Kansas State University


Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification

5 Ways Women Make the World Go ‘Round


To mark International Women’s Day we have compiled just five of the ways that women in agriculture contribute to the overall success and resilience of society.

1. Providing nutrition

Women provide nutrition in many ways. Two main ways they contribute are through agriculture production and making food choices for their children.

SIIL’s subaward in Senegal works to improve nutritional and socioeconomic status of women and children. 

Women commonly use household income differently than men, and are more likely to pay for good nutrition and health care.


2. Promoting child development

Women use most of their income to contribute to children’s education, diet, and healthcare.


Along with agricultural work, women in developing countries are also in charge of maintaining the household.

When household and agricultural work are taken into account, women work longer hours than men, 50 minutes more a day in developing countries (UNStats).


3. Contributing to agricultural production

Agricultural labor generates income for households and can be increased by sustainable intensification.

Women make up about 43% of agricultural workforce in developing countries (UNWomen).

The WAgN Cambodia project aims to empower women and improve nutrition by promoting women’s participation in sustainable intensification practices for horticultural crops and rice.

If women had the same access to resources as men, yield on their respective farms could increase by 20 or 30% (UNWomen).

To see more specific ways women farmers are being helped by SIIL check out this post. 

4. Delivering health care and providing for household health

Women primarily make decisions about health care and often provide health care for children and members of households.

Improving human health remains a key pillar in the SIIL Polder Project. The subaward provides training and conducts focus groups to emphasize nutrition and health. 

5. Fostering community resilience

The economic, agricultural, health care, and nutrition impacts that women provide directly affect their surrounding communities.

SIIL supports the training and education of female students in Senegal.


Women care about different issues than men and care differently about some of the same issues. Engagement of women at multiple levels (i.e. household, farm, education, industry, and policy level, etc.) can increase our understanding of the issues surrounding development. The Feed the Future Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification integrates gender in each of its projects and provides continual capacity building for women and men in each focus country.


What are other ways women make the world go ‘round? Comment below!

Collaborate, Learn, Adapt: 2017 SIIL Annual Meeting

Thirty-six researchers and collaborators from 10 countries, and 12 states within the U.S. gathered to learn about the annual progress and discuss future opportunities for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL). The theme for the meeting held in Manhattan, KS, was: Collaborate, Learn, Adapt.



Participants started the meeting with a knowledge sharing activity. Scientists from each project shared their progress and future plans via poster and small group discussion. Each table formulated questions and comments regarding their work. This was a great opportunity to foster collaboration between researchers of different expertise. Nutritionists, gender specialists, and farming systems experts were able to offer input and guidance on how to best incorporate these disciplines into their work. Each project was able to consider their work from varying viewpoints, ensuring that each domain of sustainable intensification (SI) was being considered and implemented.


Attendees shared how each sub-award is holistically evaluating SI in their research across five domains: productivity, environment, economic, human condition, and social. This knowledge sharing activity culminated with a training on the sustainable intensification assessment framework and how to assess critical trade-offs across these multidisciplinary domains.

Prior to the annual meeting, capacity building sessions were offered to SIIL regional coordinators and graduate students at Kansas State regarding scientific writing, leadership, soil health, communication, and geospatial data collection tools. The capacity building sessions offered a great chance to learn and refine skills.


After learning about the SI assessment framework, participants adapted similar methods to operationalize these indicators into their projects. Use of the sustainable intensification assessment framework will provide consistency across the lab and a multidisciplinary understanding of SI from country to country.

Special appearances were made by several distinguished figures. Dr. April Mason, Provost and Senior Vice President of Kansas State University, came to share Kansas State University’s commitment to international research. “It is great that you’re doing such important work while you’re engaging junior faculty, senior faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students in that work”

Dr. John Floros, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Director of K-State Research and Extension, spoke about the Global Food Systems Initiative at Kansas State University and its relation to SIIL. He continued by talking about the rich history of interdisciplinary work at Kansas State through K-State Research and Extension. Finally, he addressed the group with an encouraging message regarding their work and the outputs of their projects, “I hope you have the ability and energy to really produce some solutions as we move this project forward because if we don’t succeed we’re all going to lose. If we do succeed, we’re all going to win.”

It was very fortuitous that Dr. Achim Dobermann, Director of Rothamsted Research, was at Kansas State University for the Chuck and Sue Rice International Agronomy Lecture series. He presented the team with results from long-term research related to sustainable intensification.


SIIL Coordinator Builds Expertise at Regional Training

Participants in the USAID Global Environmental Management Support Project Training

The USAID Mission in Tanzania sponsored and hosted a five day (6th to 10th of February 2017) training on environmental sensitivity in Morogoro, Tanzania. USAID Mission staff, USAID implementing partners, university representatives, and government officials attended the training. The USAID Global Environmental Management Support Project (GEMS) provided technical and logistic support on environmental safety training, planning, and delivery.

The goal of the training was to strengthen environmentally sound design and management. Participants developed skills in integrating environmental considerations into overall projects through lectures and demonstrations.

Jovin Lwehabura, regional coordinator for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL) for the East Africa, was one of the participants attending the training. This training was beneficial for the SIIL’s focus country subaward in Tanzania and the other SIIL subawards across the globe.

Environmental effects are consistently reviewed in the development of sustainably intensified systems, and thus they remain a key consideration in SIIL activities. Additionally, the SIIL maintains a commitment to capacity building in all focus countries.

Animal Traction is an Appropriate Technology for Cropping System Mechanization in Burkina Faso

Figure 1. Administrative region map of Burkina Faso. The Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium zone of influence is the highlighted Hauts-Bassins region

Ninety-two percent of the population of Burkina Faso is involved in agricultural pursuits (Beal et al., 2015).  Agricultural production is labor intensive for smallholder farmers. Small landholders typically work less than 3.5 hectares, while mid-size farms are about 7 hectares and large farms are typically 10 hectares or larger. The rural population relies on subsistence farming, and nearly the entire rural population lives in poverty. Forty-five percent of the farms have an income of less than $1 per day.  The Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium (ASMC) has partnered with the Polytechnic University of Bobo-Dioulasso to improve management practices and technologies for maize cultivation in the Hauts-Bassins region of Burkina Faso. The main cash crops in this region are maize, cotton, soybeans, peanuts and sesame.  The mechanization practices developed for maize will be applicable and transferable to these other cash crops. These ASMC efforts will provide the smallholder farmers with improved agricultural techniques and technologies that will sustainably increase agricultural production, reduce labor and drudgery, increase socio-economic status, and improve the overall quality of life.

Transition to improved mechanization technologies in Burkina Faso

Agricultural mechanization remains extremely low in Burkina Faso.
Approximately 70 percent of the farmers do all their field work by hand. Twenty-nine percent of the farmers use animal power and are considered to be privileged farmers by having oxen as a power source. Only about 1 percent of farmers use mechanized power units, and in many cases, they are used solely for plowing while the other labor-intensive work of seeding, weeding, crop care and harvest is being done by hand.  In this situation, advancing animal power is seen as the most appropriate technology for cropping system intensification of smallholder farms in Burkina Faso.


Figure 2. Low-stress training techniques will make the animals more productive and able to do a better job of planting and weeding.

In the development of U.S. agriculture, mechanization and technological change progressed in the context of scarce labor and plentiful land (Cochrane, 1993). The transition from animal power to agricultural machinery allowed producers to improve the timeliness of field operations and increase the area of land under agricultural production. Investments in farm machinery steadily increased as the yields and profitability of farming increased due to these new mechanized technologies. The new machines allowed farmers to save time and labor, which allowed them to produce a greater volume of crops on a larger area of land. The labor-saving machines that were developed as U.S. farms grew in size, “were typically built by local blacksmiths who lived among farm people, understood their needs, repaired their hand tools, and loved to tinker with tools, equipment, and machines,” (Cochrane, 1993).  The conditions that supported the transition from animal power to engine power in the U.S. do not currently exist in Burkina Faso.  Labor is adequate currently but becoming scarce as more people migrate to urban areas and as more children are attending school. Farmland for expansion is rare because land is a valuable family asset that Burkinabe farmers are reluctant to sell.

Animal traction as an appropriate technology

The availability of donkeys and cattle, small and constrained land base, low farm income and the great expense of modern power units are among the reasons why animal traction is the most appropriate technology for the majority of farmers in Burkina Faso. Very few farmers can use wheeled tractors profitably. An analysis of engine power versus animal power is not simply an economic question when assessing appropriate technologies.  Traditional machinery economics typically relies on partial budgeting techniques bounded by ownership and operating costs and most often fails to capture many ancillary benefits and risk mitigation factors associated with animal power. Animal power is appropriate because:

  • The expense of modern machinery is a barrier for subsistence farmers. Cattle (9 million head) are plentiful (Beal et al., 2015), readily available, and they reproduce so oxen can be replaced with little capital outlay.
  • Machines depreciate in value as they age. Oxen appreciate in value as they grow and mature so farmers can sell them for more than they bought them for. Value is added to young draft animals in the training they receive.
  • Modern farm equipment requires significant repair and maintenance costs (2015 Farm Machinery Cost Estimates Lazarus, 2015). Reliance on mechanized power increases risk because the farming communities lack the skills and support infrastructure to quickly repair breakdowns and assure timely field operations. Oxen are readily available and can be easily replaced if they become disabled.
  • Fuel is expensive and subject to unpredictable swings in cost. This increases the risk of machine ownership. Draft animals need to be fed, but value is added as they mature and gain weight. The sale of mature cattle mitigates risk because it is an important source of farm income each year.
  • In many areas, roads are poor and wheeled vehicle access is difficult and at times impossible. Draft animals can navigate narrow trails and rugged terrain even in adverse weather.
  • Wheeled tractors can damage the soil in poor field conditions. Draft animals are less damaging to wet soil than wheeled tractors.
  • Livestock-based cropping systems can improve soil fertility and crop yield by cycling nutrients from manure, compost, and cover crops.

Advancing Animal Power in Burkina Faso

Figure 3. Traditional wither yokes are being re-designed to increase animal comfort and productivity
Figure 3. Traditional wither yokes are being re-designed to increase animal comfort and productivity

A common assumption is that because farmers use animal power, they are undoubtedly skilled in the application of animal power. Skilled application of animal power means that the animals are responsive under the control of a single handler and responsive for demanding tasks such as planting and weeding.  It means that the animals are well integrated in the farming system and used efficiently and effectively for a wide range of transport and field operations from hauling water and supplies to plowing, planting, weeding and harvesting.  Well trained oxen are capable of a much higher level of work than is currently asked of them for such tasks as planting and weeding. There is a need, and there are many opportunities, to advance the skilled application of animal power in Burkina Faso.

The ASMC is working with local Burkinabe farmers to develop the skills and knowledge necessary for the improved application of animal power. In September 2016, members of the ASMC and Tillers International traveled to Burkina Faso and held workshops on improved animal yoke design and animal handling techniques in Koumbia, Burkina Faso. More information on this training can be found in the following links: Animal Handling Training Article, Animal Handling Training Video.


Figure 4. Proud Burkinabe farmers with their new ox yokes.

The livestock sector makes a significant contribution to economic growth and food security in Burkina Faso. There is a need for training and capacity building in all aspects of animal traction including cattle selection, training, feeding, health and animal comfort.  Similar efforts are also needed in building, repairing and maintaining simple, low-cost tools for animal traction.  Advancing animal traction will be a cornerstone in advancing mechanization for sustainable intensification of cropping systems in Burkina Faso.


Tim Harrigan, Associate Professor, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Michigan State University;
Vinsoun Millogo, Assistant Professor, Université Polytechnique de Bobo-Dioulasso
Robert Burdick, Tillers International, Scotts


Beal, T., C. Belden, R. Hijmans, A. Mandel, M. Norton and J. Riggio.  2015. Country Profiles: Burkina Faso. Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab.  Link to the SIIL Country Profile Site

Cochrane, W.W. 1993. The Development of American Agriculture: A Historical Analysis. 2nd Edition.  University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN. 55455-3092.

Lazarus, W.F. 2015. Machinery Cost Estimates.  University of Minnesota Extension. Link to the Machinery Cost Estimates Bulletin