The ambiguous image of collective organizations

By Eva Ming, master student

Motivated by the first results of the FATE-team of Nepal about the manifold benefits of collective organizing, e.g. access to financial services and acquisition of new knowledge and skills (KC et al., 2016; Upreti et al., 2016), I set out to Nepal for my fieldwork. I had in mind an idea of collective organizing as a form of grassroots solidarity with strength in numbers. Results from the household survey revealed striking differences between the numbers of participants in collective organizing by gender, where 56% of the women and 18% of the men who were interviewed responded that they engage social groups like cooperatives, credit and saving associations or mother groups (Upreti et al., 2016, p. 140). This notable difference in the number of participants by gender that indicates a feminization of organizing aroused my interest. My master thesis thus aims to investigate the feminized space of collective organizing in cardamom farming based in Eastern Nepal.

The time in the field was very enriching. I learned about the way these cooperatives and social groups function, how the people engage with these groups and each other and how the involved people experience their participation. However, it was also challenging, as there were so many new things for me to experience and to learn. And then, there were these elusive moments of confusion, which I hardly noticed at first.


Discussing the experiences about the participation in social groups in a focus group discussion    
@ E. Ming

From the beginning, even before I went to the field, I struggled with the concept of group. There are many ways to look at them. From the point of view of organizational sociology, social groups can be conceptualized as organizations with elements like membership, aims, structures, decision-making processes and resources (Preisendörfer, 2005). However, the risk of embracing such an organizational perspective is that groups may be defined too mechanically and important contributing factors such as power relations may be overlooked Groups can also be understood in terms of collective action. Here, the focus is on the actions taken by a group of people, rather than on the groups themselves (Meinzen-Dick et al., 2004). Yet another approach considers groups as a bundling of individuals, who share similar characteristics in their social milieu. Groups are then considered as less of an assembly of people, who unite as a response to particular motivations, but as a categorization, imposed from outside. The categorization may not exist in social reality but only from a theoretical point of view (Bourdieu, 1985; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1996). For example, people with the same educational background and similar economic situation may be summarized as one class without the requirement that they know each other or share a sense of belonging to this class.

Based on this preliminary review, we can see that there are several important dimensions of collective organizing – the groups themselves (including elements like structure, resources, aims, etc.), the actors involved and the actions, which are conducted by the groups. These different dimensions are interlinked, yet, they are not the same.

Considering the scope of these interpretations, I thus struggled with the question about what I was examining: Do I look at the groups as entities or do I look at the individuals who form the groups? Are these individuals, who constitute the group, the group itself or is the group more than its parts? Sometimes, when I poured over my research concept, I had the feeling that I was looking at an ambiguous image. Depending on which aspect I focused on, I saw completely different images. In the end, I decided that, at least for the data collection, I needed to investigate both aspects – the groups and their internal structure as well as the individual actors and their involvement in the groups.

The moments of confusion continued to occur while I was in the field. First of all, two general observations in relation to collective organizing surprised me. The first observation is the importance of external actors. Even though, local cooperatives exist, collective organizing is strongly influenced by external actors (i.e. state officials, local governments and members of NGOs). They are involved in forming the groups and provide knowledge and other resources. The second observation is that almost every cooperative or social group is involved in financial services. Even if the group was originally formed with a different purpose in mind, today, most of them offer loans and encourage savings as a part of their main activities. So, I started to realize that collective organizing is not the bottom up process I imagined when I set out for the field, but far more complex with influences from many different actors with their own interests.

My confusion became stronger as I delved further into the subject. The experiences about their membership, which the women shared with me, revealed an ambivalence in the feminized space of collective organizing.


The long journey of one investigated cooperative with many positive changes as well as major challenges along the way. @ E. Ming     

On the one hand, I’ve met strong, brave and very engaged women, who are proud to be part of a group and who told me about the benefits:

“Before, I used to work only at home. But now, I get the chance to attend meetings and to go to places, which are work-related with the cooperatives. And then, we have built the capacity to speak in a mass, which I did not use to do before.” (Female interview partner, 49 years).

“I have more friends now. I know people from other places. […] And there is no difference between poor and rich in the village. Everyone is part of it. We have also people from far away, like the neighbor village […]. And I don’t have to depend on my husband for household expenses. […] And then, if I need, I can take loans and use it.” (Female interview partner, 46 years)

Through their membership, the women gain access to financial services, which are sparsely accessible in remote areas, and independence from their husbands’ financial resources; they have the opportunity to network socially and exchange knowledge with other women. Through these opportunities, they development self-confidence and the courage to speak in public. In other words, the female cardamom farmers begin to claim participation in public spaces and social life.


The monthly saving collection meetings as an opportunity to save, to network socially and to exchange knowledge. @ E. Ming

On the other hand, the women told me of new dependencies that they become entangled in through their participation. They are bound to the groups through contracts and debts, often for a long time. Furthermore, there is a mutual dependency amongst the members, because they decide about loan applications from each other and because their own savings are used to provide loans. This is aggravated in groups, where members have to vouch for each other and then have to fulfil outstanding debts with their own monetary resources, if another member is unable to pay back the loan:

“These groups give money without putting any property down. But they have their own members as a witness. So, if the person takes a loan and cannot pay back in time, so they, the persons of the group, have to give their savings. They [the groups] will take the money, nevertheless what. They don’t care if I am poor or if I cannot pay back the loan. But the person, who had stayed, or all the group members, they take the savings from their own account, just to pay the loan back in time.” (Female interview partner, 49 years)

Linked to these dependencies, the potential threat of indebtedness weighs heavily. The women shared stories with me about family tragedies, because members had been caught in vicious cycles of indebtedness:

“I am not talking about me or my members. But it [the membership in credit and saving associations] has given like mental problem to other people also. Because they take loans and if they cannot pay back the loans, then someone has. Somebody had to run away and even, they have died. And they are in loss, because they take a big amount of loan and they cannot pay back.” (Female interview partner, 46 years)

In addition, many credit and saving associations are formed and run by NGOs. While these NGOs have helped to empower women, the organizations also profit from providing loans as they earn money with interest rates levied on the principal amounts borrowed. Most of these NGOs prefer women-only group, because women are considered to be more reliable in paying back the loans. So, not only do the NGOs profit at the expense of the women, but a situation is created where the responsibility of taking loans and paying them back lie mostly on the shoulders of women.

Considering all of these factors and interdependencies, every time I thought I understood something, another piece of information added a new way of understanding the complexities around collective organizing. Again, I had the feeling that I was looking at an ambiguous image. The longer I was in the field, the more often this image of collective organizing as ambiguous occurred to me. Then one day, I was conducting an interview with a member of a saving and credit group that took place in her living room. On the wall of this room was a drawing that attracted my attention. I like it and looked at it several times. Only after the interview, the research participant brought to my attention, that the drawing was an ambiguous image.


A very famous example for an ambiguous figure: My Wife and My Mother-In-Law, firstly published by the cartoonist W. E. Hill, 1915

Ambiguous images are something fascinating and a broad range of people have dealt with it, as a brief web-based search reveals. Ambiguous images are images and figures that can be seen from at least two perspectives, thus encourage at least two different interpretations. It is not possible to see both interpretations simultaneously. Only one perspective appears at a time. Nevertheless, both perspectives are versions of one and the same picture.

What does it mean for my research, if I carry this analogy of collective organizing as an ambiguous image with me? Basically, it reminds me that there is neither an easy nor a final answer. The analogy points out that reality is (or may seem) contradictory, because there exist different perspectives and interpretations of the same picture. This does not imply that is impossible to resolve these contradictions. It might be that someone with more knowledge about the context is able to integrate the different perspectives into one coherent whole. However, in my case, with my background, conducting research within a context that is not very familiar to me, it means that I encounter contradictions, which I have to withstand. There is the ambition to arrive at a concise conclusion by the end of the thesis. You would like to set up a balance sheet to make a clear statement. However, reality is more complex than that and it may be that research, which aims at such precise statements, is incomplete and unable to capture the essential of a given phenomenon.

The analogy further reminds me that the perceived contradictions do not deny the truth of one perspective. For my research, this means that cooperatives and social groups may empower the women under certain conditions, while creating new sources of dependencies and vulnerabilities in other aspects. The analogy underlines that dual perspectives on groups may exist side by side and it implies that it is my duty as a researcher to keep an open mind and to try to uncover and include these different perspectives.


Bourdieu, P. (1985). The social space and the genesis of groups. Social Science Information, 24(2), 195–220.

Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. J. D. (1996). Reflexive Anthropologie. (P. Bourdieu & L. J. D. Wacquant, Eds.) (4.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

KC, S., Upreti, B. R., & Subedi, B. P. (2016). “We know the taste of sugar because of cardamom production” links among commercial cardamom farming, women’s involvement in production and the feminization of poverty. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 18(1), 181–207.

Meinzen-Dick, R., DiGregorio, M., & McCarthy, N. (2004). Methods for studying collective action in rural development. Agricultural Systems, 82(3), 197–214.

Pandolfelli, L., Meinzen-Dick, R., & Dohrn, S. (2008). Introduction. Gender and collective action: motivations, effectiveness and impact. Journal of International Development, 20, 1–11.

Preisendörfer, P. (2005). Organisationssoziologie. Grundlage, Theorien und Problemstellungen. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Upreti, B. R., Subedi, B. P., KC, S., Ghale, Y., & Shivakoti, S. (2016). Understanding dynamics of rural agriculture and employment in Nepal : Evidences from Ilam district of Eastern Nepal. Nepalese Journal of Agricultural Sciences, 132–141.

Source Image:

My Wife and My Mother-In-Law, by the cartoonist W. E. Hill (1915). Nature, International Journal of Science: Accessed: 09.10.2018

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Doing a household survey using tablets

By Maliphone Douangphachanh, Saithong Phommavong

Nowadays, there is a growing tendency of using modern equipment in doing research. Data collection by using a tablet is one trend which is practised by many research projects and students all around the world. Using tablets for data collection comes up with pros and cons. Some pro arguments relate to a paperless technique, time and energy-saving method, cost efficiency, and skill and experience enhancement. Firstly, due to the online application, the survey consumes less questionnaire paper sheets and thus is considered as an environmentally friendly data collection technique. Secondly, it saves time and energy. Using a tablet saves lots of time during and post-survey. A tablet is small and light, but it can “store many paper sheets”. During the survey, an enumerator only swipes the screen of the tablet to ask the first to the last questions with no need of opening any paper sheets.


A MA student conducts data collection using a tablet for the first wave household survey at Dong village, Laongam district, Salavan province, Laos 2015. @ S. Phommavong

After the survey, the data is cleaned and submitted to a server hub directly which is less labour intensive than manual data entry. If we used the paper-based questionnaire, data entry would require lots of labour days to complete the task. The tablet can solve those problems and makes life easier. Data collection by tablet costs less than the paper-based method mainly because the labour cost for data entry is minimised. Nevertheless, it is necessary to check data before submitting the form to the server. Cleaning data after the submission remains necessary. Finally, using a tablet for the survey enhances enumerators’ skills and experience for modernised data collection techniques. The following statement is from an enumerator, and he shares the experience of using a tablet:

Through a survey with all six villages, I gained much good experience regarding team working, communities’ experiences and using a tablet. I think using a tablet is a perfect tool for surveying.  I [would] love to use the tablet for my future research; this is the green survey and easy for uploading to the database system. Based on my learning from the survey (using tablets), I would like to recommend that to ensure the good use of tablet. First, the communities where it will take place have electricity (this is the case in Lao there are some villages they do not have electricity access). Secondly,  [it is important that] we are familiar with the question form in case of tablet error, e.g. during the collection of data in the second wave of the survey, 2018. Lastly, when we use a tablet, making notes of the most important information may be needed as well. (Outhoumphone Sanesathid, a FATE PhD student)


 “Making notes of the most important information may be needed as well“. Household survey, May 2018. Bolaven Plateau, South of Laos. @R.Steffen

Nevertheless, data collection by using tablet also has some con-sides: complicated and time-consuming preparation of Excel form, enumerators’ training, battery charging, and cleaning data before submission. Preparation of the standard Excel form is the most crucial tasks before the survey. If an error with a variable is found, this might cause serious impact to the whole data set and thus requires additional adjustment time.  The whole set of questions in the tablet needs to be connected smoothly and systematically from the first question to the last question. Training on using a tablet for a survey is significant and consums longer time than paper-based data collection.  It is necessary to ensure that enumerators understand both the context of the questionnaires and the way of using a tablet. Therefore; the training should be longer in order to assure that all enumerators can collect quantity and quality of data. Another challenge of using a tablet is the battery because tablets need to be fully charged before an interview, otherwise it may cause data loss during the survey because it might not save automatically.  Finally, data should be cleaned before submission to a server hub which is time-consuming. If the data on the tablet is not checked clearly before sending to a server, it will affect data quality and analysis.

The FATE-Laos completed two waves of household survey data collection, the first one in 2015 and the second one in 2018. The first data collection by using a tablet covered 532 households in two provinces, two districts, and four villages, and the second one covered 719 households in two provinces, three districts, and six villages. The first wave of the survey consists of  15 enumerators; who spend two training days, four questionnaire testing days and 13 days in the field. The second wave of household survey was divided into two periods of time due to the larger sample. In total, the survey was conducted by 14 enumerators in 25 days excluding training and questionnaire testing days. The questionnaire for the second wave which was modified for some parts had a total of thirty-one pages. If paper was used, the team would have printed 22,289 pages.



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Reflection of field visit: insights for my research

By Sushant Acharya

In my past twelve years of career as a staff in development projects, I did many field visits. Unlike earlier visits, the visits I made in the first year of PhD (December, March and April) were different for me in many aspects. This time, I was not concerned with project delivery and results. I did not have office vehicle, staffs from partner organization to guide and the beneficiaries waiting for us. Moreover, these visits were opening my eyes in the long journey of research – gender relationship in high-value agriculture. My first visit was of reconnaissance type where I got an overview of production and processing and introduction with stakeholders. The second visit helped me to understand the problems more closely. Having such overview in the Eastern part of Nepal, I felt something is missing then went to visit Western part of Nepal. This blog synthesizes reflections of those visits.


Cleaning the cardamom bushes @ S. Acharya

I have selected field sites in the Eastern region of Nepal. This area has long been known for commercial production of high-value agriculture commodities. But due to high out-migration from farm sector to non-farm sector, gender relationships are changing rapidly. Researchers argue that  despite of high number of women in high-value agriculture, ‘condition’ and ‘position’ have not improved relative to men. This situation is further poor in the higher nodes of value chain. Taking the case of promising commodity – cardamom, I am trying to see how the platform for men and women are constructed and why these platforms are not equal. I came up with some factors as: mobility, accessibility, access to resources (includes knowledge / skill), social norms and values and market. The subsequent sections elaborate these factors by taking support of case-stories.

We met with many people and incidents with some of them were really powerful to reshape own views. When I met the manager of local women agri-cooperative, she was selling goods from her small grocery shop. In addition to grocery, she manages furniture enterprise and cardamom farm. Her husband, on the other hand, is trainer of bee farm management. He is also local contractor for the development works. By role and income, husband and wife look equal but they differ in space of their work.


Cardamom entrepreneur briefing about processing cardamom @ S. Acharya

Her husband requires maximum mobility while she is confined to her village. Her husband drives motorbike to go around but she could not. Regarding constrain to mobility, she shared an interesting story that she pushed her husband to participate in events, on behalf of her. The simple reason was that – her husband makes this within very short-time and for her this could take hours of walk. I found many women who miss similar events due to constrain in mobility. Mobility mostly in hills is constrained either by less frequent movement of public vehicle, driving skills, poor condition of roads, or by social norms and values.


Women doing head and tail cut of large cardamom (processing) @ S. Acharya

But I met some ladies who crossed the above barriers and became successful in their profession. First one is a cardamom nursery lady. She has visited different places of the Eastern region of Nepal to learn nursery skills, promote cardamom seedlings and transfer of skills to other villagers.  She first got nursery skills from the government authority, Cardamom Development Centre. Since then, she is producing high quality seedlings and making good income. We met many women who travel to market frequently to sale cardamom. But in their case, gentlemen were not at home. Similarly, the homestay lady in field site (where FATE team stayed) has travelled to different parts of India and Nepal to learn homestay management skills. She opines that women are recognized in community only when they demonstrate themselves financially independent. This reflected me that women who cross constrains can develop themselves as competent women.

I got another perspective when I talked with women from trading family. She was daughter-in-law in a Marwari (traditionally business group) family. Her family has been on cardamom business for the past three generations. By education, she holds a graduate degree and possesses knowledge and skills related to cardamom trading. But she was confined to family space – care works. When I asked her husband how she can complement their business, he responded as: “though she can complement, it is not possible in Marwadi family. But women from Pahadi (Hill) community are assisting their husbands”. Right before, we had met with lady from hill community. She was managing more than 15 wage laborers, one supervisor and trading cardamom worth hundreds of thousands rupees.


Labourers at Birtamod loading cardamom to export to India @ S. Acharya

This led me to flash back knowledge about energy that I learned in high school. A Marwadi woman possesses a maximum potential energy in terms of her capacity, but the social norms and values create barrier to her to convert potential energy into kinetic energy…

Likewise, I was surprised to see how rise and fall in price of cardamom effects in gender relationship. Three-four years back, i.e. in 2014/15, price of cardamom was in its peak i.e. 30 USD per kg. Men and women, both were engaged almost equally in farming. At that time, purchasing a motorbike, installing solar panel and having television was not a big deal even for the small farmers. Even out-migrated men were returning home because they could earn more here from cardamom. Further, they had advantage of being together with their family. But with the fall in price (i.e. in March, 2018, it was around 9 USD per kg), men are leaving, especially poor farmers, again jumping to non-farm sector and abroad jobs. They find hard to solve the problem of hands-to-mouth from cardamom and leave home parking their motorbikes in the terraces.

Such field incidences make me sometime feeling nostalgic, sometime feeling excited and sometimes my thoughts are aggressive / revolutionary. Moreover, I observed, very closely, the entire phenomenon of production, processing and trade of cardamom. I further saw how mobility, accessibility, access to resources, social norms and values and agency differ for men and women. This has provided enough ground to look more in-depth with respect to capability and role performance of women and thereby I will locate the condition and position of women. These insights will guide my entire research period.

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The re-shaping of quinoa producers’ livelihoods in the Bolivian Southern Highlands: A tale of markets, climate and mining

By Gloria Carrasco,

As a new PhD student, the process of getting increasingly involved in the study area has been a truly enriching and rewarding experience. During the last months, I have been exploring the situation of quinoa production in Bolivia’s Southern Highlands, first from a more distant-external perspective and then moving to a closer look and comprehension of the reality of quinoa growing families nowadays.

quinoa Stenn 2017

Quinoa Production parcels near the salar flats in the Southern Highlands of Bolivia, @T. Stenn

It is impressive to see how quinoa-growing communities have gone through important transformations over time as a result of their interaction with socioeconomic, political and environmental factors. One key change factor is market fluctuation. As a result of the opening of international markets, households have shifted from a family farm production model to an export production model, leading worldwide quinoa exports until 2014. However, the latest fall in quinoa prices resulting from a greater international supply has led to a decrease in revenues, pushing households to find alternative income sources outside agriculture.


Quinoa farmers in the Bolivian Highlands, @S.Bieri

Another factor increasing household vulnerability is climate change. Already an agro-climatically poor zone, the Southern Bolivian Highlands are likely to suffer longer periods of drought and frost, causing harvest shortfalls and driving diversification among quinoa producers and their practices.

Within this environment, climate variability and market fluctuations are just a few of the shocks experienced by the inhabitants of the Southern Highlands. A change factor that, we, the FATE Bolivia team, have started to study is the arrival of extractive industry and its impacts on quinoa growers’ livelihoods. The Southern Bolivian Highlands hold an exceptional wealth of natural resources. Currently, one of the most ambitious state-led projects is being implemented, the industrialization of the evaporitic deposits of the Uyuni salt flats. Likewise, the San Cristóbal deposit, considered one of the largest open-pit zinc, lead and silver deposits in the world, is located in this region. Its exploitation takes place through transnational companies and a weak participation of the state throughout its history.

In this scenario, the impacts resulting from globalization and the increasing opening of commodity markets become evident. For its part, the current government operates in favor of extractive industry supporting state and private extractive activities, positioning it as a guarantee for development associated with the generation of income and employment for the local population. However, a prosperous economy based on the development of extractive industry is not always the result. Moreover, beyond the severe environmental impacts, another possible difficulty resulting from extractivism in the region is the competition for natural resources such as land and water, and the decreasing capacity of local inhabitants to access them and govern the territory in which they reside.

soil deterioration romero2017

Deterioration of the soils due to the exploitation of mineral resources in the Southern Highlands of Bolivia, @A. Romero

Thus, considering all the factors involved in the construction of this scenario, the following questions arise: Can extractive industry be compatible with agricultural and livestock uses? Is there a competition over natural and human resources between mining and quinoa production? How does the presence of extractive industry affect into the transformation of quinoa producers’ livelihoods in the Southern Highlands of Bolivia? Has the presence of extractivism led to the generation of new capital and non-agricultural jobs that contribute to the diversification of quinoa producers’ livelihoods?

As we can see, the Southern Bolivian Highlands offer a truly particular and complex context and it is really exciting to be part of the FATE Bolivia team and have the opportunity to contribute to a better understanding of these and other livelihood change factors, exploring their implications for rural households and evaluating the vulnerability or strength of households’ life strategies, not only according to economic income criteria but also recognizing whether they lead to welfare.

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Closing the gender gap in farming households: An entry point towards agricultural transformation in Africa

By Eileen Nchanji, Chantal Ingabire and Eliud Birachi

“Agricultural transformation is one of the leading efforts for poverty reduction and food security in Africa. Governments, development agencies and researchers agree on the role that can be played by agricultural transformation in a countries’ economic growth. The main idea is to shift from the subsistence production that has involved the majority of African farmers, to a more productive and market-oriented farming. Such a transformation is possible in Africa, but to move forward, we need to close the agricultural gender gap, which remains one of the greatest barriers. This gap is not about the number of women farmers. In fact, roughly half of Africa’s farmers are women. The gap is […]“.

Please find here this blog post from our team in Rwanda.



Rwandan farmers @S.Bieri

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From R4D to P4D: the transformation of “stakeholders” into partners

By Sabin and Stéphanie

One of the challenges of Research for Development – R4D – is the word in between: the “FOR”. How do we get there? How do we turn our insights, our data, our analysis, our explanations, and indeed, our questions, into pathways FOR development? Indeed, what is the magic for achieving any change at all? How can research connect to what is at the heart of development? The experience of the FATE project indicates that it takes hard work. At the core is a jointly prepared and carefully managed process by which the abstract character of “stakeholder” turns into a genuine partner for a commonly shaped goal.


Hard work – even getting to the very remote origins of the production of Quinoa Real involves adventure: snow in the Southern Highlands, in the middle of summer.

In January, the entire FATE team met in Bolivia. Two generations of PhD students joined us, making this the biggest meeting we’ve had so far. And the remotest one, too. The fact that the Bolivian people, in the face of their president’s urge to cling to power, recently seems to have re-adopted some of their well-tested practices of political protest from the past did not contribute to favor the circumstances in which this meeting took place – least of all for the Bolivian team who did an amazing job in receiving us.


“Lithium and industrialization for living well”

We traveled to the remote Southern Highlands of Bolivia in order for the whole team to get a sense of the extreme conditions under which the campesinos in the region produce one of the most popular foods of our times: quinoa. It is, however, not only quinoa, but the high-end variety, Quinoa Real – the royal quinoa, that is grown at the shores of the Uyuni salt flats.

One of the challenges of the regional producers is that, as nearly 100 countries of the world have embarked on quinoa production, markets became saturated, resulting in a dramatic collapse of prices since 2015. The distinction of Quinoa Real from other varieties for health-conscious consumers is one of the tasks the producer association has to engage in.

At the core of this trip were the stakeholder meetings with quinoa producers and members of the regional cooperative, SOPROQUI (Sociedad de Productores de Quinoa). We were invited to two communities, Colcha K and San Pedro de Quemes. The representative and spacious town hall of Colcha K was the location for the first meeting, whereas a gym, sponsored by the national investment programme “Evo cumple*”, was turned into the auditorium for the San Pedro event.


Stakeholders’ meeting at San Pedro de Quemes

Each meeting was inaugurated by formal speeches from local authorities, contributions from the representative of the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés and our FATE partner, Elizabeth Jimenez Zamora, a few words by the FATE project leaders, and, of course, by local carnival dancers. The ceremonial part was usually over by less than two hours.


Traditional carnival dance at Colcha K

One of the contributions to this event by the FATE project was an exchange on agricultural crops produced for export from the FATE partner countries. Presentations given by Saithong Phommavong, Bishnu Upreti and Eliud Birachi offered insights to our guests on how Lao, Nepali and Rwandan farmers address some of the problems they are faced with as they produce for international markets. Not least, everyone had the chance to compare the quality of Lao coffee beans to the Bolivian varieties, taste the surprising sparkle of spicy cardamom seeds and critically assess the practices of Rwandan potato and bean production. The attention our country coordinators received, including a range of to the point questions raised by the fascinated audience, was impressive.


Interactions between the FATE team and the local stakeholders

The fact that lunch – clearly also a core element of the event and an incentive for the association members and their families to attend – was delayed by more than three hours speaks to the attraction of the discussions. Finally, our guests all received the report of the analysis of our first survey on quinoa production in the region, including a number of most illustrative graphs, authored by our new PhD student, Alejandro Romero (click here to download the report).

It is in moments like these that we feel to be closest to what we want to achieve: R4D. The bringing together of expert knowledge at a range of levels, the sharing of questions, problems and insights, the opening up for diverse pathways of development. More than anything, it involves translation – not only literally, between languages, but between methodologies, approaches, different knowledge types, and culture in its widest sense: regional, urban-rural, academic, practical and generational cultures. These communal experiences are an expression of the commitment of all of the involved partners. The personal encounters, the insistence on shared understanding and all the hard work that flows into these efforts, is what turns “stakeholders”, and that includes us as researchers, into partners for development.


FATE team, 2018

*The slogan “Evo Cumple” means Evo fullfills.

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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.


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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.


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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)



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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)

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