Empowerment: Measuring the unmeasurable

My favourite graph on empowerment has been published by the World Bank a few years ago.

Source: World Development Indicators, 2013

In brief, it depicts the share of female members of parliament across the regions of the world. It shows a steady rise – rather slow, and starting from a modest level, but the movement is clearly upwards. Except for one region.

The female share of parliament is often used to measure women’s empowerment, in fact, it is one of three dimensions of the Women Empowerment Index used by the UN Development Programme. The above graph perfectly illustrates why the female share of parliament might be a problematic indicator. The sharp decent and slow recovery marked by the red line reflects the political events of the 1990s, when the Soviet States crumbled. From a political ideology which held gender equality high and implemented the parity laws – technically, at least – these countries dropped to the conventional gender-condition of the Western liberal democracies. The story of this graph thus has to be retold: It basically reads, that the proportion of women in parliament reflects the power this particular parliament actually has – in an inverted sense. In other words, the fewer the women, the more powerful the chamber of representatives.

For the FATE-project, this is a rather interesting thought. With Rwanda (63,8 %) and Bolivia (53.1 %), we work in the number 1 and 2 countries in terms of female representation in parliament: http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm. Can we draw the lines and look for entry points to our main concern, which is employment creation in the transforming – feminised? – agricultural sector?

But let us tell the story of empowerment first. And forgive me for this rather lengthy post – I got carried away by my passion for conceptual debates around what we are trying to study. So feel free to skip theory and jump to “measuring the unmeasurable”.


A story of success

 “Empowerment” has had a great career. A concept originating in community work and the black civil rights movement in the 1970’s US, it has been established in the development community as a preferred achievement ever since development “assistance” has come to be framed in terms of partnership and cooperation. Empowerment has become a lead objective in gender and development initiatives since the 1994 Cairo Population Conference. The concept lends itself towards an understanding of women as agents of change, rather than victims of whatever change process. The success story of the concept is also due to the fact that influential development agencies, namely the World Bank, have come to the conclusion that empowering women is not only morally imperative, but also economically smart. This was confirmed on a recent panel at the World Bank Headquarters with Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank Director, Hillary Clinton, most probably the Democratic presidential candidate, and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women’s Executive Director: Empowering women and girls .


The power of empowerment

“Empowerment” is mentioned more than a dozen times in the proposal of the FATE project. Even though the high season of the concept of „empowerment“ was in the late 1990’s, the term is still prominent in development debates. However, its appeal seems to unfold as an advocacy instrument rather than as a concept, let alone an empirically grounded issue, its main characteristic being its definitional fuzziness, not clarity. A destiny it shares with a number of buzzwords of the development industry which, through their vague and euphemistic qualities, gain purchase by way of embracing a multitude of meanings. Some feminist scholars welcomed this vagueness as a quality that added to their analytic strategy, as expressed by Batliwala (1993, quoted in Kabeer 2001, 18): ‘I like the term empowerment because no one has defined it clearly yet; so it gives us a breathing space to work it out in action terms before we have to pin ourselves down to what it means.’ This very looseness has however been criticised (Alkire and Ibrahim 2007). The other side of the coin is that terms such as “empowerment” have edged off, from contested concepts triggering vibrant debates they have become “consensual hurrah-words” (Chandhoke 2010, 176).

At the core of “empowerment” stands “power”. In a Foucauldian sense, we refer to power as “pouvoir”, the power to, to be able to, rather than the notion contained in “puissance” which stands for the power over, thus designating force, dominion, rule.

In feminist development literature we often find empowerment being translated into four basic forms of power:


The power within: the knowledge individual capabilities, sense of entitlement and self-esteem to feel capable of changing their lives and having learning skills

The power to: decision-making within the household and the community, and in domains that go beyond areas that are traditionally seen as women’s realm.

The power over: access and control over resources, such as financial, physical, social, and cultural; including knowledge-based assets and information.

The power with: the ability to organise with others to enhance influence, voice, economic activities and rights.


Along this line we like to frame power in terms of the ability to make choices. Empowerment, then, describes the process of change from being denied making choices to acquiring the ability to choose (Kabeer 2001).

Of course, the conceptual background of the notion of “choice” has to be put into perspective. It carries a neoliberal touch, raises suspicions of methodological individualism and Western ethnocentrism. Restoration comes from an influential position: Amartya Sen has framed his idea of capabilities in terms of choices. It is closely linked to his idea of freedom – the core objective of any development (1999).

Measuring the unmeasurable

But how should the ability to make choices effectively be measured? How can we assess outcomes in terms of choices against the fact that not all the differences that we will find can be attributed to the denial of choices, and thus, to disempowerment? – In fact, many of these differences can be attributed to preference or priority, rather than to inequality, or discrimination.

Some – Sen is among them – try to solve the problem by measuring only the most basic achievements such as life expectancy or adequate shelter. This strategy bears the risk of associating gender-based discrimination with poverty. Implicitly it suggests that these disparities will disappear with development.

To construct proxies that are of value in more general terms is another strategy to address the problem. This is what the UN measurements usually do, examples are the gender-disaggregated Human Development Index or the Gender Empowerment Measure. Such measurements are useful for comparisons across regions. On the downside are the value judgements that have led to their selection, representing the values of those who measure rather than any woman’s choices (Kabeer 2001).

An additional problem, also described by Sen (1999), are adaptive preferences. This concept refers to the fact that a social group may accommodate with a certain situation or even choose an option at their own detriment, because they do not perceive alternatives within the realm of possibilities.[1]


The FATE approach


 Workload, decision-making, income and how these are organised and shared within the household needs to be factored into any assessment of empowerment. Photo: Annapurna Conservation Area, Nepal. Sabin Bieri, 2015.


In the FATE project, we framed empowerment in terms of income, employment, access and ownership of resources and assets, as well as decision-making, social capital, and political power. We thereby strongly relied on IFPRI’s Women’s empowerment in agriculture index WEAI: https://www.ifpri.org/publication/womens-empowerment-agriculture-index.  The most serious constraint we felt within our quantitative assessment of women’s empowerment was the question of time use, as it exceeded the methodological scope of our enquiry. We will have to be imaginative in shaping the coming qualitative assessments so as to tackle the question of workload and time and how they are shared within households.

I wonder what your thoughts are, now that you start digging into the data from our household survey. Which are the steps ahead towards measuring the unmeasurable? What  stories are emerging that can be told as stories of empowerment? What are important elements of empowerment and rural employment in the FATE contexts? And what are missing pieces?



Sen, A 1999. Development as Freedom. New York, anchor books.

Kabeer, N. 2001. Reflections on the measurement of women’s empowerment. Theory and practice. Discussing women’s empowerment – Theory and practice. Sisask, A. Stockholm, Novum Grafiska AB.

Permanyer, I. 2013. A critical assessment of UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index. Feminist Economics 19 (2):  1-32.

Alkire, S and Ibrahin, S. 2007. Agency and empowerment: A proposal for internationally comparable indicators. Oxford Development Studies 35 (4):  379-403.

Chandhoke, N. 2010. Deconstructing development discourse. Buzzwords and fuzzwords. Cornwall, A and Eade, D. Oxford, Oxfam: 175-184.


[1] A similar concept is offered by Bourdieu who talks about „doxa“ as a subconscious order guiding somebody’s behaviour. The doxa only becomes fragile once it submerges and enters the discursive level, from where it can become conflictive (Bourdieu 1977).





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FATE is blogging

Today I wanted to write the first FATE blog. And I got stuck immediately. What should I write about? And, more importantly: how should I write it?

I did what I do when I get stuck: I googled. Quickly I found some explanations, most of which pointed towards the web log – or short, blog – being something like a diary, a place for people to write about their daily activities. However, there also seems to be a blogger community who rather writes about a particular interest, a topic, or something they are passionate about. I learned that more than 100 Million web logs can be found on the net, and every day, more people become active bloggers.

While this was all illuminating, it did not really solve my problem. I discussed with Stéphanie – second thing I do when I get stuck, and google somehow did not do the job. We shared our experience as blog consumers. The blogs we like are the following:


The STEPS-Centre blog

The STEPS-Centre is an initiative between two research departments at the University of Sussex, in Brighton, UK. Funded by the British Economic and Social Research Council, their pathways approach to Sustainability is as innovative as it is influential. The STEPS-team works in themes such as agriculture and food, energy and climate change, health and disease, water and climate change.



The Guardian development blog

The Guardian is always on top of the news. The development blog, funded by the Bill and Melissa Gates foundation, is a rich source of debate around development issues. It is also a good archive on important themes such as inequality or conflict. Apart from text entries you find a number of video and audio contributions which are informative and entertaining – and easily get you absorbed for longer than intended.



The Oxfam international blog

Oxfam offers blogs on a range of themes, not least of which are streams on gender justice and gender and food. I particularly like posts by Duncan Green, a senior advisor at Oxfam whose contributions have addressed the theme of inequality long before it became a hot topic at an international level.



The ODI “shaping policy for development” blog

Sober in its appearance, the ODI blog covers themes from the SDGs to the Turkey refugee deal with the EU. A comment section is readily available on the site, and links directly point to ODI research on the themes discussed in the opinion pages.



The World Bank Blog on gender equality

Of course, the World Bank also blogs on gender and development. I have not consulted this blog on a regular basis, but it seems informative, and it is always good to know what the Bank thinks, isn’t it?



UNRISD Blogs and Think Pieces

Last, but not least, I would like to invite you to our partner UNRISD’s version of a blog. They found what I think is an elegant solution to circumvent the balance between academic and non-academic writing by inventing the category of “think piece”. Think pieces are more research based and offer summarised or preliminary thoughts on issues relevant for UNRISD and its partner organisations.



Even so, the question remains: What is our specific aim with a FATE blog?

In other words: Why do we have to add to 100 million blogs floating on the web today?

Our initial idea was to create a platform to stimulate debate among FATE team members. However, we do have the ambition to open the discussion to an interested public beyond the FATE project. We will of course distribute our blog entries specifically to partners and networks. This means that we will have to navigate between the original “diary”-idea of the blog and the intention to make relevant contributions to current debates in the scientific and development community. I encourage you to explore the freedom that this genre of text offers in terms of themes and writing. We do not need standardised texts, they can vary in shape and message. What I propose to be the least common denominator, or, if you wish, the core of each post, is something that has even if just a slight link to the themes, people and activities of the FATE project. From there, you can connect to the bigger themes that are of interest and that might bring us closer to institutions and partners we would like to engage with. Don’t hesitate to include graphs, photos, audio files, small videos, if you have them. They can make valuable and attractive elements of your posts. And, not least: have fun!

So this is it, we are starting our blog, right now. As a start, I would like to give you some questions:

  1. What are your favourite blogs, where do you get inspiration from, which sites do you frequently visit, and why?
  2. Do you or your institution blog? Can we see it?
  3. Please suggest themes and interests you would like all of us to blog about.
  4. Please let us know how we might assist you with your own blog posts (your turn will come, no doubt…).
  5. And, of course: feel free to comment on this, and the following posts of the FATE blog.

I did it! First FATE blog post. It took me two hours – too long, of course. I got sidetracked while checking my favourite blogs. It contains 5507 signs – rather upper limit, I guess. No pictures, no graphs, nothing to be mixed with the text: I will try to find variations in my next posts.

I am looking forward to this platform of exchange. I hope we will all feel committed to take an active role in it. Blog number 2 is already in the making. It will be more of a “think piece” style post on “empowerment”. Same place, next week.

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My experience with new technology: Household survey for FATE-Laos Team

Written by Maliphone Douangphachanh.

Using tablet for household survey is a challenge for some of our country teams, especially for the Lao team where using table for household survey is a new technique. Dr. Saithong Phommavong is the main person who has a vision for capacity building for both National University of Laos and FATE project in the future. He fully encouraged creating xlsform for electronic survey by using tablet. At the beginning, Dr. Saithong Phommavong and I had meeting and discussed about survey with Dr. Micheal Epprecht and Mr. Souphaphone Phathitmyxay since they already had done many surveys by using tablets (ODK app).  Souphaphone is a database & GIS specialist of CDE. He gave a brief overview of using tablets for household surveys. I found that it is not easy to do so. This task really needs a person in charge to create and edit form through questionnaire all the time.  The xlsform needs to be tested many times until it can work properly.

The enumerators at Vienkeo Village during tablets testing

The enumerators at Vienkeo Village during tablets testing

The big support came from CDE office especially Dr. Michael Epprecht who allowed Mr. Souphaphone Phathitmyxay to help me. Whenever I had questions regarding xlsform, he was pleased to help. It was a very good start for Lao team that Maurice already created the basis of the xlsform for FATE-project. At first, I had to explore how to create an xlsform. I learned from internet by myself via YouTube and asked Google what I did not know. I also followed the links on how to create xlsform that Mr. Maurice Tschopp who is PhD candidate of FATE project shared  and  links of survey CTO information and FAQ (http://www.surveycto.com/about.html, coding: General information on survey on xls forms:  Instructions, software and training manuals for xls forms: https://opendatakit.org/use/xlsform/ , and Examples of xls forms/ODK programing: https://opendatakit.org/help/form-design/examples/). This was a great opportunity for me to learn a very new project. I spent a lot of time learning by doing the coding of xlsform for survey CTO. I worked on it about three weeks (testing and editing xlsform). I stayed up late almost every day during these time. Eventually, I was able to created xlsform for Survey CTO. I feel very happy of this success even if it was not fully perfect.

Enumerator under training in using tablet

Enumerator under training in using tablet

After the creation of the xlsform, the next step was training for enumerators. The enumerators were lecturers and MA students from the faculty of Social Sciences, National University of Laos. They followed three trainings. Before the first training, I distributed questionnaire to them to read and tablets to try on.  For the first training, the enumerators were given an overview of software by Mr. Souphaphone Phathitmyxay.  Then, they practiced using tablet in the fieldwork at Viengkeo village nearby the National University of Laos. In order to check the questionnaire on the tablets, enumerators were divided in pairs, one enumerator used tablet and another one used the questionnaire printed. They highlighted the errors. After complete testing tablet, they gave feedback on the questionnaire printed. The xlsform was updated again regarding the errors after this practice. Lastly, they were trained to confirm with using tablet as well as familiar with questionnaire on tablet.

Group Discussion after testing tablet

Group Discussion after testing tablet

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Advocacy event promoting women and economy in Rwanda

Written by Christine Bigler.

How useful a good relationship with researcher partners can be, is proved by the following incident. So I’ve got the call for a Business Award for Women from the Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs in Rwanda. This governmental lead organization to promote the private sector in Rwanda have organised together with UN Women and the German Society for International Cooperation an event to promoting women’s economic participation in the country. During the event different prices for women-led, innovative business models are awarded.  Among other things specific trainings or technical equipment such as laptops included to major gains.

Coincidentally I had during the qualitative survey an interview with a leader of an agricultural Cooperative, MUKESHIMANA Chantal, which started such a business in the Northern Province by means of a value-added processing (washing and packing) of Irish potatoes and asked her to apply for this contest.  We already introduced Chantal MUKESHIMANA in the FATE blog in August 2015. With support from FATE research team, we put together in a very short time a proposal and she was invited to this event.

Unfortunately she was not able to get any of the main awards. The event have offered her the opportunity to make many new contacts, participate in interesting discussions on the promotion of women in business and finally she has even decided to apply for membership of the Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs in Rwanda to improve access to obtain information and to be able to be part of a larger network of women working in business and entrepreneurship.

A nice little example of how our research can sometimes promote unexpected results to light.

See also the article in the local newspaper:


Christine Bigler (from the FATE project) and Chantal Mukeshimana

Christine Bigler (from the FATE project) and Chantal Mukeshimana

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Successful Fieldwork in Rwanda

Written by Christine Bigler.

During the last weeks the Rwandan research team conducted more than 1100 interviews in the Northern Province of Rwanda.  This is a big step not only for the Rwandan team but also for the whole FATE-project. Before we were able to focus on the actual fieldwork – the interviews – all sorts of preparations had to be made. First, the questionnaire had to be adapted to the Rwandan context. This was done in an intensive exchange between the team members here in Kigali.

The next labour and time intensive step was sampling. Rwanda is divided into different administrative units: province, district, sector, cell and village. In our research region, the northern province of the country three districts were selected, out of those 21 villages have been selected at random. From every village we met the responsible village chiefs and so were given access to the names and employment of individual households. So we sampled 2,500 households, out of which 560 were randomly selected for the interviews.

Sampling activities in the Northern Province. Source: Bigler Christine 2015.

Sampling activities in the Northern Province. Source: Bigler Christine 2015.

Sampling activities in the Northern Province. Source: Bigler Christine 2015.

Sampling activities in the Northern Province. Source: Bigler Christine 2015.

The first test run has been found, that the questionnaire has got too long, so we had to divide the questionnaire into two parts. Next, it was time to training the enumerators. For the interviews 14 Rwandans were engaged, which were first made familiar on two-day training in Kigali with the questionnaires and the tablets used for the interviews. A particular challenge was the translation of the questionnaire into the national language Kinyarwanda. The always interesting discussions about the correct understanding of English terms, the enumerators showed extremely dedicated and resourceful. It was followed by another day of practice in the field, where the new knowledge could be applied directly and we have analyzed existing problems to be fixed.

After two more days of training in Kigali, we could finally start with the interviews. In two teams of seven people the enumerators conducted the interviews in two passes. They not only braved the bad weather (it is currently rainy season), but also the sometimes very poor road conditions and wide paths on foot from one household to another. Likewise, some households had to be repeatedly visited, there was nobody at home, and especially the men are always on the move in order to pursue their cross-border transactions. Finally, we have concluded successfully the two interview passages and now have a large data set, to its processing we will argue in the next few weeks.

Impression from the field. Source: Bigler Christine 2015.

Impression from the field. Source: Bigler Christine 2015.

Impression from the field. Source: Bigler Christine 2015.

Impression from the field. Source: Bigler Christine 2015.

Part of the research team: Source: Bigler Christine 2015.

Part of the research team: Source: Bigler Christine 2015.

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The role of women as a dynamic factor in quinoa production Female producers in the province of Nor Lípez, Potosi

Written by Daniela Romero and Gabriela Ruesgas.

The Province of Nor Lípez in Potosí, Bolivia, is located at over 4000 masl; it is a very cold, dry and windy region where temperatures drop down to -15 C°. Close to this area the world’s largest salt flat is located at 3656 masl. This is precisely where uniqueness of the “Quinoa Real” has emerged, a variety planted in this region. This does not only highlight the fact that in Nor Lípez the quinoa is produced organically but also that the combination of salty soils and the particular climate variability experienced in the region appears to provide a unique context for growing Quinoa Real.

Altiplano landscape, Nor Lipez. G. Ruesgas

Altiplano landscape, Nor Lipez. G. Ruesgas

Between 2007 and 2008, because of a significant price increase, quinoa production in Bolivia came to quintuple, achieving record levels in its production as well as in the expansion of the cultivation area of this grain. The price boom has definitely had and continues to have many impacts on how households and communities have combined traditional uses and forms of production with intense and modern ways to serve and follow world market rules. This is mainly because quinoa has evolved from being a very traditional grain that was primarily for subsistence consumption to becoming a product for European markets. This new status for the “golden grain” has had many different effects. Even though it is well-known that for traditional quinoa communities, this grain has always had an important place in the household economies, nowadays we could say that quinoa is more important than ever at the household level.

Modernization of agriculture, Nor Lipez. G. Ruesgas

Modernization of agriculture, Nor Lipez. G. Ruesgas

The high profitability of quinoa has given rise to the need to enhance productivity, which has tended to replace weak traditional indigenous forms of employment such as Ayni and Minka by new forms of wage labor with mechanized ways of production. Among many other implications, families have developed income diversification strategies towards increasing the production of quinoa. In this regard, from our fieldwork experience, talking to and interviewing women producers, we have realized that women have become essential.

During the last four months,the Bolivian FATE team has been traveling constantly to the town of Uyuni and other communities for interviewing female quinoa producers from the two most important associations in the region of Nor Lípez: SOPROQUI and ARPAIAMT. These women told us about how their lives have changed thanks to the increasing quinoa price over the last ten years. We have noticed that women have a significant participation in different public spaces within their communities, almost as much as men do. However, we also realized that men continue to have a greater presence and representation in political decision-making meetings. Moreover, we found six women who are political authorities, most of them single mothers and very efficient producers in their associations. Next, we will share some of the most important characteristics of the female producers who are members of SOPROQUI and ARPAIAMT.

Quinoa producers, Nor Lipez, D. Romero

Quinoa producers, Nor Lipez, D. Romero

While we were speaking with the female quinoa producers, something that definitely came out is the impact of the price increase on their employment opportunities and conditions. As the women said, they have been participating in the quinoa production for many years, in the same way as the men.  They were always in charge of the quinoa production in each stage, combining agricultural work with household chores. However, men had and still have more opportunities to look for new job opportunities besides quinoa production because they have a higher level of education. So women had to stay at home and help in anything they are required.

Nevertheless, these obligations could be considered an advantage in their participation and knowledge in the sense that they have helped women develop skills that allowed them to run the production efficiently. Women have always been one of the main actors in quinoa production but, as they said, they are now looking for better conditions and recognition of their work and they are seeking to have a real income. In this regard, the price increase has enabled a huge space of labor opportunities for both women and men and has provided chances to obtain not only higher revenues but also more labor opportunities. In this context, the work of women became even more important than that of men.

Most of the interviewed producers said that they were the principal administrator both in the quinoa production and at home. They produce and sell the quinoa; they also organize and distribute what they earn among all members of their families, and keep the rest. In addition, as regards the new generations, the younger producers have more access to becoming professionals, e.g. agronomists, biologists, etc., which shows that women and men now have the same level of qualification. This means that nowadays both employment and domestic activities are shared more democratically with their husbands. These changes are less present among the older producers, where women are more dependent on their husbands who always had more opportunities to access better training and earnings. The main limitation for these women is political participation because they do not have the same qualifications as men, so they are very shy to express their opinion in communal meetings. Besides, their priority is their children and their house. Hence, for these women producers, their husbands are the ones that have to participate in decision-making spaces.

Community meeting, Nor Lipez, D.Romero

Community meeting, Nor Lipez, D.Romero

In addition, we found many single mothers who have benefited from the price increase. In these cases, they directly benefit from the earnings. However, the main problem is the difference between single mothers and married women who do not have the same possibility of sharing household chores, especially in the case of younger producers. Single mothers are faced with limitations to participate in other decision-making areas in the community, because they are in charge of everything related to household needs. Unless they get help from other women, these producers are at home all the time, taking care of their children.

Finally, most of the producers said that the quinoa price increase has contributed to household well-being, not just their personal well–being, but also in terms of their economies. Nevertheless, we could say that even though women have the same income level as men, they invest it in the family as much as possible, while in most cases the men invest money for themselves. However, women have a better vision of their future because they are part of the production as much as the men are. That is why they have their own assets to improve their economic conditions, and in this context their participation in other areas beyond their homes is increasing considerably. They are more independent and greater visionaries compared to their older partners.

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Discovering Cardamom as a livelihood Option: A tale of Green Salakpur

Written by Sony KC.

In the past one decade, Salakpur village of Jirmale Village Development Committee (VDC) in Ilam district has gained its popularity due to a new species of cardamom farming. The species of cardamom is well known as Salakpurey Alainchi, thus giving a trademark to this village. Every agriculturist and cardamom farmers and experts blindly mention Salakpur as a top cardamom-producing village in Ilam. The popularity has spread widely across Nepal, since farmers from many districts including Kathmandu, Gorkha, Dhading, Dolakha, Dang and many others buy cardamom saplings from nurseries in Salakpur.


A view of Mirik, India across Mechi River from Salakpur’s cardamom farm

Apart from this, there were other species of cardamom such as, Bharlang, Chibesai, Ramsai, Golchai, farmed in Nepal since the 19th century. However, these species became extinct due to disease. Today, Salakpurey cardamom is the main species of cardamom farmed in Ilam and other districts.

The tale of farming and practice in Salakpur was not the same ten years back. Salakpur used to be a village prominent for ginger and oranges production and export. Overall, Jirmale VDC used to be the number one producer of ginger for export. Besides, households also produced rice for subsistence use. The agriculture and production fate of this village changed when disease infestation in ginger became uncontrollable and inevitable. Farmers lost their ginger to disease, despite efforts to save it and quickly adopted alternative measures, mainly cardamom farming.

Raw cardamom before drying, Salakpur

Raw cardamom before drying, Salakpur

While in one hand farmers took cardamom farming as an alternative to disease inflicted ginger farms, one the other hand they voluntarily replaced some crops. For instance, farmers shared about replacing rice fields with cardamom farms. While rice required excessive water for farming, cardamom requires less water. Also, the return from rice was very low compared to the high return from cardamom. When farmers could buy more rice by selling less cardamom, they chose cardamom over rice farming for better income source. This can be proved with the reported fact that 1 kg of rice would cost Rs 300 while 1 kg of cardamom would cost Rs 2000 and above.The actual story of how farmers in Salakpur managed to plant and flourish this species of cardamom is unknown. However, reflection from farmers reveals, while the battle with disease in ginger was on, few farmers who went to India [across Jirmale VDC is Darjeeling and Mirik, India] for a visit unknowingly brought saplings of cardamom. Since then almost every households in Salakpur are engaged in cardamom farming for livelihoods. Besides cardamom, farmers still produce and export oranges as a major fruit-crop.

“What could I do producing rice? It would only be enough to feed the household members. I can produce cardamom and not only buy rice but also oil, salt, clothes and meet other household expenses. Rice is rice but cardamom is more than only rice,” replied a cardamom farmer when asked why she replaced her rice farm with cardamom farm.

Aama (mother) separates cardamom from flowers – harvest season in Salakpur

Aama (mother) separates cardamom from flowers – harvest season in Salakpur

Overall, the return from cardamom seems to be more satisfying for the farmers than any other crops, in terms of livelihood. Farmers in Salakpur only wish to save this crop for long term. A cardamom cooperative was established three years ago in Salakpur with an aim to strengthen and sustain cardamom production. “Though much needs to be done to run this cooperative actively, we are glad we have initiated one at least,” reported the president of this cardamom cooperative. At present the cooperative functions by encouraging members to save along with provision of credit and loans for cardamom farming purpose. Farmers wish to gain more help from the cooperatives in terms of transport of goods to the market and skilled trainings for farms, when required.

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Striving for value addition on commercial potato in Rwanda: the experience of a woman cooperative leader in Northern Province

Written by Christine Bigler and Chantal Ingabire.

The Northern Province of Rwanda is an agriculture high potential region.  The transformation from a subsistence to market oriented agriculture production is in full swing.  One driver of this transformation is agriculture cooperatives. The government of Rwanda support actively cooperatives with agriculture trainings, seed and fertilizer at a reduced price. This intervention helps cooperative members to make the step from home consumption to consumer oriented production. Chantal Mukeshimana is one of few top leaders of farmers ‘cooperatives in the region.  She is the president of  Coabiki  and really proud of herself and her cooperative.  At the moment Coabiki counts 86 members and they cultivate together 60 hectares of land. As she testified, the cooperative has seen a considerable growth in Irish potato production during the last years..  They expanded their potato sales in the capital city of Rwanda but particularly they identified a niche market in some  big supermarkets of the city.

Irish potato field, Northern Province

Irish potato field, Northern Province

For the latter, Coabiki members under the leadership of Ms.Mukeshimana came up with an innovation of cleaning and packaging potato.  Hence  with technical support of some NGOs and government institutions,  they have started to wash and pack their harvested  potatoes in local hand-made basket  which was making them even more attractive to  consumers. . With this added value, the cooperative has the possibility to sell the potatoes for a good price to different supermarkets in Kigali. Unfortunately, the market demand for washed potatoes is still small at the moment and  only a part of the crop production is sold to this decent price “ However, Ms.Mukeshimana and the cooperative members  are confident with the development of agriculture in their area and they are convinced that  value addition is one strategy to get more profit. At the moment the cooperative save money to buy a truck. The wish of the cooperative is, to transport the potatoes themselves to the selling point. With this step they hope to gain more accesses to the market and additional market information.


At work, cooperative members are cultivating Irish potatoes, Northern Province Rwanda

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Irish potatoes, Northern Province Rwanda

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Journey to the “Care-some” Cardamom Land: Identifying Roles

Written by Sony KC.


Cardamom field in Pyang VDC, Ilam. Sony KC.

My luck has always favored my intrinsic liking for unraveling the paths never trodden. From the beginning to Mid-March I conquered the picturesque Ilam district of Eastern Nepal. This time I travelled for my Phd research to understand men and women’s involvement in the cardamom farming, a cash crop that was brought into farming practice in Ilam from Sikkim, India by Nepali farmers centuries back.

The 20 hours of bus ride was intense yet the entire journey myriad of thoughts occupied my mind. I started questioning myself, what I would do to obtain the information I need, what Village Development Committees would I travel and how would I get hold of them, who do I reach first despite having a list of numerous stakeholders and their numbers with me. The twenty hours was more than enough to think, doze off to sleep and time and again distracted by hoarse voice for refreshment several times and finally for the destination stop, that is 10 am at Fikkal VDC.

In the verge of finding areas with high concentration of cardamom producers, I set my foot to few wards of Fikkal, Pyang, Chameta, Naya Bazaar and Jirmale VDCs of Ilam. Of all these visits and information I acquired in two weeks through my interaction with men and women farmers of cardamom what amused me was the mention of roles and the reason for the gendered roles of this cash crop.

In order to grow cardamom the land is prepared by both men and women and so is the plantation. Cardamom requires irrigation and hence, mostly men do this if they have to irrigate huge mass of land. If the crop is grown in small farm, women water the plants using water sprinkle. As the fruit grows and is ready for harvest, men usually pick the fruit (which has the flower outside) because it requires much labour and the use of a special kind of knife. Few men reported that one has to be careful while cutting the flower consisting of the fruit. “There is a chance of ruining the whole plant if the knife touches the other stem,” said one respondent. One stem is flocked with other stems (6-7 stems flocked as one) bearing the fruit. Very few women are engaged in picking.

Cardamom plant about to bear flowers. Sony KC

Cardamom plant about to bear flowers. Sony KC

After picking, the flower with cardamom inside, it is then separated by women. This is said to be an easy job, as it requires sitting in one place and using two hands to separate the fruit from the flower. The raw cardamom is then ready to be put in the dryer. From the reports, men mostly perform this job. This is because it requires filling in the doko (basket made of bamboo), carrying it to the dryer and then bearing the smoke that is crucial to dry cardamom. After drying the product is ready to be sold in the market, which is collected by male marketers or taken by men in the households to the nearby market, mostly Birtamod. This is where the actual trading takes place.

Cardamom as a product ready to be sold at the market, Chameta VDC. Sony KC.

Cardamom as a product ready to be sold at the market, Chameta VDC. Sony KC.

When inquired in-depth about why the roles are set as they are, many men reflected, they do not want women to hurt their backs while carrying the load when they produce a lot of cardamom in the households. Also, there were responses, few mixed with humor, from men such as “smoke is not good for women; it will harm their chest”; “how can I let her carry the doko full of cardamom when I am there to do so. She helps with separation of cardamom from the flowers”; “she can go to the market but she is not willing to take the responsibility, one has to sell it and I do it,” “using a knife and cutting the fruit can be done by women but I don’t let her with the fear that she might cut her hands, who will cook me good food then?.”

Few women reflected, “both men and women can do any work related to cardamom together, but we have been doing what our ancestors have been practicing, my grandmother did the separation and so am I, I believe it is more of a tradition”; “my husband does not let me cut the fruits because he says I will hurt myself, he cares or may be he thinks I will ruin the plant; “he is good at marketing, I do not like to go to the market and sell, he can do it better”; “he tells me not to go near the dryer since the smoke will affect me, it affects him too and I try to help but he drives me away.”

The farming has its own beauty, structured roles that could seldom fluctuate but has remained the same for years. Though I could not get to see the actual process of harvesting, picking and selling that takes place between August and November of every year, the interaction gave a picture of the roles taken up by men and women. What can be inferred bluntly at this moment, through interactions is that the roles are taken up by choice and the already set tradition from the past. A lot of care has been emphasized from men to women especially while men take up with roles such as carrying the load for dryer, picking the flower and irrigating the land. There is no notion of women not being able to do any of the works done by men for this crop, but the care that reflects within the households and the entire cardamom land.

This makes me think, for now, since there is more to uncover in the coming days, that may be it is the care shown by men for women.

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