Front Cover
 Title Page

Group Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Title: From recommendation domains to intro-household dynamics and back: attempts at bridging the gender gap
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00081677/00001
 Material Information
Title: From recommendation domains to intro-household dynamics and back: attempts at bridging the gender gap
Series Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Alberti, Amalia M.
Publisher: University of Florida
Publication Date: 1986
Subject: Farming   ( lcsh )
Agriculture   ( lcsh )
Farm life   ( lcsh )
University of Florida.   ( lcsh )
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida
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Bibliographic ID: UF00081677
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved, Board of Trustees of the University of Florida

Table of Contents
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    Title Page
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Full Text

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Conference on



Paper presented at the Conference on
held at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
February 26 to March 1, 1986

*Research Specialist, Center for Social Research, Visayas State
College of Agriculture, Baybay, Leyte, Philippines 7127-A


One of the concepts to emerge with the Farming Systems(FS) approach to

agricultural research and extension is that of the recommendation domain

(RD). Defined as "a group of roughly homogeneous farmers with similar

circumstances for whom we can make more or less the same recommendation"

(Byerlee, et al., 1980), the underlying assumption is that farmers of

households within the same RD will have similar responses to proposed

technology (Shaner, et al., 1982: 44). RDs are intended to focus the

research process and expedite dissemination of the recommended technology

thereby facilitating the extension phase.

The debate continues in the farming systems literature and among

farming systems practitioners about both the more relevant criteria and the

preferred timetable to identify and elaborate recommendation domains. The

position of those of us who maintain that the early delineation of RDs

precludes considerations that are not readily evident or initially salient

(Cornick and Alberti, 1985) is countered by others who maintain that the

early identification of RDs permits their progressive refinement (Franzei,

1984). Still others (Norman and Baker, 1984) point out that in the last

analysis both the target groups identified and the nature of the technology

recommended tend to reflect the expertise of the the team members in a

particular Farming Systems Research(FSR) project.

In this paper I take the position that, first, RDs sensitive to gender

issues are difficult to develop due to scant documentation of women's

participation in agricultural and farm-related activities in local areas,

Alberti/February 1986

and, second, if developed, difficult to implement due to several features

common to many FSR projects. Indeed, it seems to me that the greater the

pressure for prompt elaboration of RDs, the greater is the likelihood that

women's roles, as well as their concerns within the FSR context, will be

overlooked because of insufficient time to draw them out. The long term

solution to satisfactorily address gender issues in FS, however, lies less

in attempts to develop appropriate RDs and more in efforts to revise the

FSR framework so that gender issues are deliberately and self-consciously

entertained unless excluded. Until these changes occur, several key

questions are proposed to'assist FSR practitioners in assessing what gender

related issues are potentially relevant in a particular FSR site and

whether they can be addressed feasibly within the existing project



Among the more common techniques suggested for the initial stages of

problem diagnosis leading to the formation of recommendation domains are

reviews of secondary data, informal interviews with persons such as local

officials, residents, and extension workers, and an exploratory survey of

farmers sometimes combined with or followed by a formal survey (Harrington

and Tripp, 1984; Shaner, et al., 1982). The obstacles to uncovering the

extent of women's involvement in the total or select phases of a farming

system imbedded in each of these techniques is discussed briefly.

Alberti/February 1986


Secondary Data Reviews

Much of the literature on women in agriculture published within the

last ten years underscores the extent to which the involvement and

contributions of women in this area have been underrepresented (Deere and

Leon, 1981; Lewis, 1981). Nevertheless, secondary sources such as census

data and local agricultural reports that continue to ignore or

underestimate female contributions abound. When FSR staff consult these

materials they are likely to accept the data as factual unless they are

aware of the possibility that female participation in agriculture may be

masked or otherwise distorted. Only when sensitive to this bias may they be

persuaded to seek additional corroboration before dismissing gender as a

potentially relevant variable.

Informal Interviews and Exploratory Surveys

Local officials and extension agents can often provide extensive

site-specific information that a FSR staff member would be hard-pressed to

otherwise obtain so efficiently. For information on female involvement in

agriculture, however, this is less likely the case for several reasons.

First, cultural values may intervene. When female agricultural activity is

associated with poverty, not only are male officials unlikely to discuss

such activity on the part of female members in their own household, but

they may well be reluctant to discuss such activity on the part of female

residents in general presuming that it would reflect negatively on the

socioeconomic status of the community.

Assuming that these local officials and extension agents are almost

Alberti/February 1986

exclusively male, attempts to adjust for these gender-related "blind-spots"

by speaking with their wives or other female household members may not

yield substantially different results (Alberti, 1980). To the extent that

these women partake of the elevated social status of their households, they

are unlikely to make "public" their own involvement in farm-related tasks

or imply difficult socioeconomic conditions within the community by

referring to such activity on the part of other women unless it is to

demean them.

Second, it has been found that male farmers routinely underestimate

the degree and undervalue the importance of female involvement in

farm-related .activities in which they too participate (Bourque and Warren,

1981; Deere and Leon, 1981; Alberti, in process), and to ignore or be

unaware of the extent of female involvement in farming activities that they

do not share in. Hence asking male farmers about the participation of

females in agriculture will not necessarily elicit accurate information.

Finally we must consider the reluctance of the national male FSR staff

members, especially if they are from the local area, to ask questions that

are deemed "inappropriate" by local standards. Moreover, cultural norms may

restrict male field staff members' access to women for interviews. As yet

another possibility, male FSR staff members may resist interviewing women

because of their own attitudes about female participation in agriculture.

Formal Surveys

The advantages and limitations of formal surveys have been widely

discussed. Within the farming systems literature Chambers (1980, 1983,

1984) is perhaps their most outspoken and graphic critic as he conjures up

Alberti/February 1986

visions of "30 pages of questionnaire ... which if asked are never coded,

or if coded never punched, or if punched never processed ... examined ...

or analyzed..." that a number of us have also seen (1980: 4).

Vis-a-vis women's involvement in agriculture there are two points I

would raise about formal surveys. The first is that preparing a

questionnaire assumes that we know what we need to know and how to ask it.

While this ought eventually to be the case, for surveys conducted during

the initial stages of project development this is not always true for

women's issues precisely as a consequence of some of the limitations just

discussed. .Secondly, many formal surveys are designed to be administered

to either the male or female head of household, but not both. Generally,

the household member available when the interviewer arrives responds.

However, the survey form frequently lacks an item to indicate who was

actually interviewed and whether that person was male or female. Hence,

even if relevant questions about women's involvement in agriculture and

farm-related activities are included, it is impossible to disaggregate male

and female responses and analyze them for consistency'and comparability.


Given these constraints, we turn to the issue: What site-specific

information might be readily available that would expedite developing
recommendation domains sensitive to gender differences? By "readily

available" I refer to information that could be elicited over a few cays

through informal conversation with local residents, teachers, and other

persons working in the area, as Rapid Rural Appraisal procedures recommend

Alberti/February 1986

(Chambers 1980; Beebe, 1985), in conjunction with a field trip around the

project area. The field trip is essential to provide visual information to

accompany verbal accounts. Lines of inquiry otherwise not considered may

be opened when the information from these two sources does not concur.

The information obtained from responses to the following questions

ought to enable FSR practitioners to contextualize the situation of women

in the FSR setting in broad strokes. At the same time, it would facilitate

a quick assessment of whether the FSR project, as it exists or could

feasibly be modified, can viably address the gender issues relevant to that

site. Where addressing those issues is possible, this would then ideally

be followed by collecting the kind of information needed to inform analyses

cf intra-household dynamics in FSR (Flora, n.d.; Feldstein, 1985).

What are the Local Cultural Norms Regarding Female Agricultural Activity?

Is More than One Culture Represented in the Project Area?

In many parts of Latin America, particularly indigenous regions of the

Andes, women work side by side with men in the fields. In other areas such

as Honduras women are seldom seen working in the fields beneath the direct

rays of the sun and may well be embarrassed if they are. Asian women such

as those from Bangladesh are rarely field workers while many of their

Indian counterparts assume the major role in most if not all phases of rice


The differences referred to here are largely the result of cultural

variations whose dominant mode of expression may be religious or ethnic, or

some combination of the two. What is important is that when we know that a

certain portion or subportion of the population of an area shares a

Alberti/February 1986

particular cultural orientation, we are also in a position to make certain

assumptions about the kinds of roles women are likely to assume within an

agricultural setting and how forthcoming information about those roles is

likely to be. For example, if visible productive activity on the part of

women is highly circumscribed, we can expect that even when women do engage

in such endeavors, they will be extremely difficult to document.

When more than one cultural group is represented in an area additional

factors may come to bear on the situation. Is one group dominant and the

other subordinate? Is the participation of women in agricultural and farm

related tasks the same for both groups? Are the norms regarding such

involvement the same? If the norms vary, which norms do agricultural

extensionists and field workers represent?

In culturally complex settings it is important to specify the cultural

group or groups to which a recommendation domain applies. This should help

clarify and explain what would otherwise be unanticipated responses to a

recommended technology. Factors that might be involved include

differential access to extra-household labor by ethnic group, or different

production objectives despite use of the same traditional technologies.

Does Women's Participation in Agriculture Vary by Social Class? If so, in

What Ways?

There is an ever-growing consensus that the way households, and the

women within those households, participate in the farming system is highly

contingent on social class. Women from land poor households who engage in

farming.tasks tend to work longer hours at those tasks and generate

proportionately lower returns.than other women. Oftentimes they are the

Alberti/February 1986

women who have been left behind while their male partners migrate in search

wage employment. Women from landless households are clearly the most

vulnerable as they are increasingly dependent on an ever more tenuous

agricultural.wage labor market that relegates them to more restricted and

marginal employment opportunities even as it expands commercially (Hart,

1978; Stoler, 1977; Sen, 1985; Stolcke, n.d.; Young, 1985; Horn, et al.,

1984: Chaney and Lewis, 1980).

While these trends may be widespread they are not universal. Knowing

whether they are valid for a particular setting should give us some clue of

how candid men, or women, or both are likely to be about female involvement

in agricultural and farm-related activities.

Do Women Specialize in Food Production and Subsistence Agriculture?

Despite broad variations in patterns, the preeminent role of women in

in the production of food for home consumption appears to cross continental

bounds (Chaney and Lewis, 1980).

In Latin America the evidence is widespread that the majority of women

who directly engage in agricultural production at the household level do so

primarily with basic crops intended for home consumption though they may

also market small portions of those crops. If the household also raises a

cash crop, it is likely to be under the care of the male head of household,

even when women contribute labor to its cultivation. The more the

household's agricultural activities are commercially oriented, the less is

the likelihood that the women of the household will be directly involved in

agricultural production. However, when laborers are present, women of the

household are usually expected to provide the support services surrounding

Aiberti/February 1986

food preparation, and are occasionally called upon for managerial

activities (Deere and Leon, 1981; Bourque and Warren, 1981; Alberti, in


In Asia the scenario is distinct. Despite broad variations in the

extent of women's direct involvement in rice-based agricultural economies

due to ethnic and religious differences, women are always involved in the

processing of rice and frequently bear major responsibility for its

transplanting, weeding, and harvesting. When the household's access to

rice fields is insufficient to meet its own consumption needs, women as

well as men are likely to seek work as agricultural laborers with rice as

the preferred medium of payment. Participation in the harvest of kin and

neighbors, if not the planting as well, is another strategy geared to

insure a ration of rice (Hart, 1978; Sen, 1985; Dey, 1985). In each

instance the overarching objective is to obtain food that can be

immediately used by the household.

In contrast with rice cultivating areas, using the Philippines as an

example, the cultivation of cash crops such as coconut and tobacco and

commercial varieties of root crops such as cassava and camote is dominated

by men. Root crops grown for home use, however, are often under the

immediate control of women (Cornick and Alberti, 1985).

Until recently, the situation in Africa presented what had probably

been the most consistent association between crops and gender. Even now,

food crops are grown almost exclusively by women, though some women,

particularly those near urban areas, have begun to cultivate cash crops as

well (Ferguson and Horn, 1985: 3). In contrast, men continue to

concentrate their efforts in cash crop production.

Alberti/February 1986

Getting a sense of the pattern that predominates for a given FSR

project should help us to identify the crops and animals that women tend to

work with-as well as to assess the FSR project's capabilities in those



Having asked the.questions, we now turn to how we may fruitfully use

the information obtained.

First, the knowledge gained should enable us to better identify the

variables that are particularly relevant vis-a-vis women in farming systems

in the project area. Second, it can provide us with guidelines to estimate

the validity of the information and data that does exist. Third, it

highlights the kind of information that is available while giving some

indication of what is lacking. This should help us to assess what

additional information is needed and to appraise how sensitive its

collection may be.

For example, the knowledge that there are two ethnic groups within the

FSR project bounds should immediately prompt us to question whether their

attitudes toward agriculture, and women's involvement in agriculture, are

the same. If they differ we should be attuned to the importance of

systematically distinguishing responses by ethnic group.

The denial of female involvement in agriculture by government and

local officials may be better understood once we know that women engage in

agricultural activities only under conditions of poverty. This knowledge

in turn ought to suggest that we need to exercise caution to elicit the

desired information while avoiding offending the persons questioned.

The shortcoming of these illustrations is that real life situations

Alberti/February 1986

rarely fall into compartments that vary so neatly along a single dimension.

Rather, multiple variables combine and fuse, whether systematically or

erratically, resulting in ever more complex relationships. Their salience

is heightened as they interact with some of the more common features of

farming systems projects. Let us examine some of these characteristics and

the way they interact with gender concerns.


Site selection for farming systems projects often results from

political and economic decisions that occur outside project bounds (Shaner,

et al., 1982; Harrington and Tripp, 1984). Marginal areas are less likely

to be selected. Not only do they tend to lack political leverage, but

projects in such areas are more prone to failure due to the restricted

access to resources of their residents. Women who engage in agricultural

and farm-related activities, however, are frequently concentrated among the

resource poor who are commonly located in more marginal areas.

Despite occasional efforts to the contrary farming systems projects

are frequently commodity-oriented either as the result of project mandate,

or team member expertise, or a combination of these factors (Norman and

Baker, 1984). But a commodity orientation is frequently aligned with a

commercial orientation. As has been discussed, however, women are more

likely to cultivate food crops with a view to household consumption.

Hence, when a FSR project has a commodity orientation it may implicitly

ignore women by excluding the crop, or crop focus, of most concern to them.

Lastly, FSR projects tend to adapt already existing technology, or

shelf technology, to a particular situation, rather than to develop new

Alberti/February 1986

technology for a specific situation. They justify their approach on the

basis of insufficient resources and a time frame inadequate to allow for

additional research. However, existing technologies have tended to be

capital intensive, and until recently, to give demonstrated results only

when adopted as an entire package, rather than in steps over time. Hence,

to the extent that women who engage in agricultural and farm related

activities are concentrated among the resource poor, they may be unable to

adopt the new technology because of insufficient cash resources. Or if

they have the resources, they may be unwilling to adopt the new technology

because it is inappropriate to their goals when they are subsistence rather

than commercially oriented.

To paraphrase Chambers, then, these factors interlock (1980: 3). Nor

does the conflict end there. As Harrington and Tripp remind us: "Domains

are formed so that researchers can effectively deal with the majority of

farmers in a particular area" (1984: 14). However, the only majority that

women tend to constitute as household level agriculturalists is that of the

rural poor. Nevertheless, even among them, some women are partnered,

others single, some the only farmer in the household, and still others only

sources of labor. Though women who directly engage in farming and

farm-related activities are unlikely to be wealthy, it is likely that there

is considerable variation in their access to resources, even among those

broadly label as "poor".

Women in agriculture tend to share a disadvantaged position in

male-oriented agricultural research and development programs. The way they

experience that disadvantage, however, is mediated by their culture,

resources, and civil status, and, hence, varies. It is difficult for

Alberti/February 1986

recommendation domains that depend on homogeneous circumstances in key

variables to locate issues that relate to "women" equally despite their

diversity, for, indeed, there are few. What a true incorporation of gender

issues in farming systems implies is a revision of the farming systems unit

of analysis from the household to the male -and female household heads

within the farming systems household for the stages of problem diagnosis

and design. The information thus provided would enable the farming systems

practitioners to make conscious though difficult choices about where the

FSR resources will be channelled knowing full well and in advance whether

and how those choices are likely to differentially affect men and women.

Alberti/February 1986


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