Understanding women’s roles and developing training programs and policies to better engage with women are vital to the success of farm extension programs on integrated pest and disease management (IPDM), according to Dr Alison Watson.
Dr Watson leads the Secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Fall Armyworm Action Plan. The fall armyworm is a highly destructive pest that has spread rapidly across South-East Asia over the past 5 years, causing significant damage to maize crops.
IPDM is central to the Action Plan, which involves all 10 ASEAN nations and is supported by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Secretariat is hosted by CSIRO.
But Dr Watson said the scope of the Action Plan is wider than fall armyworm and incorporates capacity building for improving plant health and biosecurity more broadly. This includes a Women as Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Leaders Program, which began in 2022.
‘We want to identify the opportunities to empower women in plant pest and disease management, with a holistic approach to improving crop health, using pesticides as a last resort,’ explained Dr Watson.
By partnering with other IPM research already underway, the Women as IPM Leaders Program has been able to quickly expand its scope beyond maize to other crop systems and increase its geographical footprint.
Among these partners are 2 ACIAR-supported projects. One is led by Dr Tony Pattison at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF) working on the control of Fusarium wilt in bananas in Australia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The second project, led by Mr Stefano De Faveri, also at QDAF, is focused on fruit-fly control in mango crops in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Field surveys to identify the specific roles of women in the banana and mango farming systems began in April this year and data will be finalised by this August.
The Women as IPM Leaders Program is also building the skills of research and extension teams to actively consider the roles of women and how to engage with them, including their availability to attend training sessions.
‘We often don’t see or understand the different roles of women in agriculture, and they play such an important role,’ said Dr Watson. ‘Time and again we discover examples of women as key decision-makers in households and on farms.
‘When you design programs, if you want to drive long- term change, you need to know who is making decisions and then consider how to best craft communications and provide tools and training to reach those people.’
It is also important to ask the right questions, added Dr Watson. For example, asking who uses pesticides does not necessarily identify who is most exposed to pesticides or who makes important decisions around what is purchased and when to apply. Anecdotal evidence suggests it is often women in both cases.
Building research capacity
To help research project teams more proactively identify and engage with women in farming, a gender and agriculture workshop was held in Indonesia from 6–8 December 2022 as part of a joint Women as IPM Leaders Program and CGIAR Plant Health collaboration.
It brought together 50 participants from 8 countries to gain knowledge and skills in gender-responsive research design and methods and included team members from the Fusarium wilt and fruit-fly teams.
Dr Pattison said the gender training will ensure that the toolkit for farmers being developed for his Fusarium wilt project better considers the roles of women in banana crop management.
His research officer, Dr Juliet Zambrano from the Davao del Norte Provincial Government Agriculturist Office in the Philippines, said through her participation in the Women as IPM Leaders Program, she has realised that the roles of women in agriculture are as noteworthy as those of men. ‘Women are as enthusiastic and interested in farm work as men, despite women also doing household chores,’ said Dr Zambrano.
As leader of the fruit-fly project in mango crops, Mr Stefano De Faveri said he has seen an increasing number of women attending workshops over the life of the project, and particularly since the recent gender training.
‘Female farmers take the information provided seriously, they take safety seriously, and they go home and discuss it with their husbands,’ said Mr De Faveri. ‘I’m not sure that happens the other way around.’
His Indonesian research officer, Ms Nelly Sapta, reported that members of a women’s farmer group who attended their first workshop in March were pleased to learn how to spray the trees better so they could tell their husbands to use more selective and efficient pesticides.
‘They hope that the costs they incur for using pesticides can be reduced so that they can allocate [money] for other purposes needed in the household,’ said Ms Sapta.
ACIAR PROJECT: ‘An integrated management response to the spread of Fusarium wilt of banana in South-East Asia’ (HORT/2018/192); ‘Development of area-wide management approaches for fruit flies in mango for Indonesia, Philippines, Australia and the Asia-Pacific region’ (HORT/2018/192)