December 17, 2014

Bearing the fruit of action: Gender-responsive participatory research and collective management of Native Fruit Trees

Narasimha Hegde, LIFE Trust Hugo A. H. Lamers, Bioversity International

“For the first time in our village, women of different ethnic and caste groups decided to form a women’s group called Matrabhoomi (Mothers’ land) and started producing kokum juice concentrate. We managed with great success, as the first batch of 350 liters was well received by shopkeepers as a natural product of high quality. Throughout the process we learned a lot about various Native Fruit Trees (NFTs) available in our village and surrounding forests, their abundance, threat status and to some extent how to manage them sustainably,” said Mrs Nagaveni, leader of the women’s group from Kalagadde-Kanchigadde village.

Kalagadde-Kanchigadde village is located in the remote forest area of the central Western Ghats, where more than 75 percent of the land is under forest cover. Farming, agricultural labouring and gathering of forest resources are the primary livelihood activities of villagers. Many marginalized socio-religious and tribal communities, including Siddis and Khare Vokkaligs, live there below poverty line.

The process

Identifying knowledge differences between men and women from different socio-religious and cultural groups, and subsequently providing exposure on value chains and product development for NFTs were critical steps that led to positive changes in livelihoods, gender equality and social inclusion, and forest genetic resource management. The research process started with participatory exercises to understand, share and learn from the men and women in the village about their knowledge of native fruit trees.

Resource Mapping consisted of villagers drawing the map of their landscape to understand the village setting, identify and locate local NFTs, their availability, usage and management. Four Cell Analysis was used to understand the diversity: degree of occurrence of NFTs as common, unique or rare in the village and surrounding forests. Fruit Calendars further helped to understand the phenology (flowering and fruiting behaviour) of specific tree species, whereas Activity Calendars revealed information on the different tasks, knowledge and skills related to the propagation, collection or cultivation, harvesting, processing, home use and sale of NFTs and their products. Women and men in separate groups made their own ‘knowledge maps’ and shared their results afterwards.

Participants create a Resource Map, showing the natural features of their landscape. Photo by Srinivas

Participants create a Resource Map, showing the natural features of their landscape. Photo by Srinivas.

Subsequently participatory methods were used to explore markets for some of the native fruit trees. A participatory theatre play entitled ‘The blue square mango’, involving researchers and actors from the community, was carried out during a village assembly to help the villagers understand the concepts and different interests of actors involved in a value chain. Community members then conducted Participatory Value Chain Mapping (PVCM) to understand the market chain and identify constraints and opportunities for selected products.

“Now that we learned about all the species that are under threat, it is our responsibility to conserve these NFTs by adopting sustainable harvest and usage practices and by cultivating them.”
– Parvati, member of Siddi community

Participatory Rapid Market Appraisal (PRMA) was done to collect market information from traders or retailers and to provide exposure to female participants regarding quality requirements, value addition, packaging and marketing aspects of selected NFTs. Finally, the women developed a second value chain map to populate it with the new knowledge they had gained through the PRMA.

Group learning and collective management

Women of all ages and diverse socio-cultural groups felt that their knowledge about NFTs and markets for their products had increased throughout the research process. Women shared specific knowledge about NFT recipes, medicinal uses, nutritional values and processing techniques, which the men’s groups did not have, and the men’s groups appreciated women for having expertise in these areas. Several of those women spoke for the first time in front of a mixed-gender group, especially the illiterate women who constituted the majority of the female participants. Collective learning related to NFT diversity and processing activities increased the local knowledge, built social capital, and boosted women’s confidence.

According to Parvati, a woman from the Siddi community, “now that we learned about all the species that are under threat, it is our responsibility to conserve these NFTs by adopting sustainable harvest and usage practices and by cultivating them.”

The research process included about 10 days of activities spread out over 12 months.  PVCM and PRMA activities encouraged local women to start preparation of various products from  the Garcinia species, among other NFTs. 

Ms. Yenki peeling fruit as part of the participatory program. Photo by Ewa Hermanowicz

Ms. Yenki peeling fruit as part of the participatory program. Photo by Ewa Hermanowicz.

“In our village, people from different ages, genders, castes and wealth classes have gathered to discuss issues related to NFTs; we will supply the raw fruits to the recently formed women’s group as we know how to climb the tree and harvest its fruit, and other members will do the processing, value addition and marketing”, says Mrs Yenki, also from the Siddi community.

The remoteness of the villages, illiteracy, difficult socio-economic conditions, lack of skills and knowledge in processing, packaging, labeling and market access were some of the critical challenges in promoting the conservation and use of NFTs. Yet, a clear goal, the strategy of engaging the diversity of participants in the research process and having them come together to share knowledge, their own persistence to collaborate and the experience of the facilitators working with local communities for the past twenty years contributed to the success of the project. These activities have now been replicated in two other villages, with hopefully many more to come. Apart from value addition and marketing, the villagers have started to think of implementing more sustainable harvesting measures for the threatened species. Domestication and cultivation of NFTs have also begun in the village.

Photo by Ewa Hermanowicz
Hugo Lamers is an associate scientist on socio-economic and marketing based in New Delhi, India. Since May 2012 he has been part of the markets research team in value chain research, utilizing his expertise and interest in participatory methods and tools for value chain development and conservation.
Marlène Elias is a Gender Specialist in Bioversity International’s regional office for Asia, Pacific and Oceania. She conducts research on gender issues related to forest genetic resource use and management, and supports other Bioversity International scientists and partners conducting participatory, gender-responsive research that will deliver positive and equitable benefits to rural women and men.
Narasimha Hegde works for Life Trust in the tropical forests of the Central Western Ghats region, India. He is involved in conservation and livelihood-related issues regarding non-timber forest products, by combining landscape/ecosystem knowledge and participatory approaches with local communities. He also conducts action research on participatory approaches for ecological restoration of tropical fresh water swamps. Contact:
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1 Comment

  • Nandan
    January 4, 2015 at 12:13am

    Nice Story