Archive for the ‘gender.’ Category

Introducing the Open Doors Fellowship Program for Women researchers in Africa

Dear Colleagues,

I am contacting you to share a  project that we are launching at the VIB-IPBO, where I also workJ , called the Open Doors Fellowship Program (ODFP) for women in African research institutions.

What is the ODFP?

·       The ODFP is a capacity building program to equip our women researchers with essential hard and soft skills to support their career consolidation.

·       The ODFP pursues to enhance the scientific outputs of our fellows in fields of research relevant to the African agro-biotechnology and agricultural sector, expand and consolidate the Belgium-Africa scientific networks and, ultimately, reduce the dropout from early & mid-career women scientists working in African research and academic institutions. Nematology would fit in!

·       The program has a duration of 24 months, divided into two phases. The initial phase has a duration of 3 months and focuses on a short research stay of the ODFP fellows in a research institution in Belgium. During the research stage in a Belgian lab, our fellows will learn, in a hands-on fashion, new techniques & experimental methodologies relevant to their field of research. But also conductin vivo, in vitro or in silico analyses with equipment, software, hardware or research facilities that are not accessible to the fellows at their African institutions.

·       The program will receive the fellows in Belgium from the 1st of May 2022 for 8 weeks (minimum) to 12 weeks (maximum), departing from Belgium on the 17th of July 2022, the latest.

·       Women researchers can demonstrate that they are implementing their ongoing research in Senegal, Burkina Faso,Benin, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania or South Africa.

The deadline for applications is the10th January 2022.  More information is available on the program’s web:https://ipbo.vib-ugent.be/en/open-doors-fellowship-program

Prof Laura Cortada- Gonzalez at UGent

For more information please contact Laura:


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Digital Engagement and Training Helps Increase Agro-Dealer and Farmer Knowledge on Integrated Pest Management in East Africa

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Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab

Aug 19, 2021

A group of people training with the Tanzanian Agricultural Research Institute (TARI)

This post is written by Sara Hendery, communications coordinator for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management

Given Tanzania’s diverse geographical landscape, it’s no surprise the country is among the world’s top 20 producers of vegetables. Nevertheless, farmers remain in search of ways to combat the pests and diseases that threaten crop yields every season.

Results of a survey conducted by Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management partners at the Tanzanian Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) show that the majority of Tanzanian farmers receive key knowledge on how to manage pests and disease not only from extension personnel, but often from agricultural supply dealers, or agro-dealers. While agro-dealers do carry valuable information, resources and inputs, the survey also shows that many agro-dealers have limited formal knowledge on vegetable production or protective measures for applying chemical pesticides.

To address these gaps, TARI began providing cohesive training to agro-dealers, farmers and extension officers on vegetable production and pest and disease management. Training covers such areas as Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and safe handling and use of agricultural inputs, including pesticides. Thus far, 500 participants have been trained in the Coast and Morogoro regions. The GAP training in particular helps farmers build capacity in reporting and record-keeping, assessing input quality and crop hygiene, and training in IPM provides information on bio- and botanical pesticides, pruning, developing seedlings in a nursery environment and how to apply pesticides with minimal body exposure.   

“Knowing that farmers receive their pest and disease management knowledge from agro-dealers provides us important insight into how to best reach farmers with up-to-date information,” said Dr. Fred Tairo, principal agricultural research officer at TARI-Mikocheni. “If we want farmers to adopt sustainable, climate-smart and productive inputs that might be outside of their typical use, an important pathway to reaching them is through the people that farmers already trust and are familiar with.” 

In a group of 69 agro-dealers surveyed, only 49 were registered and licensed to run agricultural shops. The 20 unregistered participants had received no formal training in crop production or pesticide safety and use, and most participants not only had no prior knowledge on how to dispose of expired pesticides, but did not sell bio-pesticides or chemical pesticide alternatives at their shops. Since registering as an agro-dealer can cost nearly $200, TARI is collaborating with the Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI), a regulatory authority for pesticides in Tanzania, to consider lowering the costs.  

TARI and the IPM Innovation Lab are increasing communication through digital platforms to reach more agricultural actors with safe and effective approaches to pest and disease management. A Kiswahili-based (Swahili) WhatsApp group named “Kilima cha Mboga kisasa,” or modern vegetable cultivation, currently shares information with 154 farmers, extension agents and agro-dealers in Tanzania who can use the app to cite crop threats and receive expert management guidance in return.

Participants post a picture or video of the crop problem for immediate diagnosis. Not only do agro-dealers in the group directly learn about farmers’ most pressing problems, but they can use the platform to market agri-inputs, including the IPM products they learn about through the platform. 

“Even if members of this group do not necessarily follow up with formal training we offer, this is a low-stakes knowledge-sharing space that they can be a part of and receive guidance from,” Tairo added. 

To increase access to information and inputs, the IPM Innovation Lab is also collaborating with Real IPM, a private company based in Kenya that develops low-cost biological and holistic crop solutions available in Kenya and Tanzania. In just one year, the company has provided training to thousands of farmers in seven counties in Kenya by targeting farmer groups, the majority of which are made up of women. Real IPM has developed training manuals on IPM, a WhatsApp group for crop health assistance and a free web portal for diagnosis and IPM recommendations of specific crop threats. 

“Our goal is to make IPM solutions more accessible,” said Ruth Murunde, research and development manager at Real IPM. “When you enter a pest or disease into our web portal, those images, diagnosis and IPM recommendations stay posted. We know that many farmers are experiencing similar issues to one another and collective action against crop threats is an effective way to combat them more long-term.”

While technology constraints remain — including smartphone, internet and electricity access — making learning spaces available for a range of crop production actors is critical to adoption of sustainable, effective farming solutions. 

Currently, the Real IPM database hosts over 7,000 participants and has collected over 200 infected crop images.

“The Real IPM technical team is actively working to support farmers by providing biopesticides as a solution for mitigating pests and diseases on vegetable crops to ensure sustainable agriculture for smallholder farmers,” added Murunde. “Our information networks help disseminate best practice methods for using those tools.”  

For more information on IPM training or Real IPM products, contact saraeh91@vt.edu.

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Virginia Tech Taps Text Message Services to Assist Smallholder Farmers

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Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab

Dec 13, 2019

Community business facilitator
A community business facilitator in Nepal communicates crop recommendations through text messages with local farmers.

This post is written by Sara Hendery, Communications Coordinator for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management, and originally appeared in VT News.

Farmers are warding off crop pests and diseases – and merchants are seeing a 100 percent increase in sales of natural products to combat them – since Virginia Tech implemented a text-messaging system in Nepal.

Up-to-date pest and disease information to grow a healthy harvest could mean feeding an entire family for a year, but many smallholder farmers live in remote areas with limited Internet access, which restricts information sharing.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management has partnered with iDE in Nepal to develop centers that, in addition to providing commercial market access, link 160 farmers to crop experts through text messaging services. When pest or disease prevalence is high, farmers receive vetted identification details and safe integrated pest management (IPM), or ecological, solutions to the crop problems.

The text messages include the contacts of local suppliers who sell IPM products, such as natural fertilizers. Since 2017, with demand of such solutions growing, the local businesses have seen a 106 percent increase in sales. More important, farmers are reporting impacts to their crops, such as relief from the tomato leaf miner, a pest that devastates 85 percent of tomato yields.

“In all of our projects, we want to see improved capacity and ability at all levels, from farmers to their families to private businesses,” said Amer Fayad, associate director of the Innovation Lab. “One of the biggest battles we face is delivery of information, and this system of text messages helps eliminate that problem.”

The messages also contain contact numbers of community business facilitators – entrepreneurial local farmers with training in IPM solutions. These facilitators give support to farmers with questions about crop management and receive a commission from companies on the sale of IPM products. They have seen an 80 percent increase in contact from farmers and a 44 percent increase in income.

“These text messages are helpful because they don’t require Internet access and they are in the local language,” said Lalit Sah, a project collaborator from iDE in Nepal. “Most families do, in fact, have access to at least one phone and also want to take information from people in the community who they trust.”

Elsewhere in Innovation Lab projects, farming communities in Vietnam and East Africa are also improving crop information sharing through the free smartphone app WhatsApp, which supports international text, image, and video capabilities. In Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Kenya, up to 66 farmers and extension agents exchange WhatsApp messages at a rate of about 52 messages per month.

“Participants ask specific questions about plant problems, and within minutes another participant has provided some feedback, regardless of distance or geography,” said Luis Cañas, associate professor at The Ohio State University and head of the East Africa vegetable project. “This network has been very successful and now is being used to link smaller networks that connect directly to farmers in their local language. We expect this could create a new way to distribute knowledge and initiate collaborations in areas where computers are not very common.”

In Vietnam, farmers and Innovation Lab collaborators from the Southern Horticultural Research Institute belong to a WhatsApp group designed for addressing issues on dragon fruit, the country’s major fruit export, but also use the space to exchange information on new IPM products, upcoming farmer trainings, and updated market data.

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Women, Integrated Pest Management, and Vietnam: Key Findings from the Field

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Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab

Nov 22, 2021

Dragon fruit farmer
Dragon fruit farmer.

This post is written by Sara Hendery, Communications Coordinator of the Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab.

In Vietnam, women play an important role in agriculture, but seldom have equal access to the information, inputs, and training needed for producing abundant, healthy harvests.

Virginia Tech’s Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab initiated a project in Vietnam in 2014 focused on introducing ecological technologies to farmers of exportable fruit crops. Trainings on these technologies, including fruit bagging, application of the beneficial fungus Trichoderma, and application of neem oil, had limited participation from women. In collaboration with partners at the Southern Horticultural Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s Women and Gender in International Development, a technology assessment was conducted to identify gender-based constraints and opportunities to accessing these technologies and trainings.

The technology assessment confirmed that while key decisions about the farm in Vietnam are typically made by men, women are in fact incredibly active in on-farm decision making, specifically when it comes to management of family finances. Referred to as the “safety keepers,” or the safety net of the family, women make decisions around farm purchases, such as purchases of pesticides or fertilizers, and manage hired labor. The assessment also showed that women are increasingly interested in learning about pesticide alternatives, and are concerned about the health impacts of pesticide use.

Barriers to technical access identified

A number of barriers limiting women’s ability to access such knowledge through technical trainings were revealed, including:

  • Abundant household responsibilities and care of young children
  • Low confidence in public speaking or participating in open dialogues 
  • Assumptions that “official” training invitations are not intended for women, because invitations are often addressed to the (male) head of the household

With these findings, the institute team, made of entomologists, plant pathologists, and other researchers who deliver technical trainings, adjusted their approach to engage women more thoughtfully. One of the most successful approaches was tapping women’s associations and unions to participate in technical trainings. The institute team also began conducting trainings with women only, which significantly increased women’s attendance, but more so women’s active participation in the training conversation. Another successful approach was encouraging women farmers to keep farm diaries of training lessons learned as well as farm updates, such as pesticide spraying dates. Following women farmers’ interest, the institute conducted multisubject trainings that focused on both technical crop protection information and financial information.

Multiplier effect of training

Many of the women farmers who participated in the technology assessment noted that technical training is beneficial on multiple levels.

“Listening to instructions, I can learn new knowledge and experience from others,” says one female mango farmer in Vietnam. “As my husband forgets something, I can remind him.”

While women’s participation in technical trainings did increase with these tactics, the COVID-19 pandemic brought unique challenges and outcomes. As researchers could no longer travel to farmer homes to deliver assistance, trainings were held over video call. This online space allowed for both men and women to attend the training together. While this virtual training did foster increased participation of men and women, it was clear that women were often preoccupied with housework during the instruction and sometimes wouldn’t stay for the entire training.

Daniel Sumner, assistant director of Women and Gender in International Development, says this shift to online training highlighted an important factor that can limit or foster women’s participation in technical trainings: location.

“Women are making major decisions about on-farm purchases, which is why it’s crucial women attend trainings to better understand the product options and what would be most productive, effective, and safe for their farms and families,” he says. “We need to continue to look at where we host trainings and be more intentional about these locations by choosing spaces accessible to women. Equally important is developing messaging, virtual or otherwise, that would engage husband and wife together, rather than separately.”

Gender-targeted training opportunities grow

While increased efforts of the Southern Horticultural Research Institute to engage women improved women’s participation in technical trainings, the Women and Gender in International Development team see further opportunities for maximized engagement, such as:

  • Developing more targeted criteria for engaging farm households, including engaging farmer associations led by women
  • Developing cooking courses to help women farmers produce products from their farm fruits to be sold at the market
  • Inviting trusted community professionals, such as health care professionals, to share with farm families the importance of reduced reliance on pesticides
  • Engaging farmers in remote or mountainous areas, where minority farmers often live
  • Leveraging information and communications technology to engage more women
  • Designing trainings that prioritize women’s interests in finance management, especially trainings on information about the market and farm cost-saving measures

“A crucial finding from this work is that we must continue to ask what women what they are interested in,” says Maria Elisa Christie, director of Women and Gender in International Development. “In Vietnam, women are interested in financial and market information – now we have designed training modules to reflect that. Additionally, it’s important not only to work with women’s organizations to engage women, but to work in women’s spaces. For example, we find that many women like to cook together after a training. These spaces can be leveraged for maximized participation.”

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