Renegotiating gender roles and cultivation practices in the Nepali mid-hills: unpacking the feminization of agriculture

  • Kaitlyn SpanglerEmail author
  • Maria Elisa Christie


The feminization of agriculture narrative has been reproduced in development literature as an oversimplified metric of empowerment through changes in women’s labor and managerial roles with little attention to individuals’ heterogeneous livelihoods. Grounded in feminist political ecology (FPE), we sought to critically understand how labor and managerial feminization interact with changing agricultural practices. Working with a local NGO as part of an international, donor-funded research-for-development project, we conducted semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions, and participant observation with over 100 farmers in Mid-Western Nepal in 2017. Household structure and headship are dynamic in the context of male out-migration, pushing women to take on new agricultural duties and increasing household labor responsibilities. In this context, decision-making processes related to agricultural management and new cultivation practices illustrate ongoing renegotiations of gender and cultivation practices within and beyond the household. We contend that the heterogeneity of household power dynamics muddies the empowering impacts of migration and emphasize the importance of community spaces as a locus of subjectivity formation and social value. We conclude that FPE can illuminate complexities of power, space, and individual responses to socio-ecological conditions that challenge the current feminization of agriculture framework.


Feminization of agriculture Migration Collective spaces Integrated pest management Feminist political ecology 



Asia Vegetable Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab


Community-based facilitator


Focus group discussion


Feminist political ecology


Gender dimensions framework


International Development Enterprises


Integrated pest management


Feed the Future Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab


Mid-Western Region of Nepal


Non-governmental organization


Nepalese Rupees


United States Agency for International Development


Village Development Committees


Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index



This research would not be possible without the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Feed the Future Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab (IPMIL) under Cooperative Agreement Number AID-OAA-L-15-00001. The opinions expressed herein belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID. We would like to acknowledge the anonymous reviewers for their suggestions. We are grateful to our field team, including our translator and dear friend, Ms. Lina Jha, and the logistical personnel at iDE Nepal, including Mr. Mukti Devkota, Mr. Lalit Sah, Ms. Roshnee Thapa, Mr. Den Lopchan, Mr. Yubraj Dhakal, and Mr. Bharat Nepal, as well as the agricultural field technician, Mr. Chokra Rai. We would like to thank Dr. Ralph Hall and Dr. Luke Juran for their advice and wisdom and Dr. George Norton for his leadership in the IPMIL. Ultimately, we owe everything to the willingness of the farmers and participants involved in this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environment and SocietyUtah State UniversityLoganUSA
  2. 2.Center for International Research, Education, and DevelopmentVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA

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