Using participatory mapping with a gender lens to understand how landscapes are used for nutrition

Many rural people derive their sustenance from sources embedded in their landscape – the cropland, pasture, trees, forests and rivers of their surroundings. The diversity of food in people's diets can be closely linked to how people manage the landscape. Yet there are often significant differences in how men and women interact with the landscape. Understanding differences between women and men's use of the landscape and their spatial and temporal knowledge provides important insights for promoting food and nutrition security. This month, Natalia Estrada-Carmona, Post-Doctoral Fellow at Bioversity International, shares a participatory mapping method she has used in her research to engage women and men in discussions on how gender plays a role in landscape management, knowledge, and nutrition.

 

Landscapes are used and perceived differently by women and men, but traditional survey-based research methods are not necessarily the best tools for capturing these perceptions. To understand spatial gender-based differences, we used a participatory mapping tool and plot sampling as part of Bioversity International’s research on agricultural biodiversity and ecosystem services. This research is embedded in the CGIAR Research Programs Aquatic Agriculture Systems and Agriculture for Nutrition and Health in a pilot Nutrition-Sensitive Landscape in Barotse, Zambia.

Our exercise is one component of the Nutrition-Sensitive Landscape research with the aim of understanding how diet and agricultural diversification can happen in an environmental, social and economically sustainable way with a gender perspective. The Barotse region is a rural, poor and under-developed region in South–West Zambia subject to annual floods and droughts that compromise food production and accrue hunger periods.

For the participatory mapping activity, we used Landsat images available free here with a 28.5 m resolution! We used a Landsat image taken on June 2014 and printed a map for each one of the three communities we worked with last summer: Lealui, Mapungu and Nalitoya. The printed maps have the community in the center, a scale of 1:70,000km and a total size of 42” by 42”. We overlaid these maps with transparencies to allow people to draw familiar features on the maps with markers (Picture 1).

We conducted the participatory mapping activity with women and men separately. First, we needed to invest time helping people understand how the map represents their landscape. We encouraged women and men to identify familiar features such as the Zambezi River, ponds, roads, villages and asked them to draw and label each feature on the transparencies. We verified this information by asking questions like, how much time does it take you to walk from the village to a particular pond? We would then translate time into distance using participants’ own conversion (approximately 1 hour to walk 4-5 km). This information helped us to reinforce the concept of scale and direction on the map among participants.

Picture 1. Participatory mapping activity with community leaders from Nalitoya, Zambia. Photo by Trinidad del Rio

Picture 1. Participatory mapping activity with community leaders from Nalitoya, Zambia. Photo by Trinidad del Rio

Once everyone was oriented and expressed understanding of the map, we asked people to draw and identify the areas where women and men go to tend crops, fish, and graze cattle. We also discussed how they decide which crops are planted across the landscape. After the activity was done, we digitized the information drawn by women and men to create a digitally scaled and geo-referenced map (Map 1).

Map 1. Areas used for cropping, fishing and grazing activities indicated by women (upper) and men (bottom) in three communities of the Aquatic Agricultural Systems – Nutrition Sensitive Landscapes communities in Barotse-Zambia.

Map 1. Areas used for cropping, fishing and grazing activities indicated by women (upper) and men (bottom) in three communities of the Aquatic Agricultural Systems – Nutrition Sensitive Landscapes communities in Barotse-Zambia.

Farmers primarily use local knowledge to decide which crops are planted across the landscape. They have clearly differentiated land types by elevation, soil type (e.g. sandy or organic matter content), and location (e.g. close or far to water) (Figure 1). To better understand the surrounding landscape and land types we complemented the participatory mapping with a plot sampling in a 6 km radius around each of the three communities.

Figure 1. Land types identified with the three communities (Lealui, Mapungu and Nalitoya in Barotse, Zambia) and with the plot sampling. Brown labels indicates land types used for agriculture activities. Green labels indicates land types dominated by natural vegetation important for regulating and provision ecosystem services. The image indicate differences during the dry and wet season, where large area for agriculture gets flooded.

Figure 1. Land types identified with the three communities (Lealui, Mapungu and Nalitoya in Barotse, Zambia) and with the plot sampling. Brown labels indicates land types used for agriculture activities. Green labels indicates land types dominated by natural vegetation important for regulating and provision ecosystem services. The image indicate differences during the dry and wet season, where large area for agriculture gets flooded.

Results indicate clear differences between genders, particularly for fishing activities. Women tend to go to shallow ponds and to the canal to fish, whereas men tend to travel further and go to deeper waters. These two ecosystems yield different fish: small fish in the canals and ponds, and typically larger fish in the deeper waters. Since access to fish is different for men and women, so is access to the fish market, where fish size determines price and use. For example, small fish usually brought by the women is consumed at home and has been shown in Bangladesh and elsewhere to be an essential nutrient-rich component of the family diet, especially for women and children.

Land for agriculture varies by season (Figure 1). Plots for agriculture are usually shared at the household level between husband and wife and are not clustered around the family house. Plots tend to be spread and sometimes far away, even more than 10 km from the family house. However, knowledge and information about crops often differs between women and men. Women listed more crops and land types planted during the dry and wet season than men, and crops mentioned by women are more for home consumption and small trade crops.

The participatory mapping activity, local knowledge on land types and field work, provided important insights on choosing adapted crops and planting conditions to promote agricultural and diet diversification at different times of the year. For example, Sitapa land type (lagoons gardens) have the highest organic matter and crop variety. However, they also have the highest flooding risk.

In other cases, some land types only exist in a community due to its location. For example, in Lealui, the Matema land type (upland gardens on Kalahari sands planted primarily with cassava) does not exist since the community is located in the center of the plain, far from the upland. Likewise, the Sishanjo land type (drained seepage gardens), high in organic matter, is only present in Nalitoya, where agricultural activities are highly dependent on canal clearing.

Some land types, like Malako (village gardens), are used differently by men and women and across communities. For example, women in Mapungu plant more crops in the Malako land type than men, but men in Lealui are the ones who plant more crops in this land type. Consequently, agricultural diversification should not be based on a limited set of recommendations for the Barotse landscape; instead it should be planned at land-type level or be context-specific.

Using real, photo or satellite images is exciting for participants because they offer a “bird’s eye view” of the landscape to people, many of whom have never seen their geography represented in such a way. We chose this method because it facilitates thinking at landscape-scale rather than at farm-scale. This perspective provides the basis to discuss shared natural resources and potential changes due to different farming or fishing practices. Though the Landsat images are coarse for some key features (e.g. small canals), images from other sources such as Google Earth with much higher resolution (e.g.<1 m) may be used as well. The methodology is promising, inexpensive, and easy for quick information recollection and places identification, decision making and discussion into the very people that can benefit the most.

The quality of the data collected does require that researchers spend time with communities to ensure they are familiar with the map, its scale, and direction. Since participatory mapping collects information from shared knowledge, facilitators must be careful with sensitive questions and conscious of engaging all participants.

In summary, geography and gender matter to agricultural and diet diversification for improving nutrition and managing risk especially in the hungry season. Our methodology provided evidence on local communities’ knowledge of their landscapes and on women and men’s usage of the landscape and land types. This information will be strategic to develop proper strategies with the communities to diversify food production for better nutrition and livelihood improvement. For example, decisions on which seeds to use and crops to plant, will be highly dependent on location or land type and planning at this unit will not only be potentially more successful but will be more widely accepted since is based on shared and local knowledge.

 

This post is part of a blog, the Gender-Nutrition Idea Exchange, maintained by the CRP on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. To add your comments below, please register with Disqus or log-in using your Facebook, Twitter, or Google accounts. You must be signed-in or registered in order to leave a comment.

Speak Your Mind

*

*