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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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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