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Women take the lead in agricultural innovation in Peru

Native potatoes are crucial for food security (© Guillermo Yupanqui)
Native potatoes are crucial for food security
© Guillermo Yupanqui

"Adding value to papitas (potatoes) gave me the opportunity to become a 'farmer'," Nelly Escurra, a campesina (peasant woman) from Peru proudly explains. "I am not the 'male community member's wife' anymore. I am a female producer that sells native potatoes to the world." Nelly was one of thousands of beneficiaries of the Papa Andina Regional Initiative in the central Andes of Peru, which promotes the development of niche markets for potatoes and their products and assists smallholder producers to respond to these emerging markets.

Making the most of potatoes

In the Andes, native potatoes are crucial for food security, both as a direct food source and as a cash crop. Native potatoes are primarily produced by smallholders who live in resource-poor communities and farm under customary laws and norms. Traditionally, women take the lead in selecting, conserving and managing seed potatoes due to their knowledge of the different varieties and their culinary, productive and commercial qualities. Even though the women take the lead in production, for men the top priority is the commercialisation of native potatoes.

For smallholder producers in general, the shift to commercialisation of native potatoes is a challenge due to a lack of key inputs such as transport, illiteracy and limited exposure to market mechanisms. Women often face additional hurdles, including access to and control over natural resources. So to engage women in the commercialisation of native potato varieties and ensure that men and women work together as equal partners, Papa Andina has been working with COGEPAN (the Management Consortium of Native Potatoes) and a local NGO (FOVIDA), with support from the International Potato Center (CIP), to foster innovation, knowledge sharing and capacity development for men and women, and implement specific actions that responded to gender challenges in the value chain.

Producers documented innovations and their achievements (© Guillermo Yupanqui)
Producers documented innovations and their achievements
© Guillermo Yupanqui

To build trust and collaboration between actors in the native potato value chain, improve the linkages of farmers with markets, and stimulate pro-poor innovation, the project functions as an 'innovator broker'. Through this process, women become active and visible community members, gaining the opportunity to represent their families in a formal setting for the first time. Farmers have also been engaged in on-farm research and learning opportunities. Even in some of the most remote areas, producers worked with interdisciplinary teams* to document innovations and their achievements, through video and photography.

Breaking down barriers

Cultural norms and exclusionary practices that prevent women from participating in community-level activities were challenged through the use of a farm family competition which encouraged families or entire communities to compete for the best results in agricultural production, soil conservation, processing and marketing. The competition required that women and young people become leaders or spokespersons about their knowledge on how to grow native potatoes.

One of the most important achievements of the project has been that some husbands are learning to give women an equal role in the household. "I support my wife in all activities in the field," explains Nilo Quispe. "She is one of the leaders at COGEPAN. She has to attend meetings and training and somebody needs to take care of the fields and the children. We share the work."

Through COGEPAN, women have also been able to access and control land, some for the first time, in order to cultivate different native varieties for international markets, for domestic industries, and for seed tubers. The women paid particular attention to the varieties they chose for international markets so that their produce fulfils certification, quality and sanitation requirements.

Accessing markets

Multi-stakeholder platforms have also been implemented to enable producers, market agents, service providers and professionals from research and development organisations to identify mutual interests, build trust and work together. After each interaction, male and female farmer representatives return to their communities to share their findings and innovative ideas. As a representative, Nelly is able to share information with seven communities in the Huancavelica Province. Adding value to native potatoes by turning them into flakes or chips is one idea that she has encouraged. FOVIDA, for example, has supported the development of 'gourmet' native potato products, including naturally red and purple coloured chips.

Women have also been able to access and control land (© Guillermo Yupanqui)
Women have also been able to access and control land
© Guillermo Yupanqui

Innovation fairs have also been created to showcase women's knowledge of native potato varieties and processing techniques for potato chips, flour, shampoo, coffee and potato starch (almidon de papa). This also allows women to interchange or buy tubers from other groups. These events have given women confidence to integrate themselves into new and extended networks, share their knowledge, and build their communication, negotiation and facilitation skills.

Papa Andina has also enabled farmers like Nelly to exchange knowledge and explore innovations with farmers from Bolivia, Ecuador and Uganda. "I can share information and seeds from native potatoes with different people from different regions," Nelly reveals. "Visitors from Peru and other countries come to visit my fields and they want to know how I cultivate the potatoes. I have more than 300 hundred varieties. I know all of them and how I can use them. I feel proud of myself because I know many things that people could learn. Now, I see myself as a contributor and entrepreneur."

* The teams were made up of researchers, practitioners and development specialists, including sociologists, economists, market specialists, nutritionists and communication specialists from FOVIDA, researchers and scientists from CIP, representatives from the local and national gastronomy sector, and researchers and specialists in participatory video from the University of Guelph in Canada.

Written by: Silvia Sarapura, WorldFish

Date published: January 2014


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