G8 Summit Spotlight: ICRW Tests Agricultural ‘Community of Practice’ Concept in Tanzania

Article Date

17 June 2013

Article Author

By Gillian Gaynair

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) is supporting a unique effort among agricultural practitioners in Tanzania to foster a deeper understanding of the gender norms that influence agricultural production and how such gender issues can be addressed by development projects to improve outcomes for women and men farmers and their families.

Working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ICRW researchers are pilot testing the concept of a “community of practice” with organizations and individuals working on agriculture in Tanzania. Named by its members as the Tanzania Gender and Agriculture Forum (TaGAF), this community provides a much-needed space for peer learning and sharing and for building skills on the practical “how to” of integrating gender considerations into programs.  With over 45 members to date,TaGAF include grantees of the Gates Foundation, Alliance for a Green Africa and the McKnight Foundation, as well as gender and agriculture consultants.

Through workshops and an online platform, ICRW is supporting TaGAF members on how to identify and respond to the underlying gender-related assumptions, norms and barriers that limit women’s capacity to benefit from the training, markets and farming “inputs” – such as seeds or pesticides – that agriculture projects are providing. Researchers also are advising members on how to measure the effect that addressing gender has on improving the participation and productivity of women farmers. 

While learning about gender integration, TaGAF members also are able to cultivate relationships around their work, share ideas and problem-solve together. “The concept of peer learning and networking is very valued.  While people know of ‘gender,’ this is the first time they have a forum to explore the practical applications of gender concepts in their work,” said Anjala Kanesathasan, a senior health and development specialist at ICRW. “Members appreciate having a space where they are free to raise questions, brainstorm with colleagues, and learn from others who are facing the same challenges.”

Indeed, in Tanzania and elsewhere, women’s contributions to agricultural productivity often go unrecognized – by others and many times by women farmers themselves. In millions of households worldwide, farming isn’t just an economic activity, but also a social enterprise that is influenced by inter-personal relationships, familial roles and gender norms. These dynamics often determine if and how individual household members – especially women – contribute to and benefit from farming, including their participation in programs designed to enhance agricultural productivity.

“The challenge for many projects is to go beyond technical agricultural issues,” Kanesathasan said, “and address some of the unseen factors – like the gender norms that determine who controls the income earned from different crops – which can block women farmers from reaching their full potential.”

However, there are programs that have adopted promising approaches to increase women farmers’ access to agricultural inputs, skills and markets, thereby improving crop production, alleviating hunger and boosting income for the entire family. ICRW is capturing some of these successes through technical briefs that support peer-to-peer sharing.

Researchers’ findings on enhancing women’s participation in agriculture projects are outlined in the technical brief, “Cultivating Women’s Participation: Strategies for Gender-Responsive Agriculture Programming,” which is based on the experiences of TechnoServe’s Coffee Initiative and Faida Mali’s Soil Health Project that work with farmers in Mbeya, Tanzania. Another technical brief that highlights gender monitoring and evaluation will be released this summer.

Read last week’s G8 Summit feature about an innovative program in Kenya that is catering to the unique needs of women farmers there.