Woman Cotton Farmers. Their Perceptions and Experiences with Transgenic Varieties A Case Study for Colombia

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Abstract or Summary

This paper explores gender differences in cotton cultivation and looks into the perceptions and experiences of women and men with transgenic varieties. With few exceptions, researchers in the area of impact evaluation of crop biotechnology have only marginally included gender considerations in their work. This exploratory pilot study was developed in order to incorporate gender into our quantitative evaluation work. This study used a participatory and descriptive approach that allowed us to listen to women and men farmers’ perceptions and insights. The project was conducted in the main cotton-producing regions of Colombia where a handful of transgenic varieties have been in the market for the past six years.
The participatory exercises developed by the team show that there are key gender differences that need to be addressed and studied. Despite the widespread perception among male cotton producers that women are not cotton farmers, this project shows that women participate in several operations of the crop and that there are in fact some women that successfully manage or share with their spouses cotton-production responsibilities.
Specific differences in perceptions of transgenic varieties between female and male farmers were also brought to the attention of the researchers. Female farmers managing their plots appeared to prefer insect-resistant varieties over conventional ones mainly because these transgenic varieties can reduce the number of male laborers that women would need to hire to spray pesticides, a task solely performed by men. Similarly, technologies that potentially reduce manual weeding, particularly if women and children in a household are the ones in charge of this backbreaking activity, can be especially attractive to women. The perceptions can be the opposite for women who are hired for weeding, as a reduction in hired labor might mean losing a source of income that may not be replaced. Both female and male farmers identified the lack of adequate and timely information as the main disadvantage of transgenic varieties; this problem disproportionately affected more female than male farmers. Female farmers appear to have more difficulty accessing or sharing information, due to time restrictions, particularly if they carry most or the entire burden of domestic responsibilities. At the same time, information that actually gets in the hands of farmers seems to be followed more judiciously by female farmers, a fact that potentially translates into better management of the technology. With some important exceptions, perceptions about transgenic cotton varieties appear to be positive for female and male farmers. The difference is the way female and male farmers spend the additional resources. Male farmers prefer to dispose of their profits in leisure activities, whereas female farmers devote their additional income to investing in their family’s nutrition, education, and health.
All these perceptions demand further investigation. This study offers a first look at the potential of women farmers as productive cotton producers and successful users of new technologies.

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