Labor, decision-making, livelihoods: Adapting to life with a toxic and invasive weed in a rural Ethiopian community

Authors: Daniel Sumner*, Virginia Tech, Maria Elisa Chrsitie, Virginia Tech, Wondimagegnehu Mersie, Virginia State University
Topics: Gender, Agricultural Geography, Development
Keywords: Ethiopia, Invasive species management, labor, livelihoods, adaptation
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 33
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Coupled with land degradation and increasing climate variability, invasive plant species are a significant threat to rural agriculture-based livelihoods in Eastern Africa. In Ethiopia, the invasive plant Parthenium hysterophorus L. is adversely affecting agricultural productivity and livestock health. Established research demonstrates how gender norms and relations mediate how individuals, households, and communities are affected by and to respond to climate shocks. However, there remains limited understanding about how gender intersect with adaptation in the context of stressors associated with the emergence of invasive species. Framed by recent research situated in the nexus of gender, rural life, and agriculture, this paper draws upon interviews with women smallholder farmers from the community of Wellinchiti in the Oromo Region of Ethiopia. Women farmers expressed specific challenges they and their families experience adapting to life with the invasive weed: 1) Additional time required to manage Parthenium disproportionately impacts women, whose overall labor burden is substantially increased and 2) Parthenium has reconfigured household livestock management, increasing women’s responsibilities in caring for cows, which are now brought in from the field to women’s space in the house-lot garden. Gendered power imbalances linked to everyday decisions compound these challenges. To fully understand the impact of Parthenium (and other invasive species), gender roles, relations, and responsibilities within the household and beyond must be accounted for.

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