August 09, 2016

Understanding gender roles in Uganda’s potato value chain

In Uganda, gender roles in production, processing and marketing of root and tuber crops are complex. Key decisions on production and marketing are often made by men, although women majorly provide labor at crucial stages of production. In the example of potato production and marketing in eastern Uganda, though women are responsible for key production processes, men primarily control harvesting and marketing of the crop. Men also tend to dominate wholesale trade while women are in charge of retailing.

As innovations, including in postharvest and marketing, become more available to farmers, men tend to take over responsibilities for roles that might have previously been largely the domain of women. Men are also likely to adopt new technologies faster than women, especially if they are capital intensive, and studies show that social norms in Uganda may also prevent women from taking up new technologies. For example, women may not have equitable access to training, inputs like land and farming equipment as well as capital which are critical to the adoption of new technologies. Additionally, women may not be empowered to make investment decisions at household level.

This implies that if gender issues are not taken into account, interventions aiming at value chain development may preclude women from taking full advantage of emerging market opportunities, or even affect them negatively. It is therefore necessary that gender empowerment is promoted in the effort to develop and strengthen root tuber and banana value chains.

Gender issues will be a key area of discussion at the upcoming APA Conference in October. 

The ‘Expanding utilization of roots, tubers and bananas and reducing their postharvest losses’ (RTB-ENDURE) project implemented by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, prioritizes gender mainstreaming so as to develop gender sensitive interventions. As such, a Gender Action Plan (GAP) was developed by the gender team to ensure that men and women benefit equitably from the project interventions. In execution of the GAP, a situation analysis of the potato value chain in Uganda was recently conducted.

Here we highlight key findings of the Gender Situation Analysis of the Potato Value Chain in Eastern Uganda:

RTB-ENDURE is testing and validating potato storage technologies. Female farmers are more concerned than men about using poor quality seed which results in poor quality ware potatoes that are more difficult to store and market due to high perishability. Women are responsible for producing and storing seed within households, yet report they are rarely if ever targeted by training on good agronomic practices. Therefore, there is need to promote training of women in this area, as well as selecting them to host demonstration trials where applicable.

Due to unequal power relationships within households, men often decide how much, where and whom to sell to, as well as how to use income from potato often without consulting women. Women also report that gender norms designated potato as a men’s crop, implying that women who try to sell potato on their own without their husbands are viewed with suspicion. In some cases, traders raise the price of seed potato and lower the price of ware potato if female farmers are the ones buying or selling, respectively. Women shared that this may deter them from benefiting from higher sales and income from stored potato.

Both men and women report that limited access to financial services is a key hindrance to potato production. However, female farmers are particularly affected since poor access to credit is coupled with limited control over income from potato sales. Therefore, they find difficult to timely access inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and farming tools leading to low yields and hıgh postharvest losses.

Both men and women mentioned the need for training in savings and credit management as well as better linkages to Micro Finance Institutions and other credit providers. Because women accept these gender inequalities as the way things have always been, the solutions they suggested focused mostly on addressing their practical gender needs – such as better knowledge of potato seed storage to reduce problems they may encounter with their husbands in case the stored seed does not sprout well.

However, the gender strategies proposed for both crops seek to address both practical gender needs and strategic gender interests. For example, it is also clear that women are underrepresented in the management of potato associations but simply electing women into leadership positions that do not involve strategic decision making may not be effective. Women need to be able to meet their strategic gender interests and this may require training on management and negotiation skills.

RTB-ENDURE is a three-year initiative (2014-2016) implemented by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas that is funded by the European Union with technical support from IFAD.

Read the full story and learn more on the RTB website.