What makes emergency vegetable seed and garden programs succeed or fail?

In a new guest blogging series, Peter Marks of Seed Programs International discusses his organization’s experience working through partnership to support small-scale vegetable seed projects in emergency response, development, and education. This week’s blog focuses on gender dynamics and emergency vegetable seed.

See Peter’s wider reflections on 20 years of programming here.

In the excellent article on Emergency Vegetable Seed Interventions posted here at SeedSystem.org, author Lauren Pincus states as a main point of background interest that “Home gardens can be a valuable source of income to households, but gender dynamics within households determine if women also benefit from this income.”

I agree that gender issues can have a huge impact on the success or failure of emergency response programs. We argue, as do many, that small, mixed-species home vegetable gardens grown close to home are a nutrition and income strategy especially well-suited to women’s participation. However, women across cultures and settings have varying levels of allowable freedom of movement, economic participation, or control over agricultural decision-making including use of harvests. Crisis situations such as conflict, natural disaster, and displacement create further safety issues for women who are often separated from support systems present in normal times.

In our own work at Seed Programs International, a big part of our success in reaching women comes from choosing the right field partners. We informally assess the gender balance and awareness of gender dynamics among our partner organization staff. We may at times require that women are part of our joint decision-making as we extend resources. We find this makes a difference in ensuring program outcomes. Here are some examples:

  • Partners in Marsabit, Kenya, during extreme drought, activated seed distribution and water conservation efforts within the context of existing women’s savings groups. Within a society that has a high level of gender inequality, this ensured that women held decision-making power over the use of program resources and garden harvests.
  • West African partners recognize that issues such as childhood marriage are in part driven by economic concerns, and that harmful practices like these may increase during crisis periods. For this reason, they use gardens not only as sources of emergency food and income, but also as safe spaces in which women can address human rights concerns and social power.
  • Partners in Guatemalan Mayan communities employed women as kitchen-based trainers to show how vegetables could be used to improve the nutritional value of the already most commonly-enjoyed dishes.
  • We learned from an SPI partner in Honduras that in the past, they had required men in households to contractually agree that women would be able to equitably benefit from water access resources provided

Do you agree that gender dynamics can greatly influence a home garden project’s success? Have you used any of these ideas in your own work? What are your own strategies to consider gender dynamics in seed system work, especially related to vegetable gardening?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below – I’m excited to join you in conversation!

Women beginning a garden in central Uganda (Credit: SPI).