Gender Dynamics in Dairy Value Chains in Nicaragua. Current Practices, Changes and Challenges.

Date: 17 December 2015

Venue: UAntwerp - Stadscampus - Hof van Liere - F. de Tassiszaal - Prinsstraat 13 - 1st floor - 2000 Antwerp

Time: 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

PhD candidate: Selmira Flores

Principal investigator: Prof Johan Bastiaensen

Short description: PhD defence Selmira Flores - Institute of Development Policy and Management (IOB)


The current development of the Nicaraguan cattle sector has presented an increasing level of dynamism in the national economy; after coffee, cattle products (beef meat, milk and white cheese) occupy second place in exports. However, dairy value chains are highly male-dominated, neglecting women’s presence, knowledge, experience and contribution to dairy production even though it is substantial in many cases. 

This research focused on understanding how gender affects and is affected by ideas and practices in dairy value chains in Nicaragua. How does gender materialize itself in production, including the processing node of the dairy chains? What gender rules between women and men tend to be modified through their interaction, creating space for changes? And what constraints and opportunities emerge from that actor interaction in the production and processing nodes of the dairy chains?

Gender relations and livestock development is expressed as a dialectical relation of change and continuity. Despite key technological innovations, changes in the market, the development of value chains and an explosion of women in politics and economic life as a result of global and national processes, gender norms in the cattle industry are seen as static. During all moments of their social interaction, women and men as milk producers or processors in their farm-household or in milk cooperatives become agents informed by both inherited and newly emerging gendered cognitive patterns.

I demonstrate that the continuity and change of gender relations is expressed in women’s struggles to overcome their poverty and persistent social inequality, including gender, which takes new political positions and gradually changes in everyday practices. Thus, gender materializes in a complex combination of viewpoints about the ideas, tasks and roles of women and men in livestock and milk production re-enacted by women and men engaged in cattle farming, through which gender conflict and collaboration take place.

Gender relations are materialized in a symbiosis of farm-household or household micro-enterprise relationships of collective family work rather than the responsibility of an isolated male individual. Women’s differentiated presence and ambiguous presence-absence relation is a key point to include in value chain governance. Thus their participation needs to be codified as part of the information flow in that governance.

The value chains approach needs to transcend the individualist dimension of male-centred activity in which the man is seen as isolated or self-acting. A new approach by other dairy chain actors (middle and large dairy enterprises), or by support and regulatory entities (gendered-engaged) will reinforce the collective work dimension. This could have its place as new business indicators corresponding to corporate social responsibility or could be included as additional ethical issues to measure the success of the business strategy.

It could also be incorporated as part of an upgrading process for equitable dairy value chains. Recognizing social relations within families as a mechanism allows emphasizing the pursuit of equity within family businesses and in their relationship with others as well. It involves more accurately evaluating the real cost of milk production or dairy processing and increasing market knowledge, productivity and the bargaining capability of women and men in farm-households, household micro-enterprises and dairy cooperatives.

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