Do Women Think Differently about GM Crops?

A Colombian woman picking cotton

Source: © 2008 CONALGODON

Evidence tells us that women farm differently from men. Researchers have long known that women and men often prefer to grow different conventional crops. Now a new discussion paper from IFPRI suggests that women farmers’ attitudes toward genetically modified (GM) crops also differ from men’s.

Smallholder farmers in developing countries grow genetically modified crops for a variety of reasons, ranging from higher yields to decreased labor costs. A growing body of research is assessing the impacts of GM crops on these farmers, but Patricia Zambrano, an IFPRI senior research analyst, noticed that this research was consistently overlooking one issue.

“With only a few exceptions, studies that evaluate the impact of transgenic crops have hardly touched on gender considerations in their work,” she says.

To lay the groundwork for an investigation of the role that gender plays in the adoption of GM crops, Zambrano and colleagues at Universidad de Los Andes and the Colombian Cotton Confederation conducted an exploratory survey of Colombian farmers—both men and women—who have adopted GM cotton.

“It appears that GM cotton is seen as advantageous by women for reasons that differ from those cited by men,” Zambrano says. “It seems to save women farmers money in some critical activities that would otherwise require them to hire and supervise men—for example, in the application of insecticides and other chemicals.”

The adoption of these crops also appears to free women farmers from laborious chores such as manual weeding. “It can free up their time so they can devote their energy to other productive tasks,” Zambrano says.

Because of their limited free time, women farmers reported that they have less opportunity than men to obtain information about GM crops despite the fact that they are more willing than men to adjust their farming practices to best take advantage of this technology.

Zambrano and other IFPRI colleagues are already working on further research that will provide more quantifiable findings. In addition to looking at Colombia, they will conduct studies in Burkina Faso, the Philippines, and South Africa, among other countries. “We need to identify and qualify gender differences in the adoption and use of GM crops,” she says. “Tailoring products and programs that take into account these differences will increase the benefits that these technologies have for all household members and the overall economy.”

– Susan Buzzelli

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