Controlling banana disease in the East African Highlands: considering gender norms in guiding interventions

Controlling banana disease in the East African Highlands: considering gender norms in guiding interventions

Farm families in the East African Highlands grow bananas for food and to sell. In some areas the banana has become a key commodity and a major contributor to household income. However, production is constrained by the bacterial wilt disease (BXW). The roles of men and women in banana management and their control over revenues blend traditional gender norms with existing legal frameworks which prescribe shared ownership of land for married couples. Understanding gender norms and asset ownership in banana production helps researchers design and implement more efficient communication pathways to control BXW in banana production.

Anne Rietveld of Bioversity International led case studies as part of the GENNOVATE project to understand the way in which gender norms shape agricultural production in East Africa. Rietveld explained that “because the banana is a semi-perennial crop, women often cannot plant it because they may be perceived as making a claim to the land.” Therefore, it is usually men who own the banana plantation, yet women also work on it. Enoch Kikulwe (Bioversity International) and colleagues who were working on controlling BXW in Uganda also found that women usually work on the land of their male relatives. Kikulwe and his colleagues calculated gender gaps in ownership, control and decision making around banana production. They found that men are 32% more likely than women to claim ownership of bananas and 25% more likely to sell them. Nevertheless, most of the work to control BXW was done by women, probably because they are more involved in the day-to-day management of banana plantations. Additionally, women were found to be less likely to adopt BXW control practices than were men. In this scenario focusing interventions on men (as was often the case in the past) would fail to deliver on disease control.

Lydia Kyomuhendo detaches leaves of a BXW-infected banana plant from the pseudo-stem before chopping the plant into smaller pieces to speed up the decaying process. S. Tumukuratire/National Agricultural Research Laboratories Kawanda

These findings suggest that addressing gender-based constraints and improving farmer perceptions are essential for scaling BXW control and management. Technologies should be more affordable and accessible to women, and gender related differences in access and use of household resources should be considered in technology design. Conversely, changing farmer perceptions is essential for scaling, thus BXW communication should pursue pathways that are efficient such as radio and extension services while at the same time being appropriately crafted to reach women effectively.

Juliet Nakazi disinfects a tool with fire after using it to chop down a BXW-infected plant. D. Kimeze/National Agricultural Research Laboratories Kawanda

Even though women often contribute to the management of bananas and their diseases, men often reap the benefits. Rietveld explains that income from bananas is used for different things, such as paying for children’s school fees or sometimes for food or health expenses. Yet, in other households, men spend part of the money on their own leisure. This lack of control over benefits strongly discourages women from investing time and resources on pest control. However, gender norms are slowly changing although men’s control over resources remains strong. There are multiple factors including government regulations, more access to information and interventions to foster women’s empowerment that can contribute to increase the adoption of BXW control practices and more equitable distribution of benefit.