Opening Cracks for the Transgression of Social Boundaries: An Evaluation of the Gender Impacts of Farmer Research Teams in Honduras

Sally Humphries



University of Guelph

Sally is a Professor Emerita at the University of Guelph, and has expertise in Central America agriculture, Central America environmental degradation and Deforestation in Central America


Key Takeaways

    How To Apply Insights

    • The local NGO utilizing the CIAL approach must embrace agricultural research and have a strong interest in supporting local people in acquiring research skills. This requires living close to the sites of local research, not in towns or cities.
    • A reliable source of funds to support the local NGO over a number of years.
    • Collaboration between the formal scientific sector and the CIALs, mediated by the local NGO, has been very important in the development of new seeds (through participatory plant breeding) and other agricultural technology that meet the food security needs of marginalised rural people.
    • Constant evaluation of the program.
    • CIALs can be found in various countries in Latin America. They have been successful where there has been continous support through a local NGO. When the concept was originally developed at the Internatinal Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), it was assumed that once farmers knew how to run their own trials, they would get on with research on their own. Having local support and national support through the formal research sector, as well as policies in place to allow for the sale of farmer-bred seed, etc. are all required to make the CIALs successful.

    Let your research make a social impact

    Findings & Research Conclusions

    The research sought to evaluate the impact of local agricultural research teams in Honduras. These are known by the Spanish acronym CIALs. Since funded projects typically attract more powerful community members, while excluding the most marginalised, we were anxious to assess how the impacts of the CIALs were distributed. This research focuses on the gender impacts.

    While at the outset, most CIALs were made up mainly of men, over time they became increasingly mixed gender research teams as both men and women sought to find local solutions to food insecurity, They also became vehicles for the empowerment of marginalised members of rural communities as their members developed research skills and new knowledge. This was particularly true of women who hitherto rarely voiced opinions on agricultural matters which were considered the domain of men. Indeed, the gender division of labour in rural Honduras generally excludes women from most cropping activities except at key times of the year when they work under the command of men. Their involvement in the CIALs changed this. Armed with an array of new ideas, language, and skills, women CIAL members developed confidence in themselves, not only in agriculture but also in their daily lives.

    Since the new skills typically led to improved household wellbeing, men were willing to extend greater liberty to their wives than was customary because they now had more confidence in their decisions. The study showed that CIAL women members were more likely than -women non-members to make certain household and farming decisions, as well as having greater freedom to make visits outside the home, join other groups, etc. Thus while the CIAL project was not developed as a ‘gender project’ per se, it had the effect of empowering women.

    Research's methodology

    The research methodology involved quantitative and qualitative research methods, ethnographic fieldwork, project/life histories, follow-up interviews with husbands. More than 300 randomly selected participants/non-participants were involved from 10 communities that had been part of the project for more than 5 years. While the quantitative data showed that change had taken place, the qualitative interviews helped to explain how and why it had occurred.


    It takes a long time. This project began as a pilot in 1993. It was assessed in 2004. It is still operational with more than 240 research teams/women’s savings groups spread across Honduras. It requires a dedicated team of agricultural technicians to accompany the farmers and the funding to do this. It is not a quick ‘one-off” but a means to build agricultural research capacity amongst marginalized groups.

    Farmer research teams as ‘heterotopic spaces’ (Foucault, 1986) of learning‘Heterotopias’ are disruptive spaces where new patterns can be learned and old ones can be broken. Even though agriculture was a recognised male activity, agricultural research was a new activity that was not clearly gendered. Everyone in the CIALs learned about randomised trials along with the scientific language that accompanied these. Out of this came new forms of collaboration between men and women where traditional gender scripts could more easily be transgressed.
    New skills and improved livelihoodsEven though some men objected to their wives spending more time out of the home, these objections were generally outweighed by the financial benefits from their wives’ skills and willingness to take on some family agricultural activities.

    Reference this research

    Sally Humphries, Lauren Classen, José Jiménez, Fredy Sierra, Omar Gallardo & Marvin Gómez (2012) Opening Cracks for the Transgression of Social Boundaries: An Evaluation of the Gender Impacts of Farmer Research Teams in Honduras, World Development, 40:10, 2078-2095.

    Share these insights



    Have a Question?

    This paper is not available open access