percent have gained access to farmland though renting or sharecropping.

Sarapura reports that women’s participation in native potato market chains has exceeded men’s. For example, many of the women associated with COGEPAN have opened bank accounts and more than 19 percent of the women interviewed have gained access to credit, as have nearly 14 percent of the men interviewed. In contrast, none of the farmers interviewed who didn’t participate in Papa Andina have access to credit.

Such outcomes are especially significant considering that indigenous women are some of Peru’s poorest, least educated, most marginalized citizens. Yet despite the fact that rural Andean women have much less access to land and agronomic training than the men in their communities, they play a important role in the cultivation and conservation of native potato biodiversity, since they are responsible for selecting the varieties and seed potatoes that are planted.

cosechaThe study, which takes the indigenous cosmovision, gender relations and norms, and traditional knowledge into account, notes that the agronomic technology and information imparted through Papa Andina has complemented traditional knowledge, rather than supplanting it. Yet, at the same time, the process has provided transformational opportunities for women farmers, some of who are now leaders in their farmer organizations or communities.

“Papa Andina fostered collective work, communication and group learning among diverse actors using tools such as PMCA and multi-stakeholder platforms, which influenced changes in social and gender norms, perceptions and relations that are entrenched within social systems,” notes Sarapura.

Since its validation in Papa Andina, the PMCA has been used in other South American and African countries, and has undergone a process to make it more gender responsive. Both Thiele and Sarapura note that this gender analysis holds lessons that could be used to improve market chain interventions in the future.

“It illustrates the relevance of social inclusion within agricultural innovation and what must be done to achieve transformative gender relations and the empowerment of resource-poor women and men in own context,” Sarapura affirms.

gender, value chains