by Martha Vanegas
Some gender insights
After almost two years of field work, we are happy to announce that the data collection phase of the social component of the Attaining Sustainable Services from Ecosystems through Trade-off Scenarios (ASSETS) project is finished, thanks to the effort of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT – Colombia and Peru), University of Southampton (UK), Conservation International (USA, Colombia) and the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (IIAP-Peru).
Our field teams and local coordinators in the Colombian and Peruvian Amazon played a key role for the successful finalization of our activities. The project ‘Managing ecosystem services for food security and the nutritional health of the rural poor at the forest-agricultural interface’, also called ASSETS, aims at documenting the relations between ecosystem services, food security and the nutritional health of local communities living in the forest-agriculture interface.
“The recent field experience has been very important because it has generated many changes in my professional development and teamwork skills. I found the tools for data collection fascinating due to their novelty and easy way of dealing with complex topics.
Most of the participants of the various focus groups held expressed their satisfaction with proposed activities. In many cases, once the activity was over, participants continued with the discussion of some important issues that were raised during the focus groups, even talking about potential solutions to tackle the problem in the community.”
Field team member, IIAP
Extensive data collection
We conducted 18 participatory rural appraisal (PRA) exercises with a total of 378 focus groups. The main topics discussed during the focus groups were livelihoods, land use, food security, wellbeing, natural resource management, coping strategies to deal with food insecurity and ecosystem services.
We also conducted 793 household surveys – 335 in Colombia and 458 in Peru – in order to deepen the knowledge on the topic and gain additional insights on the socioeconomic conditions of the families and their use of natural resources. The surveys were conducted in both rainy and dry seasons to account for the effects of seasonality. Finally, we carried out 145 household food diaries to understand food intake and food sources. This massive field work took place in 11 communities in the Colombian Amazon (La Pedrera district) and 9 communities in the Peruvian Amazon (Ucayali region).
One of the aspects addressed with the PRAs and household surveys was to understand the gender aspects related to livelihoods and ecosystem services. To illustrate these, let’s take a look into the preliminary findings of the project in both study sites.
378 – Focus groups
793 – Household surveys
145 – Food diaries
Ecosystem services and gender among indigenous communities in La Pedrera
In La Pedrera, Colombia, when looking at the data it is clear that all the communities greatly depend on ecosystem services to satisfy their basic needs. Although all ecosystem services are important for the local families, men and women seem to value them differently and this is related to local gender roles. In this way, women tend to give a higher value to the agricultural land (chagra) as they are responsible for farming; while men provide a higher value to the timber from the forest, as they are responsible for building the houses (maloka).
Men and women listed different criteria to explain the importance ecosystem services have for their wellbeing. For instance, they emphasized the role ecosystem services play as source of income, for cultural identity, for food and health, among others. Women, who are responsible for preparing the meals at home, mentioned more values related to securing a healthy diet for their families. Men, who are responsible for fishing and hunting, highlighted the importance of the availability of bush meat and fish throughout the year, as these resources are perceived to be decreasing in the region.
There are two different types of restrictions regarding the access to ecosystem services. On one hand, the communities have designed an environmental management plan to regulate the use and access to natural resources. These regulations are not gender differentiated, and aim at protecting the natural resources for present and future generations. On the other hand, there are some cultural restrictions, which are gender differentiated. For example, some of these restrictions prevent women in pregnancy or during their menstruation to visit some sacred areas such the salados (sacred places where men go hunting) for collecting wild fruits, firewood, seeds, or other natural resources. According to the indigenous communities, these cultural restrictions are intended to protect them from the spirits of the forest, as well as from the possibility to have unborn children.
Livelihoods and gender in Ucayali
In Ucayali, Peru, where livelihoods mainly depend on commercial crop and livestock farming, the preliminary results of the study clearly showed distinct gender roles. Commercial cocoa and palm oil farming were mentioned as important livelihood strategies in five of the communities visited. Although most of the communities that took part in the study explained that the maintenance of cocoa plantations is the responsibility of all the members of the household, after taking a closer look into the data men appear to be involved in all the activities related to cocoa production, while women only participate in the harvesting phase. Local families that have palm oil plantations tend to give more responsibility to men for harvesting the fruits, arguing that men are stronger which makes it easier for them to harvest the products. However, both men and women from landless families work as laborers in the palm oil plantations of their neighbors.
In order to understand the division of gender roles for the sale of livestock products it is necessary to take into consideration the socioeconomic conditions of the families. For instance, men are responsible for selling the milk in the households that belong to the higher socioeconomic group; whereas in lower socioeconomic groups women are in charge of this activity.
Temporal migration was mentioned in five communities as an important livelihood strategy for earning an extra income, including the two indigenous communities that were surveyed. During the rainy season many farming fields are flooded, and/or the access to them is very limited and perceived as dangerous by the local families. Therefore, during this season, some people look for work opportunities outside their community. From our preliminary results, it was clear that men tend to temporally migrate more frequently than women. Regarding youth (men and women alike), in non-indigenous communities migration is mainly for educational purposes, although some also migrate looking for job opportunities.
These preliminary results are only an appetizer of what is coming… because now it is time for the ASSETS team to analyze this interesting amount of data collected.
ASSETS is part of the ESPA initiative funded by DFID, NERC and ESRC from the UK.