Gender Research in Vietnam: Applications for Both Farmers and Scientists
As a researcher for the Southern Horticultural Research Institute (SOFRI) in Vietnam, Luong Thi Duyen spends her days studying fruit. Orchards in Vietnam are flush with sweet longan and dragon fruit the shape of fuchsia stars, that is, until pests and disease that favor the country’s wet, humid conditions attack them. Increased pests and disease on major crops not only lead to food and economic insecurity, but overreliance on pesticides as well.
The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management at Virginia Tech collaborates with SOFRI to introduce integrated pest management (IPM) practices on fruit exports — dragon fruit, longan, lychee, mango — with the goal of decreasing pesticide residues on the four valuable crops. By applying practices such as fruit bagging, the collaborative effort has helped increase yields by the thousands of pounds, as well as significantly decrease pesticide sprays.
While Duyen is a biophysical scientist who studies natural enemies on longan and guides farmers in conducting safer farming practices, a recent experience learning the tools of a social scientist is integrating new layers to her work.
In 2016, Maria Elisa Christie, Director of Women and Gender in International Development at Virginia Tech, conducted a gender assessment with teams from SOFRI, Can Tho University, and Vietnam National University of Agriculture to better understand the gender-based constraints and opportunities for improving pest management technologies, crop production, and processing in southern Vietnam.
Knowledge gained from the assessment aims to help the IPM Innovation Lab course correct when IPM technologies prove to have unintended, adverse impacts on women or when project outreach and dissemination activities fail to engage men and women producers equally.
Duyen helped analyze the surveys, specifically assessing gendered aspects related to mango farming. Participants of the surveys claimed that men often perform “heavy work” in the fields, while women tend to perform “lighter work,” which did not surprise Duyen. What did surprise her were survey results that have important implications for increasing women’s participation in agricultural activities.
“I was surprised because when I would go to the field to conduct a training course, I would usually only see men,” Duyen said. “But after analyzing the data, I now see that women work a lot with men in some field activities…If women can increase their role on the farm—such as deciding which market they should sell a product at or which variety they should plant—and women and men can share knowledge and duties, this will increase the safety and therefore the value of the product.”
Results from the survey showed that while men do, in fact, often decide which variety of crop will be planted and the price in which it is sold, women have increased interest in learning about market information, money management, and IPM application, which are possible outlets to increase women’s participation and leadership in such activities.
While women comprise nearly half of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, many have limited access to productive resources and opportunities, which contributes to low adoption rates of productive agricultural technologies.
Further, according to a recent report from the Feed the Future Advancing Women’s Empowerment Program, the majority of directors and gender advisors of Feed the Future Innovation Labs identified crossing the initial awareness barrier between social and biophysical science as a foundational first step to meaningfully integrating gender in research practice—essentially, creating understanding around why and in what specific ways gender is relevant to biophysical scientists’ core research is pivotal for productive research on gender in agricultural projects.
“Duyen played a critical role in the gender assessment and did an excellent job collecting and helping analyze the data,” Christie said. “Involving biophysical scientists in social science research at an organization like SOFRI that regularly interacts with farmers is an important capacity-building investment for the IPM Innovation Lab. This brief experience she’s had analyzing results of gender research will continue to contribute to the way she, and hopefully her colleagues, think about the impact of their work and the ways in which it could be made more equitable and considerate of multiple beneficiaries.”
As a result of the gender assessment, the IPM Innovation Lab team in Vietnam developed a forward-looking capacity-building program that will collaborate with women’s unions. The goal is to provide women a comfortable and safe space where they will be able to enhance their knowledge of IPM principles and practices, financial management skills, and market conditions.
The first event of the women’s union program took place in February 2020 with emphasis on longan, and the remaining events of the series will highlight the IPM Innovation Lab’s other focus crops.
Duyen is a recent graduate of a Master’s program at Can Tho University. Having focused her graduate work on the morphology and biology of ladybug species on dragon fruit, she is well-equipped with the tools she needs to further her own scientific research. She said, however, that involvement in the IPM Innovation Lab’s gender assessment helped her construct new tools that she’ll carry into her future and apply to that research for more inclusive results.
“I know now how to gain information from farmers more easily, especially women,” she said. “I learned how to ask questions.”