From agronomic practices to gender norms and agency in banana disease management

On the International Day of Rural Women, our researcher François Iradukunda reflects on how a new perspective on gender has changed the way he works with farmers in Burundi to reduce the spread of banana diseases.

Perspectives on gender can change over time: this is true not only of society and culture, but of researchers as well.

Throughout my professional career as an agronomist, it was not so easy for me to understand why a proven agricultural technology, once scaled out, would often fail to achieve the desired impacts on farmers’ livelihoods. Recently, I had the opportunity to reflect on how my understanding of gender and research has evolved in the context of presentations I delivered at two ISHS-ProMusa symposia as part of the 29th and 30th International Horticulture Congress (IHC) held respectively in Brisbane, Australia in August 2014 and in Istanbul, Turkey in August 2018.

These events have been a venue for me to network and interact with other scientists from different domains and with different competencies. In both meetings I shared the results of research conducted in my home country, Burundi. My presentations in the two symposia dealt with strategies to manage the two most devastating banana diseases in Burundi: Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD), a viral banana disease, and Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), a bacterial banana disease.

Although the topics I presented at the meetings were similar – strategies to reduce the spread and impact of these two banana diseases with targeted awareness raising and management practices – they had quite different perspectives on gender norms and agency in banana crop and banana diseases management. This year, I was asked by a participant how gender impacts BXW management. I wonder how I would have responded to that question in the 2014 conference. Although I am not sure that I would have been more convincing in my response, I surely know I have changed the way I think and act when it comes to gender in agriculture.