The same forces in household and community gender dynamics that influence crop production will also be present in managing pests and diseases. This makes understanding those forces even more important.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where banana bunchy top disease (BBTD) is spreading through communities and threatening 6–12 million smallholder households, RTB researchers applied a standardized method to examine control of BBTD. A package of control measures devised and tested by RTB works, if applied consistently, and can reduce BBTD damage to economically acceptable levels within a year. The problem is that despite knowing how to control the disease, many farmers do not do so. The control package requires a shift in management of banana production, with implications for how men and women in a household allocate resources.

To understand gender relations within and between households, the research carried out focus group discussions, surveys and individual interviews at nine sites in eight countries, asking about different aspects of the banana system and subjective experiences.

While there were differences between communities, some general points emerged. Banana is an important crop, though more so for women than for men. Even so, men own 80% of the banana fields, while women own 14% and 6% are jointly owned. Any tendency to direct training in BBTD control to only men or land owners will likely be ineffective, because the failure of even a single farmer or household to manage BBTD consistently increases the threat to surrounding fields.

Women sort through their produce at a banana and plantain market in Nigeria. Banana bunchy top disease is spreading through communities and threatening 6–12 million smallholder households. Photo by Adebayo/IITA

There are many other differences between women and men in the tasks they perform during banana production, and differences too among communities. The key conclusion from systematic studies such as this is that development of gender-responsive guidelines must consider the complementarity of gender roles in banana production. Because women generally own less land and have less decision-making power, it may be appropriate to design interventions that increase their bargaining power in order to promote more equitable participation and benefits.

Gender differences could also underpin successful pest and disease management for invasive pests in rural Vietnam and Laos. Cassava mealybug and cassava witches broom disease appeared relatively recently and are devastating harvests, and growers have little knowledge of how to deal with them. A first survey in Vietnam identified broad, gender-differentiated patterns in farmer knowledge, attitudes and practices with regard to cassava pests and diseases. The results informed a second survey in Laos designed to assess gender differences in knowledge, attitudes and decision making in pest control.

What they revealed, overall, was a very poor understanding among men and women of pests and diseases, where they come from, or how natural enemies might help to control pests. Although farmers reported that poor planting material might be a problem, they did not recognize that it could be infested. No clear gender differences emerged in focus group discussions on management of invasive pests, although in Laos women farmers were more inclined to let cassava “grow naturally”.

Women in Laos and northern Vietnam, which are yet to experience the brunt of cassava mealybug, are involved in selection of planting material and spend more time in cassava fields. With their preference for environmentally friendly farming, it seems that pest and disease management would do well to focus on women. Strengthening their knowledge of integrated pest management and ensuring availability of and access to disease-free planting material could empower women as agents of change.