Gender as a critical variable in the methodology of the farming systems informal survey

Material Information

Gender as a critical variable in the methodology of the farming systems informal survey
Rojas, Mary, 1940-
Caldwell, John S
Neilan, Angela M
Place of Publication:
Blacksburg, Virginia
Virginia Polytechnic Institute :
State University
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
8 leaves : ; 28 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Agricultural systems ( lcsh )
Women in agriculture ( lcsh )
Agricultural extension work ( lcsh )
Farms ( jstor )
Women ( jstor )
Farmers ( jstor )
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references.
Includes bibliographical references (leaf 8).
General Note:
General Note:
Caption title.
Statement of Responsibility:
Mary Hill Rojas, John S. Caldwell, and Angela M. Neilan.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
The University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries respect the intellectual property rights of others and do not claim any copyright interest in this item. This item may be protected by copyright but is made available here under a claim of fair use (17 U.S.C. §107) for non-profit research and educational purposes. Users of this work have responsibility for determining copyright status prior to reusing, publishing or reproducing this item for purposes other than what is allowed by fair use or other copyright exemptions. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder. The Smathers Libraries would like to learn more about this item and invite individuals or organizations to contact Digital Services ( with any additional information they can provide.
Resource Identifier:
610570951 ( OCLC )


This item has the following downloads:

Full Text


Gender as a Critical Variable
in the Methodology of the
Farming Systems Informal Survey

Mary Hill Rojas, John S. Caldwell, and Angela M. Neilan
Office of Women in World Development
Department of Horticulture
and Extension Division

Gender of respondents and team members can affect results substantially.
Interviews with only male respondents will tend to focus more on technical
details and less on contributions of different family members. Male respondents
tend to use singular pronouns, making contributions of others invisible, while
fema le respondents tend to use plural pronouns, submerging their own
contributions in a group effort. For cultural reasons, female respondents may
respond less to male inte rviewe rs. This lack of response makes an accurate
assessment of women's needs on the farm more difficult. Separate interviewing
of male and female respondents by male and female interviewers may also be
necessary to determine the degree of differences or convergence of goals and
constraints of different family members.

Gender as a Critical Variable
in the Methodology of the
Farming Systems Informal Surve)

Mary Hill Rojas, John S. Caldwell, and Angela M.

Office of Women in World Development
Department of Horticulture
Extension Division

Virginia Polytechnic Institute
State University
Blacksburg, Virginia


Rural women around the world have been called invisible laborers. (Gross,

1982.) Several reasons have been cited for this invisibility. First are

stereotypes which view women as economically inactive. "Essentially, in this

view, women don't 'work'; or if they do, they shouldn't."' (Tinker, 1979: 53.)

For example, a 1977 draft of a United States Agency for International

Development agricultural policy paper suggested that one measure of development

could be a reduction of the number of women working in the fields. (Tiniker,

1979:53.) Terminology such as "productive" to describe women's market value

and "non1-produtive" for use-va lue wo rk also has perpetuated the myth of

women's economic inactivity. (Zeidenstein, 1979:312.) Similarly, in rural

extension, the farm household, the traditional domain of the woman, has been

seen as the "consumption" unit; the farm firm as the "production" unit.

National statistics also contribute to women's invisibility. Statistics

generally reflect only the activities of the modern cash economy. For example,

data in Africa have shown only 5% of women work in agriculture; whereas in

reality 60 to 80 % of the subsistence agriculture is done by women. This is

uncounted work as it falls outside the modern sector. (Tinker, 1979:3.)

According to the United States census, only 5% of farmers are women. The

census allows for only one individual to be named primary farm operator. Most

often the man of the farm is named. (Kalbacher, 1981:1.) Nevertheless, in a

national survey by the United States Department of Agriculture of women on

farms, 55% of the women considered themselves a primary operator of their

farm. (Jones & Rosenfeld, 1981:236.) The implications of such data errors on

policy and programs is obvious.

One approach to rural development used extensively in international

settings is Farming Systems Research and Development (FSR/D). This approach

not only looks at agricultural yields but the social response to agricultural

production and new interventions. It is an approach that recognizes the need

to consciously consider the role of rural women in development. (Shaner,

1982:281.) The initial phase of FSR/D is a sondeo or informal survey conducted

by interviewers of the farm families in the research area. This paper, based

on data gathered from one such sondeo, provides suggestions for FSR/D prac-

titioners on how to avoid biasing sondeo data through a more careful con-

sideration of gender in the interviewing process.

The Virginia Tech Farming Systems Research and Extension (FSR/E) Project

in southwest Virginia was funded by the Office of International Cooperation

and Development of the United States Department of Agriculture. One objective

of the project was to analyze the participation of rural farm women in agri-

culture and to generally describe their roles in relation to the total farm

system. Only small, limited resource farms were used. The project looked at

the farm household, under-valued in rural development, as an integral part of

the production of the total farm rather than only as a consumption unit

separate from farm production. The ultimate goal of the FSR/E project was to

focus on the interrelationship of the farm household and farm firm in order to

provide realistic models for rural development both domestically and inter-


The first phase of the project was the informal survey or sondeo

conducted by a multidisciplinary team of both men and women. Forty-seven farm

families were interviewed. The sondeos were semi-structured interviews which

sought demographic information on the family, information on the activities of

household members, and an evaluation of the problems, successes and goals of

the farm as perceived by the farm family. As much as possible both the men and

the women of the farms were interviewed. However, often this was not possible

as one or the other, most frequently the woman, tended to hold off-farm jobs

and was not present. (Table I)Those people interviewed were encouraged to

talk at length. The interviewers later wrote up the interviews as a prose-style

report. This approach oriented the research team to the area and produced

initial data helpful in formulating questions for further research.

(Karagianis, 1982:3.)

Many comments in the reports indicated that the inclusion of women in the

total interview process is very important if rural women are to give voice to

their concerns and provide accurate data for the FSR/E project. For example,

the county agriculture technicians who went with the interviewers to the farms

often assumed that it was the man on the farm with whom the interviewers

wished to speak, even though the interviewer, in this case, was a woman:

When he found...her husband was not there...Dave [the technician] was
ready to leave but I asked [the farm woman] if she could speak to me and
she consented.
(Karagianis, Smyth Co., Interview with L.S.)*

Also, when the woman was not present for the interview, her role on the farm

was often unclear.

I really did not get a "feel" for the women's work. The mother was not
spoken of much nor was the son's second wife, even with direct questioning.
(Rojas, Washington Co., The "B" Farm, pA4.)

For cultural reasons female respondents may not respond as frequently as

the man in a mixed interview session. Therefore, even when both the man and

the woman weree present, the interviewer needed often to assure the woman's

participation in the interview:

* All quotes are from the interviewer's prose reports. Therefore, it is the
interviewer "speaking."

X. did not come out into the kitchen where we were talking, and just

* responded from the next room when I asked for her opinion. Perhaps she
thought the interview was supposed to be just "men's" talk.
(Caldwell, J., Lee Co., The "D" Farm, p. 1.)

In fact, had I not watched when X. came near to where I was standing, -I
doubt that any responses would have been obtained from her. The initial
expectation of the two appeared to be that I was here to talk with K.,
the man.
(Caldwell, J., Lee Co., Farmers K. and X.T., p.1.)

These last responses also indicate the importance of including a woman on

the interviewing team. Female respondents may respond less, or differently, to

male interviewers, making more difficult an accurate assessment of both their

needs for technology changes, and the impact of technology changes, on other

work that they perform. Therefore, it may be helpful to interview the woman

alone using a woman interviewer to avoid errors and misconceptions in the data:

When [Farmer B.] said that his wife didn't do farm maintenance, she said
that she helped with fences....
(Caldwell, J., Smyth Co., Farmers B. and C., p.3.)

At times the men were reluctant to speak of women's roles:

B. [The agriculture technician] said afterwards that he sensed that F.L.
resented the repeated questioning about his wife's part in farm work. B.
seemed to imply that running a farm was a matter of pride for a man.
(Caldwell, J., Smyth Co., Farmer L., p.6.)

It also was clear from the research that one reason the labor of rural

women remains invisible is that often language excludes them. It has frequently

been noted that the word "farmer" automatically conjures up a male image. If a

farmer is a woman, we are forced to say "woman farmer" for clarity. Therefore,

our language assumes the man is the primary operator on a farm. Yet over half

of farm wqme~n interviewed in a national survey considered themselves a primary

operator on their farm and only 2% were found not to contribute to farm

related tasks beyond the household sphere. (Jones, Rosenfeld, 1981:38.)

All of the interviewers involved with the farming systems sondeo in

southwest Virginia were aware of the problems of language and at times bent

double trying to correct the language inequities. They carefully noted that

Farmer B. was male rather than assuming his masculinity; they attempted to

integrate the household into the word "farm" to avoid the production-

consumption dicotomy; they called husband and wife heads of household rather

than automatically designating this role to the man only. It was an uphill,

often confusing battle, but one which was considered important in order to

gather accurate data.

Nevertheless, the interviewers often slipped back into old habits such as

in this interview with a husband and wife who farmed 3 acres of vegetables:

"Mr. and Mrs. C. work together in growing vegetables. .. Mr. C. feels
his farming is going very well. .. Financially I believe Mr. C. is
doing very well, but he could expand his farming. .. (Harris, R.,
Inteview with L.C., Lee Co., p.2)

Somewhere in the interview Mrs. C. had become invisible, although both she and

her husband were the farmers. Again, with such erroneous reporting, the

implications for policy and programs are apparent.

The use of pronouns also enhanced the women's invisibility. When the

women responded to questions about the farm they often spoke using the third


"She said, 'They have 30+ beef cattle. .. They usually grow a lot of
potatoes. ."
(Karagianis, V., Smyth Co., Interview with L.S., p.1.)

"The wife said they changed because there was more money in dairying."
(CaldwelL, J., Smyth Co., Farmers B. and C., pA4.)

Yet when the man was speaking, the woman was often omitted as in this

interview on a farm where both the man and woman worked full-time off the farm

and both farmed the land:

The peppers were marketed at the local farmer's market. J. said, "I sold
them." However, M. (the woman) and he both sold them. J. also speaks of
"my" land, "my" cattle....
(Rojas, M., Washington Co., Farm IV, p.2.)

Because of this differential use of pronouns, it was often difficult to obtain

an accurate idea of the woman's part on the farm. In this same light, often

the land and its produce was referred to as the man's:

His father's 84 acre farm
(Smith, M., Lee Co., D.B. Farm, p.1.)

His 77 year old father's farm
(Smith, M., Lee Co., B.B. farm, p.1.)

Farmer B. butchers and also gets all the family's milk from his own
(Caldwell, J., Smyth Co., Farmers B. and C., p.2.)

His tobacco brings a good price
(Rojas, M., Washington Co., Farm IVI, p.3.)

S. bought his farm from his father
(Smith, M., Smyth Co., interview with D.S., p.1.)

Yet recent research in neighboring Virginia counties indicate that there is

considerable equity in landownership between men and women. (Kerns, 1982.)

One final note about language. The word "helps" seemed to be key in

determining the farm actors' perceptions of themselves:

1. (the woman) helps out on the farm, doing whatever is needed, including
mending fences, helIping with hay, when it's baled. ..clearing land,
piling brush, setting and grading tobacco.
(Karagianis, V., Smyth Co., Interview with L.S., p.2.)

R. works part-time as an Avon Lady. It takes two days every two weeks,
she said. The rest of the time, she helps out on the farm.
(Karagianis, V., Lee Co., visit to farm of C. and R.T., p.1.)

T. does the canning and freezing. H.C. (the man) helps with the canning
and freezing.
(Harris, R., Lee Co., "Interview with H.C.", p.2.)

In none of these examples is it totally clear whether the interviewer or

the on'e being interviewed used the word "helps," although the latter is

implied. It is clear, however, that the word is used with a traditional

division of labor. The man "helps" the woman with the household; the woman

"helps" the man with the outside farm chores.

Zeidenstein emphasizes the importance of the in-depth and open-ended

interview as a means of ending the "long silence" of rural women in order to

"expand enormously our understanding of rural life." (Zeidenstein, 1979: 312.)

Although exploratory, the sandeos in the FSR/E project partially ended this

silence by providing a voice to rural farm women in Virginia. Ending this

silence is not simply an equity issue. Rather, not to include women in

development, whether it be in domestic projects or internationally, is

economically inefficient. The economic contributions of women are simply too

great to ignore. One way to ensure their inclusion in Farming Systems Research

and Development is to make sure that they are not overlooked in the interview


References Cited

1. Caldwell, J., R. Harris, V. Karagianis, M. Rojas, and M. Smith. 1982. Data
from interviews of farm families in southwest Virginia; a project sponsored
by the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of International
Cooperation and Development.

2. Gross, S. 1982. The invisible laborers. Upper Midwest History Center
for Teachers, Minneapolis.

3. Jones, C., and R. Rosenfeld. 1981. American farm women: findings from
a national survey. National Opinion Research Center, Chicago.

4. Kalbacher, J.Z. 1982. Women farmers in America. A paper from the Economic
Development Division of the Economic Research Service, United States
Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.

5. Karagianis, V. 1982. Development of an extension model for working with
small farm families. In Women's roles in rural United States, M. Rojas (ed.)
Conference Proceedings, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia.

6. Kerns, V. 1983. The pattern of land ownership in an appalachian Virginia
county. A paper presented at the Southern Association of Agricultural
Scientists, Atlanta, Georgia.

7. Tinker, I. 1980. New technologies for food-related activities: an equity
strategy. In Women and technological change in developing countries,
Dauber, Roslyn and Cain (eds.). Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado.

8. Zeidenstein, S. (ed.) 1979. Learning about rural women. The Population
Council, New York.

Full Text
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8
REPORT xmlns http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitss xmlns:xsi http:www.w3.org2001XMLSchema-instance xsi:schemaLocation http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitssdaitssReport.xsd
INGEST IEID E6E2M5PJE_TVWVY0 INGEST_TIME 2012-03-28T16:32:42Z PACKAGE AA00008161_00001