Changing gender roles within farming households? Evidence from the field in Rwanda

By Chantal Ingabire and Birachi Eliud

A return to the Northern Province of Rwanda recently to conduct the second part of our qualitative interviews with smallholder farmers was quite insightful. Similar to most of other agricultural regions in the country, agriculture has gone through various changes as a result of intensification and the promotion to market-oriented production.

Changes accompanying the transition to market-orientation

Farmers who were largely in subsistence production started to adhere to requirements for commercialized agriculture. For example changes included adopting good (improved) agronomic practices such as application of fertilizers, use of improved seed, and paying close attention to agricultural and crop calendars among others.

Besides, the farmers are encouraged to from groups or cooperatives mostly for easier access to technologies, new practices and knowledge and negotiate for better markets to achieve envisioned market-led agriculture. The interest work in groups or even form cooperatives can be also be considered as a result of the agricultural transition under which farmers get income from their farms and begin to invest in cooperatives or saving groups.

All these changes whether being consequences of the transition or tools achieve the market-led agriculture are not happening without costs to men and women farmers, for example, time has to be allocated by farmers to different activities. In the agricultural transitions, literature shows that both women and men farmers allocate more time to farm activities. However despite the increase in farming activities that require more time to be allocated to them, household chores have remained the same. This puts a time constraint on the farmers, particularly women whose work on the farm has continued to increase with the aforementioned agricultural changes.



Farmers working together in manure application. @Dusengemungu, L, RAB 


Changes in gender roles: some contradictory views

During group discussions with farmers a spontaneous question on how husbands and wives manage their time on their working day was asked. The answers varied significantly depending on whether it was the men or women responding. Most men in the discussion groups indicated that they nowadays help each other in both farm and household chores, though they recognized that women worked more hours per day:

“I can help my wife if she is working outside home, I can take care of our children. We should help each other,… we rotate in our roles in the households, we have to make a plan of taking care of our home with our wives”(Men’s group).

“We usually work together on the farm….  Then in the afternoon as you can see, I’ve just taken a bath and now going to have a bottle (of beer) in the center…. In the morning when I got up I went straight to the farm and now I’ve brought enough quantities of grass for the cattle” (Men’s group).

“In the morning we go to the field together, when we comeback, he cuts firewood for me and children help in the rest. He goes to the bar for a drink and comeback in the evening” (Women’s group).


With respect to household care work, most of older men indicated to us that they cannot do traditional women chores while the younger ones said they would like to help but they fear their neighbors’ disapproval. The latter proposed to hire household workers (maid) to reduce the women workload.

When we asked women about household chores, they could not believe men told us they can help women with such household chores and duties. They said that women’s care work had remained unchanged and from their facial expression we could also discern that the burden had even increased:

“In peak seasons, a wife goes with workers, or when she does not have capacity to hire workers, she ploughs the land alone….; she goes early around six (06:00am)… and leaves the field around two or three in the afternoon, she goes home…where she does all the home tasks, and where necessary if she doesn’t have a grown up child who will cook lunch, she does it in the previous night…”(Women’s group). 

“Yes, there are cases where a husband finds out that the wife has no time to do certain things and comes in to help. However, they are not as many as more than 2%” (Women’s group).


Part of the group discussion session with women. @ C. Ingabire, FATE Rwanda


So where to for gender roles in transitioning agriculture? 

The agricultural transformation brought a number of changes including the time allocation among farming households. There have been surely some trade-offs within these households though our expectations were that the households gender roles may have changed accordingly. The experience we had from field show little (possibly insignificant) changes in household gender roles. While some young men say that they (could) help in care work, elderly men are not for that idea and would rather propose to hire house help (maid) if necessary and possible. In reality, such house help remains inexistent in the households. Women have a very different view on the gender roles: women’s care duties did have not changed and husbands do not really help with household chores. Given the contradictory views, we conclude that with regards to the agricultural transition, the shift of households gender roles are yet to be felt but are likely to point more to increased feminization of responsibilities if attention is not paid to the process. In other words, women are likely to be the ones taking on more work load both on farm and within households with transition to market-led agriculture.


Posted in Blog, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Women in Value Chain of Cardamom in Eastern Nepal: reflections on challenges and opportunities in the current context

By Bishnu Raj Upreti and Sharmila Shivakoti,

NCCR in collaboration with the Department of Development Studies (DDS), School of Arts (SoA) of Kathmandu University is conducting Nepal component of long term research project entitled: Feminization, Agricultural Transition, and Rural Employment (FATE), which is a 6 Years Research progrmme funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and Swiss agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and led by the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) and Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies (ICFG) of the University of Bern, Switzerland.

FATE Workshop(16-25Jan16) (38)

Field visit in the cardamom farm, January 2017

In the first stage of the research project, NCCR examined the production part of the value chain, impacts of cash crops (cardamom and ginger) in empowerment of women and their engagement in socio-political spheres. Findings of the first stage of study provided basis for the Nepal Team to explore further focusing to post-production (processing, marketing and consumption) part of the cash crops value chain.  Hence, since January 2017, FATE Nepal team started exploring the dynamics of post production (processing, marketing and consumption) part of the cardamom value chain.


Figure 1

Cardamom value chain, MSFP, 2014

The figure above represents the value chain map of cardamom. A value chain process of cardamom involves preparation of land, plantation and weeding, watering the plants, harvesting and picking ripe cardamom fruits, separating it from flowers, drying the cardamom, cutting the tail of the dried cardamom and finally taking it to the market (KC, Upreti and Subedi 2016). There are various actors’ involved in the process who have different roles and functions. The primary actors of cardamom value chain include farmers or collectors. The village or district level traders buy from farmers and sell it at the regional traders/markets. Then it is exported to India (MFSP 2014).

Value chain analysis can become a tool for addressing gender inequities. Participation of women in cardamom value chains can be beneficial if they have power over resources and decision-making. Hence, it is directly related to the economic empowerment of women. Women can benefit from the cardamom value chain only when they have power over division on labour, income, ownership, sale and use of earnings form cardamom.

all activitiesin 1 phot

Different steps of cardamom production

The study of FATE Nepal team focusing to the Cardamom Value Chain in the past 5 months brings some interesting preliminary issues to be examined further in the coming years. They are:

  • Cardamom transaction requires relatively large amount of money and often male members deal on it because of less engagement of women in financial dealing with the producers, regional and Indian traders. Hence, often these marketing related functions are done by male member of their family.
  • Compared to male members, women lack access to cardamom market related knowledge and latest price related information compared to their male counter parts.
  • Often male members of their family carry out the transportation, and sales of cardamom at secondary markets mainly because of the perceived and or actual lack of information and knowledge and some time confidence of women in cardamom marketing.
  • The respondent cardamom traders from Taplejung, Panchthar and Ilam said to us that women face constraints such as difficulty to free movement (as often negotiation happens outside their local area and odd times, difficult to access market infrastructure), which hinder for women to enter in cardamom export market;
  • Cardamom related education, knowledge and information is not easily accessible to women of remote rural areas that disfavor women to influence cardamom marketing.
  • Particularly at high castes groups, women somehow still face cultural barriers that exclude them from actively engage in price negotiation, visiting Birtamod and beyond and dealing with Indian traders.

Based on the synthesis of the previous studies and summarizing the specific responses of the respondents during our field visit of Jhapa (Birtamod), Ilam (Ilam municipality), Phidim (Phidim municipality) and Taplejung district (25-30 May 2017); we reach the following general conclusions:

  • Even though women have played equal and sometimes even more roles in the production part of the cardamom value chain in study area, their engagement in post-production value chin is minimum and constrained by several cultural, economic and other barriers,
  • Male members of family engaged in cardamom price negotiation form their homes often did not view any problem even when women are not engaged in cardamom processing and marketing. Rather they are happy when women are not engaged as they are not confident to the ability of women members on better price negotiation and market information. So, it is quite strong barrier.
  • In order to improve the role of women in the value chain process, special provisions related to access to information for market decision-making.
  • Access to information and technology is one of the major requirements for improving the role of women in the value chain process. Women must be provided with training especially in the marketing. This will not only help them contribute in the value chain process but also strengthen their negotiation capacity.
  • Though cardamom has contributed socio-economic empowerment of women, ensuring their active engagement in post-production cardamom value chain is major challenge.
  • It is yet to explore the state of collective and individual forms of engagement of women in shaping the value chain beyond immediate production of cardamom.
  • Assessing gains and risks for women in value chain is therefore important to reach to conclusion whether women get benefit
  • Equally important is to examine the roles of different organizations such as women’s groups, cooperatives, farmers groups and institutions such as norms, values, rules, in shaping cardamom
  • In general farmers growing cardamom are getting more profit than any other other farmers. But poor women are benefiting less from cardamom as they have less cardamom growing land. But women form the richer household having more suitable land for cardamom are benefiting from the earning of cardamom, even when they are not meaningfully engage in the marketing of cardamom.
  • Farmers are still practicing traditional farming of cardamom. As they are not providing special care and management of cardamom (cleaning, weeding, irrigating, crop rotation, better husbandry practices) they are not getting full benefits from it. Recently, some small holders have started scientific production of cardamom but the rich farmers with hundreds of ropani of cardamom farming are still applying traditional practices and therefore not able to get the higher benefit.
  • Majority of farmers are not able to utilize the facilities available at the government offices mainly because of slow, top-down and complicated approach/procedures of government.
  • Nepali engaged in cardamom business are entirely dependent on Indian traders and even the Indian are labeling Nepali cardamom as their product and exporting.
  • Modern processing, grading and storage can value add to the cardamom which is largely lacking
  • The government response to needed policy and regulatory provisions are too slow and administrative value chain.


Posted in Blog, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bolivian Quinoa Real in the midst of adversity

By Alejandro Romero.

Thanks to the launch of the International Year of Quinoa in 2013, the Andean grain became famous and its outstanding nutritional qualities promoted. This information aroused the interest in various regions of the world that adapted it to their own ecological conditions and started growing their own quinoa. Accordingly, the supply of quinoa increased at the international level, pushing down the price and generating uncertainty among the Quinoa Real producers from the southern highlands of Bolivia.

Despite this new setting, speaking with the producers in the region around the Uyuni salt flat, it is impressive to see their confidence and their desire to move forward, seeking alternatives so that they would be able to overcome this shock in the livelihoods they have built up over decades. This topic is further developed below, including a prior description of the current context in which quinoa is produced in one of Bolivia’s traditional quinoa-growing regions.

IMG_2811 quinua roja en Prov. Quijarro

Red quinoa in Quijarro province, @FATE Bolivia

At the beginning of the year, a BBC World[1] article described how a team of scientists had successfully deciphered the quinoa genome, with the objective of improving productivity, developing seed varieties apt for different climate conditions and controlling the saponin production. Thus, the grain would be sweeter and the production costs would go down.

Research has been conducted in Bolivia as well, aiming at adapting quinoa to warm regions such as the Chaco boreal region or the valleys of Santa Cruz where quinoa crops would become part of the soy crop rotation system. This would prevent the development of pathogens (insects and parasites) that multiply as a result of the intensive production of this legume. Nonetheless, expectations are that the tropicalized quinoa would be small compared to the grain produced in the highlands[2].

At present, there is a greater supply of quinoa adapted to new ecological environments, producing negative impacts for Bolivian quinoa growers. According to IBCE[3] data, the highest peak in Bolivian quinoa exports was reached in 2014, totaling 197 million dollars, while this amount has been going down constantly as from the following year even though the export volumes increased. The primary cause is the price decline at the international level as a result of the increasing quinoa supply from other parts of the world. The reference export price fell from 6,602 USD/ton in 2014 to 2,742 USD/ton in 2016, burying the Bolivian producers’ hopes of improving their income from selling quinoa. In this new setting, Peru, which used to be the second world producer of this grain, displaced Bolivia from the first place[4]. This was because Peru increased its coast production using a much more efficient technology for extensive crops, generating greater yields and lower production costs compared to the traditional production zones such as the Sierra mountains[5].

Obviously, just like the high quinoa export price attracted many producers to the Southern Highlands, the current international price has gradually discouraged the quinoa production in the last couple of years. Data from the beginning of the year provided by the National Quinoa Growers Association (ANAPQUI)[6] show that at least 10% of its more than 2,000 members did not sow quinoa last year since the crop was no longer profitable. One of the impacts of the declining price is that one quintal (46 kg) of the Andean grain is now sold at under BOB 300 in the domestic market compared to around BOB 2,000 some years ago.

The market factors are not the only ones going against the Bolivian farmers. The drought and the irregular rainfall in recent years have given rise to the failure of large areas with quinoa crops. Moreover, the strong winds are another factor lowering success of the quinoa plantations, burying the germinating seed in sand. Another alarming factor is the increasing night temperature, reducing yields of the grain by 30%[7]. The same happens in other crops, e.g. potatoes. In summary, the climate events described above are translated into losses and high quinoa production costs. ANAPQUI has announced that this year the quinoa harvest will be 30% lower due to these climate factors, while according to estimates of the Society of Ecological Quinoa Real Growers (SOPROQUI), a branch of ANAPQUI, losses will be around 70%.

IMG_2693 quinua afectada por clima adverso

Quinoa affected by adverse climatic conditions, @FATE Bolivia

The situation described above shows that the quinoa production is not only faced with market factors but also climate factors, both of which currently have an adverse impact on the producers in the southern highlands of Bolivia who are demanding more intense research and greater innovation, especially in the primary production, in order to improve yields and reduce the production costs.

IMG_2759 quinua afectada por clima

Quinoa affected by adverse climatic conditions, @FATE Bolivia

With the aim of mitigating the market-related problems, the state is promoting the domestic quinoa production by buying quinoa from the producers’ organizations and distributing it as part of the school breakfast, both in the quinoa producing region and in the rest of the country. On the other hand, steps have been taken to distribute quinoa and its derivatives as part of the food subsidy for public and private sector employees. In this setting, one fundamental question is: what measures are the producers’ organizations taking to overcome these problems? Talking with the SOPROQUI board, it became clear that they have two main strategies, one at the institutional level and one at the level of the producers. At the organizational level, for the second consecutive year SOPROQUI is participating actively in the distribution of processed quinoa products in schools in the provinces of Nor Lípez and Antonio Quijarro.

IMG_2606transformacion de quinua en galleta SOPROQUI

Transformation of Quinoa into cookies, SOPROQUI

Day after day, it is working hard to overcome the difficulties inherent in this new type of undertaking in the administrative and legal sphere and related to production, promotion, social security, etcetera. The aim is to mitigate the impact of the lower international demand for the grain by adding value to the quinoa as a means to generate more income. Through this initiative, it is possible to assist the producers, e.g. by giving them an advance for the quinoa they grow.

At the level of the producers, in conjunction with their organizations the idea is to consolidate the Denomination of Origin (DO), a designation to legally protect certain foodstuffs produced in certain geographical areas against producers from other areas who want to use the name ‘quinoa real’ which refers to the quinoa grown in the southern highlands of Bolivia. The purpose of this strategy is to ensure exports of the grain at a fair price, since the current price does not cover the costs to produce organic quinoa, which is around BOB 650/quintal. Nonetheless, the debate about obtaining the DO has suffered delays due to disagreements among the stakeholders.

The producers want a protected domination of origin linked to the traditional territorial space of the southern highlands so they could offer and promote a quality organic product. At the same time, they want this to lead to the creation of other development factors, such as tourism and gastronomy. Conversely, the government’s vision is for the private producers, processors, industrializers and exporters to consolidate a Protected Geographical Identification (PGI), including other regions with industrialization plants, e.g. the city of El Alto in the Department of La Paz. The entrepreneurs are clearly very interested in achieving this objective, which the traditional quinoa growers reject. Anyway, the different stakeholders continue to seek a consensus to position quinoa real in the international market in the currently adverse context resulting from the price decline.


[2] Extracted from


[4] Extracted from

[5] Extracted from (Bolivia pierde sitial en producción de quinua mundial. ¿Qué hacer ante esta situación? César Sevilla, head of operations of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization sharing some guidelines)



Posted in Blog, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A designation of origin to save Bolivian quinoa?

By Maurice Tschopp.

In 2017, quinoa does not pay as much as it used to. After having steadily increased during two decades, and even reaching an all-time peak in 2013[1], prices of quinoa began to fall in the last three years. A previous article on this blog already discussed the repercussions of this decrease for quinoa producers (see the article by Gabriela Ruesgas [ ].

Several producers blame the recent buzz around quinoa, and especially the international year of quinoa in 2013. While the international year created a lot of awareness around the nutritional properties of quinoa, it contributed to expanding quinoa production in all regions of the globe. At least 95 countries now produce quinoa, 20 of which harvested quinoa for the first time in 2015 (see Bazile et al. 2016: )

Quinoa production is therefore increasing worldwide. Yet, Peru still remains Bolivia’s fiercest competitor. Both countries are leaders in quinoa production (over 80% of world production together), but Peru overthrew Bolivia as the number one quinoa producing country in 2014 (see figure 1).


Production and areas harvested of quinoa in Bolivia and Peru (2000-2014)

Peru has several advantages over Bolivia. General climatic conditions are more favourable than the dry and cold southern Altiplano, where quinoa is traditionally cultivated in Bolivia. Quinoa yields are hence higher in Peru, and in some regions quinoa can be harvested twice a year, an unimaginable reality for Bolivian farmers.

As Bolivian farmers cannot compete with Peruvian production costs or volumes, they developed a new strategy: to establish a geographical indication (GI) for quinoa produced in the wild but spectacular southern Altiplano.


Quinoa in traditional baskets, @M.Tschopp

The 4000 metres above sea level “terroir”

This strategy already has been applied to numerous traditional products associated with specific geographical area in Europe and in the rest of the World. When it comes to quinoa, Bolivia has several interesting arguments to put in the balance.

  • First the idyllic location of quinoa fields, located in the surroundings of the Salar de Uyuni, a geological wonder and a growing tourist hub, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
  • The other “comparative advantage” of the quinoa produced in the southern Altiplano is its quality of the local variety: the “Quinua Real”. This variety is known to have bigger grains and better taste than other varieties of quinoa. Bolivian quinoa farmers also stress that the “Quinua real” has better nutritional properties than its Peruvian counterparts do.

The development of this geographical indication revolves around these two arguments: the geographical location and the quality of the Quinua Real. The process is yet quite complex, and it requires gathering a wide range of stakeholders, from the most important quinoa cooperatives, the Bolivian State as well as the private sector. The challenge is not only to define precise boundaries of the geographical region that can produce the “Quinua Real”, but also to define a set of rules of use, (reglamentó de uso) that have to be followed by all producers in the area. A Regulating Council (Consejo regulador) has been established in order to develop these rules. In addition, a trademark has also been developed and it has to be recognized by some of the major quinoa importing regions, including the European Union.

A target, the European Union

Geographical Indications (GIs), are quite common in the European Union, and there is a strong legal framework in place for their recognition. The European Union is therefore the biggest targeted market for this kind of labels. In Europe, hundreds of GIs exist for all kind of products such as Italian Cheese, Spanish Wine, Swiss dried Meat etc… A country like Switzerland alone[2],  has more than 30 local GI products registered by the federal Office for Agriculture. (link: )

Yet the road is long. It can take years for the Consejo Regulador to comply with all administrative requirements of the European Union and to register a new geographical indication.  The procedures are also very complex, but it seems that the Bolivian regulatory council of the GI is well engaged in this process. The Designation of Origin was officially presented at the Biofach in Nurenberg in Germany (link:

But while the Regulating Council is engaged in all these procedures on the international level, it also has to make sure that the label and regulations are accepted by Bolivian producers, cooperatives and private company.


Representatives of the Bolivian State presenting the current state and advantages of the Designation of Origin in Uyuni in November 2016. @M.Tschopp

This is not an easy task. Different actors in the market (cooperatives, private sector) have often been in competition and often accuse each other of undercutting prices and quality of quinoa. Getting all this people to work on a common project is very challenging.

“We have come a long way “, recognizes Juan Carlos Choque, the President of the Regulating Council for the Designation of Origin. “At first, the private sectors and the cooperative could not sit at the same table… Now we are all working together”.

The Bolivian Quinoa can also find some inspiration with the Colombian Coffee, one of the first South American GI to be recognized in Europe.

[1]  Prices paid to the producers reached 14’000 USD per ton of quinoa during that year (source FAOSTAT).

[2]Switzerland is not member of the EU but yet with very similar legal framework)

Posted in PhD experiences, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Agricultural Transformation in Rwanda: Do we still need to focus on Women farmers?

By Chantal Ingabire
Should women farmers continue receiving attention to enhance their integration in agricultural commercialisation? This was one of the questions I received during my participation in the Pan African Grain Legume and World Cowpea Conference in 2016. The event gathered researchers, policy makers, farmers and people from the private sector bringing together their knowledge and experiences to enhance the importance of grain legumes in food security and livelihoods in Africa. The question came after my presentation on common bean commercialisation in Rwanda. Results in the presentation showed that common bean is increasingly becoming an important source of income for women. In fact, female headed households were found likely to have higher level of market participation than those headed by men. The results also revealed that increasing access to agricultural training and income generating opportunities among women farmers would boost their degree of commercialisation. This would further contribute to the ultimate goal of agricultural transformation in the country; the market oriented production.


Credit: Neno, S., CIAT

So the question was whether more attention to women farmers is still needed in a country like Rwanda, already recognised as a leading nation in gender equality. I heard almost the same question, one and a half year earlier at the launch of the FATE project in Kigali: Why focus only on women? This question continues ringing in my head and an answer to it energizes my research interest on women farmers. Do we really need to have a particular focus on women farmers while all the government policies and strategies have been gender mainstreamed since 2000? To this question, I am always convinced the answer is “yes”, a reply I gave to my fellow conference participants, a year ago next to the Victoria Falls in Zambia.

This answer was based on the presentation mentioned above but also on the general facts about Rwandan women in agriculture. Results from research in Northern Province of Rwanda reveal that among 554 households studied, women received only 23% of the agricultural revenue in the cropping year 2015 while men received the remaining 77%. The differences in revenue shares is caused by a complex set of factors. In women headed households, production is relatively lower such that the quantities sold still keeps their revenue lower than that of the men for most marketed crops. The low production itself is caused by the small size of their agricultural land and poor crop productivity. Limited access and use of agricultural technology as well as the women’s triple roles within their households (combining reproductive, productive and community works) entrench their low agricultural productivity.

Dusengemungu L RAB

Credit: Dusengemungu, L., RAB

Further evidence is available: despite efforts invested to shift from subsistence to market oriented agriculture and despite the remarkable changes that followed, the majority of farmers are still in subsistence production. Women farmers dominate this category. Women are not only limited by low access to assets such as land, finance and knowledge but also their control over these assets is a critical challenge within many farming households. There are still many cases where wives lead the production activities with minimal involvement in output marketing which is usually taken over by husbands. This sometimes happens even in women headed households where other male family members (sometimes from extended family!) take over marketing and revenue activities. In addition, despite these constraints, agriculture remains a unique sector in which the majority of women (82% versus 63% of men) are employed . Recent reports show that even among the dual headed households, more women than men participate in agricultural production . The number of women farmers is likely to rise as men exit to non-farm employment . Isn’t it true then that women should receive special attention for a successful agricultural transformation?

For me the success of agricultural transformation, including commercialization rests on women farmers, so my answer is still valid. Yes, focusing on women in agriculture is worthwhile and this is much more relevant in Rwanda, as the country continues to mainstream gender in the different sectors of the economy. It makes sense for faster development of the agricultural sector. It also makes sense for remunerating these women whose sweat is rarely rewarded!

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Chapchong: land tenure implication for commercialized agriculture in Southern Laos

By Saithong Phommavong and Maliphone Douangphachanh

Chapchong is a Lao word which means ‘freely access’. Chapchong land tenure then equates to free acquisition of the land. In an area, where a pre-determined land user is non-existent, people can mark, cultivate, and harvest the yield from the land, where they do not need to pay taxes. The history of Chapchong land tenure in Laos dated back to a long time ago.  After the cease-fire in 1973, local villagers started returning to their hometowns, given that land was abundant and few people resettled at the beginning, an access to agricultural land was practiced at will. Like in many parts of Lao PDR, local people and new comers have chapchong land in the Bolaven plateau for housing and agriculture. Various qualitative data  from fieldworks reveals the situation:

After the war in 1973, we moved into the village area and land were abundance, anyone could mark and cultivate, one could get small or large land area as they want (FGD, village authority, Setkhod village, 17 May 2015).

I moved to Phorkhem village in 1975, that time any villager could decide to build house anywhere, jungle was thick, sparsely populated, anyone could occupy land and plant rice anywhere (A member of FGD, Phorkhem village, 21 May 2015).

After marriage in 1975, I had to lead my family lonely and I could chapchong 2 ha of land for my own family where I first grown rice and planted coffee later (FGD, Dong village, 25 June 2016).

After the end of war in 1975, I migrated to Setkhod village because the land was more available in this region, I could get about 9-10 hectares because not many people were living here (A Yrou woman FGD, Setkhod village, Laongam, 18 May 2015).  

Chapchong land tenure has gone through many different procedures to be fully legalized as land use ownership.  After the establishment of the Lao PDR, land tax collection was administered by canton authority (Taseng), who was also responsible for issuing primary land titles to tenants. In 1978, the Government of Laos (GoL) inaugurated an agricultural collectivization programme forcing farmers to cease their private properties rights. The aim was to redistribute the land based on egalitarian basis in a bid of increasing productivity; however, the programme failed to fulfill its goal. By mid-1980s, only about 40% of farmers joined the programme.  By the late 1980s, the system was abolished from collective system to individual land use rights and individual family production. Even though most land was owned by families already before the collectivization, it is hard to determine accurate ownership because the official documentation which was under the control of the kingdom was destroyed in 1975 after the war. By the mid-1990s, in order to clarify property rights and tenure security and modernize land administration, the GoL started land titling project in urban areas and allocating land in rural areas (Lastarria-Cornhiel, 2007b; Vandergeest, 2003). Thus between 1994 and 1995, land use rights were specified in land law. Between 1997 and 2000, forest land allocation project was launched with the aim to allocate forest land for community management. In theory, according to the Constitution (Article 17, 2015) and Land Law (Article 3, 2003), land is the property of the State, who control land use rights and the right to transfer. In practice, however, selling of land use rights are widely practiced among villagers.


Coffee plantation in Paksong District. S.Phommavong

From informal Chapchong land tenure to formal land ownership  

The GoL stated that Chapchong is illegal if one does not get land use permission from the government (MAF, 2004, Lao PDR, 2003). After informal Chapchong land tenure, the land user declared the occupied right to village authority. The initial state of granting formal land title is then receiving land tax paper from the authority. The Chapchong is transformed into formal land use ownership when a permanent land title is granted to a land holder. The land title is an evidence of permanent land-use right, and in practice look like private property rights. A plot of land with permanent land title can be bought and sold, mortgaged or bequeathed (Lastarria-Cornhiel, 2007a) as a private property.


Coffee plantation in Paksong District. S.Phommavong

The chapchong land tenure, as informal land use rights, was converted into legal land ownership and subsequently the rights can be bequeathed or sold. It is often the case that parents allocate plots of land to their newly wed children, particularly who decided to separate from the families. The occupancy of land is also inherited from previous generation to next generation. Land is transferred through selling the right of using to new owners after they can deal with the price and condition of the negotiation. The table below shows the chronology of land tenure in southern Laos.

Period of time Land tenure evolution
1973~ Free Chapchong land
1975-1976 Land tax collection by canton authorities (Taseng)
1978~ Collective land ownership
1980 Village land use titles issued
1994-1995 Land law to legalize land use rights
1997-2000 Forest-land use allocation project
2000 Land use rights have been exchanged on the market
2007-2008 Conservation forest and land for village communal use
2011 No communal land allocation

Expansion Chapchong land tenure to commercialized agriculture

The Boloven Plateau has a long history as a center of coffee production in Southern Laos, covering the areas of three districts in three provinces including: Paksong in Champasak province, Thateng in Sekong province, and Lao Ngam in Salavanh province. It is located at latitude of 15° N, which engenders a strong seasonality with hot summer and relatively cold winter. Altitudes range from 400 to 1,400 m with a strong vertical agro-ecological differentiation. Its excellent agro-ecologic environment is suit for planting East-Africa species (Galindo et al., 2007).


Coffee farmer. S.Phommavong

The Bolaven plateau has a hundred years history of coffee production. Coffee is one of the main sources of income for farmers, who are living there, so land is regarded as farmers’ valuable asset for producing coffee to earn a living. As the coffee sector is growing, well-off farmers manage to accumulate capital, purchase additional land to expand their coffee plantation in order to increase their income. Chapchong land tenure is a primary form of land ownership for local farmer prior to formal land ownership certification. Coffee has been planted by villagers in Chapchong land areas before they were legalized. Nevertheless, the majority of coffee farmlands are not yet certified by land titling by government. In such case, only land tax papers are certified by village authority in most of Chapchong land. However, they are playing important roles in producing coffee value for local people to sustain their lives, accumulate assets, and contribute to national economy.

How about patterns of land use in other FATE research projects countries of Bolivia, Nepal and Rwanda, please share, I would like to learn from you.


Galindo, J., Sallée, B., Manivong, P., Mahavong, P., David, A., Homevongsa, V., . . . Guitet, C. (2007). Participative analysis of coffee supply chain in Lao PDR.

Keosiphandone, P. (2014). Connecting Upland Peasants to Markets and Socio-Cultural Change in Bolaven Plateau, Southern Part of Laos. IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science, 19(10), 15-24.

Lao PDR. (2003). Land Law. Vientiane Capital, National Assembly.

Lao PDR. (2015). Constitution. Vientiane Capital, National Assembly.

Lastarria-Cornhiel, S. (2007a). Who Benefits from Land Titling? Lessons from Bolivia and Laos.

Lastarria-Cornhiel, S. (2007b). Who Benefits from Land Titling?: Lessons from Bolivia and Laos.

MAF. (2004). Land Law. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Lao PDR.

Vandergeest, P. (2003). Land to some tillers: development-induced displacement in Laos. International Social Science Journal, 55(175), 47–56.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Changing role of women in high value agriculture with special focus on cardamom farming in the post conflict Nepal

The context

A study on ‘Feminization of agriculture, transformation and rural employment (FATE) with specific focus on social and political conditions of asset building in the context of export led agriculture in Ilam district shows that the decade long armed conflict (1996-2006) not only negatively affected Nepal but also contributed to agrarian change leading to alter the sociopolitical and economic structures and power relations in rural Nepal.
During the time of the armed conflict the export led agri. market system was severely disrupted and several agri. market centers were either shutdowns, or obstructed, agricultural goods and physical infrastructure were physically damaged, production, processing, transportation and trading of agricultural commodities were not safe. Taxation on agriculture products, forced donation from farmers and transport strikes, blockades and bandhs were rampant. Hence, agricultural product price was unstable. Consequently, farmers were hesitant to engage and invest in export-led agriculture.

Large cardamom plant, Ilam district. B.Upreti

Large cardamom plant, Ilam district. B.Upreti

However, the situation has been changed after the signing of comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) in November 2006. One of the positive contributions of the armed conflict was enhanced social and political empowerment of rural population, especially rural women which has later contribute them to assert their rights and engaged in export led agriculture. In this context, a team of researchers conducted study in Ilam district from 2014 to 2016 focusing to large cardamom (Amomum sabulatum). The main objectives of the study was to investigate women’s engagement in high value agricultural exports and its contribution to their empowerment (asset building, political, economic and social empowerment). The research used both qualitative methods (Focus Group Discussion, Key Informant Interview, observation, and transact visits) and quantitative survey of 500 households. Major findings are discussed in the following points:

Cardamom affected by diseases:

Nepal is one of the largest producers of cardamom as export-oriented commodity and important means of women’s livelihood and empowerment. It is treated as “black gold”. In 2013 Nepal exported 2914.47 Mt cardamom worth NRS 2,528,003,204 with 90 % of it to India and then it goes to Middle East.

The table shows the overall situation of cardamom production in Ilam district. The area and production of cardamom was reduced since some years due to severe infestation of Chhirke-furke diseases. But it is gradually reviving because the local farmers planted local (Salakpure) variety which is not affected by the diseases so far.

Even when the cardamom crop was severely damaged by diseases the commercial export led agriculture (cardamom, ginger, broom grass, fresh vegetables, and fruits) market is revival in Ilam. Continued efforts of farmers and government to develop collection and market (wholesale and retail) centers, formation of market management committees and agriculture and consumer cooperatives; sharing of market information; provision for credit facilities.

Women’s empowerment:

It was reported that cardamom, ginger and other cash crops provide means for social, political and economic empowerment. They have now high social standing and respect once they engage in women agriculture cooperatives’ they are developing their managerial ability and able to invest in women’s affairs, they became confident to deal on social issues. In this context, MsLaxmi Tamang, Manager of Jirmale Women Agriculture Cooperative said “Our members are confident, vocal and getting social recognition, respects and leadership positions in society and taking leadership role in social events in the village”. She further said “we don’t give dowry to our daughters but educate them and make them stand on their own feet”.
Often it was reported that engagement of women in export-led agriculture also contributed to their economic empowerment as they got more employment opportunities and better wage (about 500 NRS per day), more earning from cardamom than conventional crops and able to invest in their choice that broaden their economic decision making.
Women’s political empowerment was also enhanced as cardamom enterprise provided them space for political engagement and leadership. The chair lady of Ilam Chambers of Commerce Mrs. Sushila Sapkota said, cardamom and other cash crops in Ilam not only socially and economically strengthened position of women but also created space for women to politically establish, to take leadership and political positions at local level”. They were able to take leadership in cooperative to political position at local level. Further, women’s assets were also increased. Their participation in networks and membership in cooperatives, provided them more social responsibility and recognition.

Problems and challenges:

Most common problems reported by 322 of 513 respondents are Chirke, Furke and rhizome rot that had drastically reduced production of traditional varieties. Further, they have not enough technical knowledge to improve the quality so they have to rely on traditional Kiln for drying. Another major problem is lack of up to date market information and market price fluctuation.It was very difficult for the farmers engaged in export led agriculture to compete with Indian farmers. Further, they have also occasionally faced agro ecological risk, market risk


Though the decade long armed conflict and subsequent political tensions severely affected export-led agriculture, there is fast improvement with the efforts of women. Women’s engagement in high value agricultural exports particularly cardamom is very encouraging and one of the most effective enterprises for women’s empowerment Women of Ilam district have not only politically, economically and socially empowered but also able to increase their natural, economic, social and political assets. Nevertheless, women’s engagement in cardamom value chain is discouraged by the two problems i.e., diseases and market price fluctuation In addition, women are facing psychological pressures to maintain and expand their high value agricultural exports in the situation of and steady responses of the government to address some of the policy constraints.

Posted in Blog, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The “why” lady

When a four-year old toddler run towards you and ask you why the sky is blue, why the chicken can’t fly and how we make babies, these questions will give you a headache. Still you feel you have to answer to the kid and to find a reliable response that will probably trigger many more questions. The “why” and “how” questions period is tricky and will make you sweat. However in my country, this headache is probably also a very sweet moment, when one discovers the world around him and wants to understand it.

Many different types of formal education exist and I am not here to judge which one is better or worse. However the place of the “why” into the education seemed to me, before moving here to Laos, highly important.

And then the culture shock came. Working in the academia is very enriching; we keep on learning every day we keep on challenging our mind and trying to find answers for problems, we want to uncover. To find solutions, we need to know the context, the environment, the action and the issues surrounding those actions. To know all of these elements in a new culture, we need to live with it, to try to understand it and we need lots of observation. Thus, my favorite question, or the one, like a four-year old toddler I am constantly asking is “why” or “how”. How do you cook papaya salad? Very important since I have craving for that. Or how do you communicate with your superior? Another very crucial one when discussing about planning and budget. Or simply while doing field work, why do people act in such ways?

However these questions, here, are very few raised. Few academics will ask why and how when doing their field work. Also the list of the facts they will get, often very good, will not trigger any kind of understanding on the reasons behind. Local people are also showing very little interest in understanding the motives. The way they think and their culture do not drive them to question but more to observe. Another very strong shock I faced was understanding the questions. Some questions that made lots of sense to me were totally unclear to my interlocutor. The mind has then to run for another way of asking and thus it becomes very important to understand the context in order to try to find out how the people will understand the question.

Focus group meeting in Lak 35, Paksong District, Laos

Focus group meeting in Lak 35, Paksong District, Laos

So when I go to the field or correct a proposal, my strong push to ask “why” and “how” every two sentences is often disturbing my counterpart and this is the way I got the nice nickname of the “why” lady.

Eventually, since I love to do that and to discover different cultures in academia, I would ask you, How do you cope with understanding the motives when the situation is different from what you know? When doing field work in your own country, would you face such issue, and how do you feel about it?

Posted in Blog, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Perseverance and the Fruitful Journey: What it is to survey in geographically challenging location

Written by Sony KC.

The Nepal Center for Contemporary Research (NCCR), conducted a survey for the project, Feminization of Agriculture Transition and Rural Employment (FATE) in 513 Households in Jirmale Village Development Committee (VDC) of Ilam district. The survey was conducted between November and December 2015.

Jirmale VDC borders Jhapa district of Nepal and Mirik in India and is prominent for its picturesque, yet challenging geographical location. To get there by bus, the team took a bus from Kathmandu to Birtamode of Jhapa district, which takes about 14 hours if everything goes well in the road. From Birtamode, the team then took a hired vehicle towards Jirmale. From Birtamode, the ride is about two to three hours uphill, on the rough roads. As we climb uphill, the misty and foggy weather embraces our mind and spirit with a fragrance of freshness, providing a break from the scorching heat of Birtamode.

There are nine wards in this VDC, of which we were to conduct surveys in 5 wards (1,2,3, 5 and 7). For the team, administering the survey instrument in the households of these wards required a sound planning because of the settlements. Wards 1,2 and partly 3 is called Salakpur, well known for massive cardamom and mandarin oranges production. Though these three wards were located adjoining to each other, there were alienated households located in the high hills, which required one to two hours of walking. The challenge was not in the beautiful trekking serenaded by tall trees creaking with the breeze, with birds chirping and monkeys chattering, which was too good for the ears, admired by our enumerators, but the absence of household members upon reaching the destination. Time, which is always crucial to maintain, during big surveys like this one, was an issue. Some members had to wait till dusk until the household members arrived and convince them to be a part of our survey, further taking their valuable time.


Oranges in Salakpur, Ilam District. Photo by Sony KC.

Moreover, for the rest of ward 3 called Patapur, the team had to travel downhill, towards Jhapa and then enter a different route to reach the destination. Patapur, however, is less similar to ward 3 of Salakpur in terms of its geographical built. The terrain is filled with tall beetle nut trees, broom grass and is rather hotter than Salakpur. Again, like Salakpur, administering questionnaire in this area, in terms of isolated houses became a challenge. There were cases where our researchers returned distressed, because one or two households located in a isolation, refused to participate in the survey. In order to reach these households, few researcher’s had walked for hours, searching for the respondents and the households. In such cases, denial from respondents to become a part of the survey, despite attempt from the researcher’s to convince them was a challenge along with the topography.


The team ready to set for Patapur from Salakpur in a hired pickup, Ilam District. Photo by Sony KC.

Additionally, the geographical challenge is not only limited within VDCs but the most strenuous part is location challenge within wards. By this, what I mean is, for example, reaching ward 5 called Rambhyang was another ordeal for the researchers. We had to plan ahead for this ward. After completing survey in Patapur, the team had to climb back to Salakpur, which took about a day. After reaching Salakpur, in the dusk, the team prepared to set for Rambhayng, ward 5, early dawn. During rapport building with the villagers, we were told; the distance to Rambhyang would be somewhat like 2 hours. Early morning we set our journey to Rambhyang, which took us 3-4 hours, partly because we were new to the location.


The team crossing a landslide area on the way to Rambhyang, Ilam district. Photo by Sony KC.

Like Salakpur, Rambhyang did not fail to captivate our hearts. The greenery and scenic beauty of Rambhyang along with the most amicable people welcomed us. The strenuous effort we put to reach there as a team, vanished from our hearts and pretty soon we were ready to rapport build in Rambhyang and start our survey. Few people in Rambhyang, who are also tagged as the ‘knowledgable people’ willingly helped us and guided us to reach households. The only challenge here, again, was reaching households that were distant, moreover, added to it was when there were no respondents in the households, after an hour’s trek. Not to forget, we had two parts of the questionnaire to be filled and hence, in some cases, researchers had to travel back to the households.  As a team, we did decide that we could have few researchers stay over in one of the households, but in some cases, these things were impossible, despite our attempt. Some household’s were not comfortable hosting and they denied without hesitation.

Interestingly, people in Rambhyang were more than pleased to be a part of the survey. One opined, “We are glad that we will be, at least, our village would be recognized in terms of cardamom plantation because only Salakpur has been taken on the limelight so far.” An elderly woman opined, “thank you for finding our village. We do not have transportation service here and we thought people only went to places where they had these facilities. We welcome you and please tell everyone in Kathmandu and other places about our village.” Hearing these made our team happy and the warm welcome has become an indelible memory.


In Rambhyang, with the most amicable team who were ready to be interviewed at night. Photo by Sony KC.

After completing survey in beautiful Rambhyang, the team had to go back to Salakpur again, as it seemed to be the centre for all the wards in Jirmale. We set our journey to Salakpur in the evening and planned for ward 7. Early morning we headed to ward 7. For that, we hired a vehicle from Salakpur (a private pickup which is usually meant to be transferring goods) towards the base of the hills of this area. Then we trekked for an hour towards the east, reaching ward 7. Like in Rambhyang, people in ward 7 were welcoming and the geographical location of this ward was similar to Rambhyang, yet beautifully located.

What this tells us is that surveying in areas with complex geographical location, adding up to logistics and requirement, is no doubt a challenge, but the result of reaching these isolated areas to build evidence is more than fruitful. We, as a team conducting research for FATE project, always shared and reflected upon, how we were fortunate to become a part of this survey where no one has surveyed before. We did face complexities due to topography, as we combed the hills carrying our belongings, encountered landslides on our way, took a wrong path thinking it was the right one where there were no houses or people on the way to direct us but in the end we met our mission and we made our respondents happy.

As a FATE team we have succeeded in creating a database for an area rich in agricultural products, particularly cardamom and hardworking farmers. The one survey, which took more days, than planned, has given us rich data and information.  The journey has been fruitful and bringing Jirmale into the limelight in terms of its people and livelihood has been the one of the best picks to build stronger evidence.


Posted in PhD experiences, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Quinoa producing communities and the decline of the boom

Prices, sowing and the future: a question mark

By Gabriela Ruesgas

Over the last decade many peasant native indigenous communities in Bolivia have chosen to grow quinoa in view of the extremely high price in the global market. The prices soared to unprecedented levels and in the traditional communities increasing numbers of producers joined in this activity, expanding the agricultural frontier of this crop and generating a series of contradictions and tensions within the peasant communities.

In April and May, the months in which the quinoa growers are harvesting, I have participated in some of the centralized meetings in communities in the province of Nor Lípez together with leaders and technicians of the Association of Quinoa Real Producers “SOPROQUI”.  The meetings addressed the problems, opportunities and challenges which the producers and association are presently facing.

women harvesting quinoa_pic by gabriela ruesgas

Women harvesting quinoa, by Gabriela Ruesgas

The irreversible impact of the price boom

Historically, according to the producers the price of one quintal of quinoa never exceeded BOB 30 (equivalent to approximately USD 4 today). By the end of the 1990s, the price started to go up in a sustained manner, to over BOB 2,000 (approximately USD 300) in 2013. After this peak, the trend started to reverse and today the price of one quintal of quinoa sold in the market is BOB 360 (USD 52).  Nonetheless, since quinoa has become part of the diet of important population sectors in central Europe, the US and elsewhere, the price will not go down again to the historical levels before quinoa entered the world market.

The recent price decline is primarily due to the multiplication of the producing countries, from the 3 or 4 traditional producers to the around 100 countries producing quinoa today. As Rodolfo Quispe, President of SOPROQUI, said “for us, the quinoa boom has meant a radical change but it is over and will not come back. This was his way to express the understanding that although quinoa has become a fixed product in the world market, the extraordinary profits made after 2013 will not be repeated.

The results we see today show that even though quinoa has brought many benefits for the producers, at the same time it has given rise to several tensions. One of the most significant tensions is the pressure on the land, which has had a dual impact. On the one hand, socioeconomic impacts and, on the other hand, environmental impacts. In terms of the former, the SOPROQUI producers I spoke with confirmed that the boom gave rise to important changes in the social relations within the communities which were unthinkable before for them.

Doña Aquilina from the community of Bella Vista, a quinoa producer and partner of SOPROQUI, deplores the land conflicts between communities and even between families. She said that the communities of “Agencha with Aguaquiza, Llavica and Malil, they grabbed everything, they occupied everything… they interfered with the land, they moved the land around; all sectors were involved in fights and even brothers killed each other; all about ambition” (…) “it is true that people only come here for their own good. That is why they have come to my village, from Tarija, Tupiza, they have come to live here… some even came from Brazil, from Argentina, to claim land. The most cunning ones brought their children to occupy land and the ones with most money took more”.

soproqui quinoa producers meeting in Villa Candelaria_by gabriela ruesgas.JPG

SOPROQUI Quinoa producers meeting in Villag Candelaria, by Gabriela Ruesgas

She also told me that some migrants who claimed they were relatives of community members and settled in the community to produce quinoa took out loans and when the quinoa price went down they could no longer pay back the money. They fled the community and the guarantor is now stuck with their pile of debt. What Mrs. Aquilina told us shows the shocks and contradictions among the community members whose relations are based on mutual trust and on the knowledge they have of their families, on the one hand, and the migrants (residents) on the other hand. However, the latter came from the perspective of a calculation of opportunities and bringing other cultural practices and values which are essentially based on individual profit and benefit. That explains Aquilina’s assertion when she was talking about these experiences –which are very common in mercantile economies in which the individual interest prevails- “that is what has become of the quinoa growers (!!!)”, which she said with astonishment and also a certain disbelief. These stories may be seen as either anecdotes or the starting point of an in-depth investigation of the changes and transformations of cultural patterns in the communal relationships, which are exacerbated by the quinoa boom.

With regard to the second impact, namely the environmental pressure on the land, many problems have intensified. Soil erosion, the loss of camelid livestock and a series of local phenomena linked to the more generalized and global phenomenon of climate change are having a direct impact in the quinoa producing communities that now face the risk of not being able to sow in the next agricultural cycle. The producers told us that the problem of the price decline is worsened by the absence of rainfall, because of which it has not been possible to date (May 2016) to till and plow the land to prepare for sowing. This new reality entails new and difficult challenges for the producing communities with a view to having a less uncertain future.

New challenges for the producers

One common topic mentioned in the five centralized meetings of SOPROQUI  -which were attended by community members from Yonza, Pelcoya, Santiago K, Santiago Chuvica, Mañica, Bella Vista, Puerto Chuvica, Colcha K, Copacabana, Santiago de Agencha, Aguaquiza and Atulcha-, was related to the association’s projections towards the future. Don Rodolfo Quispe made it very clear: “Quinoa is no longer good business; if we have no projections, our association will die”. Don Ignacio, a producer from Villa Candelaria, shared his concern that “the good times are in the past, so what alternative for survival do we have?” (…) “People will no longer fight over the land, they will merely leave”.

The quinoa price boom has had an irreversible impact on the quinoa producing communities, not only in terms of the benefits which the producers have received but also because of the important economic, cultural and institutional transformations that have taken place in the communities. As Don Ignacio pointed out, the first challenge is to explore the channels or mechanisms to maintain the conquests resulting from the price boom. In this regard, the producers have been discussing the possibility of industrializing and adding value to the quinoa production and/or of diversifying their productive activities.

In this new scenario, SOPROQUI leaders Rodolfo Quispe and Yamilé Cruz proposed to create an economic entrepreneurial unit that would focus on “agro-eco tourism”. A bold initiative on which the partners will vote in their next annual assembly in July of this year. This proposal intends to share the local uses and customs in organic quinoa production practices with the world, through the creation of a network of communal lodgings throughout the communities around the Uyuni salt flat.

These important challenges, which are not only related to the crisis which the producers face today but also to the dreams and objectives of individual and collective improvement were voiced very well by Don Rodolfo. In a meeting in the community of Llavica he said to the other members that “I remember this dream of our friend Yamile… of SOPROQUI becoming a big quinoa company with worldwide presence just like Coca Cola”.


Posted in Blog, Uncategorized | 2 Comments