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Case studies from around the globe show that gender-responsive participatory research is the way to go

Bioversity International's Gender Research Fellows unite in the Netherlands to discuss their successes in using participatory research tools and processes in different research projects in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, India and Malaysia.

The best kind of learning comes from doing – this was echoed across all of Bioversity International’s Gender Research Fellows’ presentations at an international conference held at Wageningen University in the Netherlands in late April. When they reunited in rainy Europe at the European Seminar on Extension and Education, the Fellows were invited to present their findings about using participatory research tools and processes in research initiatives in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, India and Malaysia.  

Gender-responsive participatory research takes into consideration the needs and interests of women and men from different social backgrounds and different age groups. It puts rural communities at the heart of research for development with the goal of capturing insightful research results while fostering change within a community.

In his presentation at the ESEE, Narasimha Hegde revealed that the participatory research process helped people from different gender, age, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds to recognize, discuss and share their specific knowledge and skills with respect to tropical fruit tree conservation. During his research in India’s biodiversity-rich Western Ghats, he and his research team made a comprehensive inventory of native fruit trees, their ecological status and priorities for conservation drawing on the knowledge of diverse local people. Narasimha found that older and younger men had more knowledge than women about fruit tree phenology and cultivation, whereas older women had the highest knowledge concerning use of tree products. Young men who have motorbikes and move beyond the village were particularly knowledgeable about marketing. Women of all age groups were interested in developing with them opportunities to market their native fruit tree products. 

In her presentation ‘Embarking on social research with a forestry background’, Yvonne Kiki Nchanji talked about the lessons, tips and tricks she learned while doing gender-responsive participatory research in her home country, Cameroon. Yvonne joined the ‘Beyond Timber’ research initiative as a Gender Research Fellow with the task of discovering what forest products different generations of women and men have access to, use and prefer. This initiative looks at potential conflicts of interest between communities and timber companies, and at how these can be best reconciled. Yvonne shared her experience about how to get the women and men participants  to ‘open up’ and share their perspectives during the research process; she suggested that adapting one’s interview questions to the local context and spending quality time with the villagers helped greatly.  

The talk of her colleague, Mawa Karambiri from Burkina Faso, focused on the findings of a participatory assessment of gendered knowledge and preferences for shea ethnovarieties in Burkina Faso. Through methods such as characterization matrices and preference rankings, Mawa encouraged farmers from Bana-Bobo and Bana-Lamogoya to learn about their own tree resources, almost turning them into social scientists! The shea tree—known in the West for its nourishing butter used in cooking and cosmetics—is important for local peoples’ diets and medicine. By selling it women derive essential income that they can rarely get elsewhere. Access, control and use of the shea tree and its fruits depend on one’s gender, ethnicity and status of residence (whether you are resident or a migrant from another village). Mawa’s findings showed that women and men could agree on the top three preferred shea ethnovarieties, but when asked to prioritize different shea tree characteristics, men favoured varieties that they can eat directly while women prefered those rich in butter. 

Faridah Aini Muhammad spoke about the use and effectiveness of participatory research tools for social inclusion. Working in the Kakeng and Bungai villages in Sarawak, Malaysia, as part of a larger tropical fruit tree conservation project, Faridah discovered that the participatory approach was especially effective in revealing local knowledge of native fruit trees. Women participants felt inspired to explore new market opportunities, especially using approaches such as 'rapid market appraisal' through which the researchers accompanied the women to pitch their products—in this case, different varieties of pickled mangoes—to shop owners. 

Watch the video:Revealing farmers knowledge through research

Photo: (Left to right) Narasimha Hegde, Mawa Karambiri, Yvonne Kiki Nchanji and Faridah Aini Muhammad in the Dutch countryside. Credit: Bioversity International/E. Hermanowicz

This research is part of CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry

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