Cassava has experienced major growth as a boom commodity in Vietnam, being produced on an industrial scale to meet a growing national and global demand for starch, animal feed and biofuel. Responding to this demand, research has typically focused on technologies such as high-yielding varieties, better fertilization, integrated pest management, new intercropping options and more efficient processing equipment. However, the different practical interests of men and women users of these technologies, and the social and gender constraints and incentives they face, are rarely considered in agricultural research for innovation.
As part of GENNOVATE, a global effort by CGIAR Research Programs and centers to understand how agricultural innovation shapes and is shaped by gender roles and norms, an RTB case study was conducted in a cassava farming village to explore gender dimensions of cassava production and processing.
The case study revealed that women work as much as men on cassava and likewise have just as deep knowledge of the crop as well. Women were found to be creative farmers, conducting their own experiments to find the best planting intervals and the best angle to cut cassava stems for planting material, which affects the ease of rooting. They also use local social networks to increase labor use efficiency via exchange work with other women. This creative innovation by women relies on internally available resources, while wealthy men invest in new cassava technologies introduced by external agencies. These men have the freedom to take financial risks and furthermore they have strong social connections with government and the private sector.
Women’s dependence on internal resources for innovation is nevertheless further constrained by the possibility of the husband’s disapproval. This was the top factor they identified during focus group discussions that prevented the implementation of their preferred innovation. Both men and women perceive that men are ‘the pillar of the house’ who should make major decisions. As a result, women’s interests in cassava, such as labor-saving technologies and utilization for feeding domestic animals, are often not included in the priorities of cassava research and interventions undertaken by the government and research institutions.
Exploring gendered interests and social constraints is the first step to facilitate more inclusive and effective agricultural and institutional innovation.
Photo: Cassava farmers in Quang Binh province, Vietnam, where the GENNOVATE study took place. J.Newby/CIAT