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

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


Credit: Neno, S., CIAT

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

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

Dusengemungu L RAB

Credit: Dusengemungu, L., RAB

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

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

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Chapchong: land tenure implication for commercialized agriculture in Southern Laos

By Saithong Phommavong and Maliphone Douangphachanh

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

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

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

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

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

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


Coffee plantation in Paksong District. S.Phommavong

From informal Chapchong land tenure to formal land ownership  

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


Coffee plantation in Paksong District. S.Phommavong

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

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

Expansion Chapchong land tenure to commercialized agriculture

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


Coffee farmer. S.Phommavong

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The context

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

Large cardamom plant, Ilam district. B.Upreti

Large cardamom plant, Ilam district. B.Upreti

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

Cardamom affected by diseases:

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

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

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

Women’s empowerment:

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

Problems and challenges:

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


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

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The “why” lady

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

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

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

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

Focus group meeting in Lak 35, Paksong District, Laos

Focus group meeting in Lak 35, Paksong District, Laos

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

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

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

Written by Sony KC.

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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The Quinoa producing communities and the decline of the boom

Prices, sowing and the future: a question mark

By Gabriela Ruesgas

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

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

women harvesting quinoa_pic by gabriela ruesgas

Women harvesting quinoa, by Gabriela Ruesgas

The irreversible impact of the price boom

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

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

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

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

soproqui quinoa producers meeting in Villa Candelaria_by gabriela ruesgas.JPG

SOPROQUI Quinoa producers meeting in Villag Candelaria, by Gabriela Ruesgas

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

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

New challenges for the producers

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

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

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

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


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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: 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:  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.$First?OpenDocument


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 (, coding: General information on survey on xls forms:  Instructions, software and training manuals for xls forms: , and Examples of xls forms/ODK programing: 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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