The hoe (and others) must go!


Jemimah Njuki

For the last couple of weeks, I have been trying to get motivation for doing the next blog post and in the midst of working on project approval documents, attending numerous school functions in the last days of the school year, and organising for summer vacations, I just didn’t have the energy and motivation! That is until tonight!

So what happened tonight?

I found myself being Mistress of Ceremonies (for the purpose of being gender sensitive here!) in a cocktail party to launch a Regional Sharefair to show case existing technologies and innovations that are responsive to the needs and priorities of women smallholder farmers. The Sharefair is organised jointly by UN Women, FAO, IFAD, WFP and the Regional Gender and Livelihoods Network of which I am a member. The share fair which runs from the 15-17th of October to celebrate the International Rural Women’s Day and the World Food Day aims at bringing together rural women farmers, private sector companies, research organizations and individuals that have innovative technologies that have potential to reduce women’s drudgery, increase productivity, reduce post harvest losses and improve food and nutrition security.

And there are many events planned around this—a young scientists’ innovation award for women responsive technologies and for technologies suitable for people with disabilities, a policy dialogue to discuss what policy mechanisms are required and how to put existing ones into practice, awards for innovations that best address rural women’s needs and constraints and many more.

For the first time in a long time, I did not have to explain why this is important, why we have to focus and invest on women, why it is important for women themselves, for their families, communities and countries that women are empowered. The people standing around the room, by the fact that they had responded to this event, knew why addressing gender in agriculture is important. We were on the same page. I did not have to take a deep breath, sigh and start off with “You, know, women are important in agriculture…you know… because…and the evidence shows….”

I still did explain it anyway, being the scientist that I am, I could not resist the temptation to give some figures on the productivity gains from reducing gender based constraints in agriculture-from access to technologies, information, finance, markets to inequitable gender policies and structures and gender norms that constrain women from realising their full potential .

But I digress!

In this conversation, a big focus was on technologies and other innovations that exist and how we can share information more broadly and bring these innovations to a scale that makes a difference in the region.

And so we had a discussion too on what technologies must go! And what a good slogan that made for the meeting! The technologies that have been used for years and years, technologies that smallholder farmers and women farmers are using because they have no alternatives, technologies that bring low returns on rural people’s labour, technologies that make agriculture unattractive to young people!

And the first one on this list was the hoe. My mother, and her mother and her grandmother did the hoe; and her mother and grandmothers before that did the hoe! The hand hoe is a technology from BC—and I mean Before Christ! More than 2000 years ago, the hoe was the preferred agricultural tool. 2000 years later, it is still the most common tool that you find in smallholder farms.

So why the hoe? Many reasons: It is backbreaking to use the hoe. It is a rudimentary technology. It reduces the returns to labour for men and for women; it limits the amount of land that can be used even in areas of abundant land availability. And I know there are a lot of arguments there that technology is not the only constraint to agricultural production, but it is one of the major ones!

It is the International Year of Family Farming, and we have to strive to make family farming productive, profitable and sustainable.

In a side conversation with a group of women, we started listing what other technologies that we thought have to go! Anyway, we got two more, but I am sure you have more.

  • the kerosene fueled lamp replaced with solar lanterns
  • the water barrel that goes on women’s heads and back replaced with wello water wheel that can roll, be pulled or pushed.

What technologies do you think have had their run? And what should they be replaced with?

And how can we incentivise a “silicon valley” or an “agricultural valley” for agriculture technologies?

Your ideas on this on the next blog post!

And am sure rural women themselves have pretty good ideas about some technologies and innovations that would make their work easier and more productive.


One thought on “The hoe (and others) must go!

  1. I couldn’t agree more, Jemimah. It is difficult to convince some male development scientists that lifting the drudgery lifts productivity and well-being.

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