Researchers call to increase LGBTQ representation in agricultural studies

Researchers Geoffrey O'Keefe, Jane Alver, and Bosibori Bett present their paper on the invisibility of sexual and gender minorities in agricultural research at the 2019 Seeds of Change Annual Scientific Conference. Photo by: Jane Alver

CANBERRA — Sexual and gender minorities are invisible in agricultural research, according to findings of a literature review recently presented by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the University of Canberra.

The findings have resulted in a call to action by researchers concerned about the gaps that may exist in policy and programming to support LGBTQ communities involved in agriculture in developing countries.

“We are not able to know or to gauge the impact of sexual and gender minorities in agricultural research and development.”

— Bosibori Bett, project officer, ACIAR

They are asking for the agricultural research community to help build the evidence base, starting by asking questions within the communities that are working beyond the gender binary.

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Researchers were inspired by related studies, including the “Down by the River” report, which highlighted challenges LGBTQ communities faced in accessing services and support following Tropical Cyclone Winston in Fiji. Jane Alver from the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra said that the study of existing research aimed to understand similar challenges in the agricultural space.

“We wanted to look at who we were leaving behind and being mindful that when we are talking about gender, we are not just talking about women or just heterosexual women — and really unpack that,” she explained to Devex.

With the growing awareness of the value of gender in agricultural research, it was an important topic for ACIAR to consider the next step in gender research and how this may impact the development of policy to support challenges identified. But first, data and information are required to help formulate policy.

“We started looking at intersectional issues and some broader gender issues,” Geoffrey O'Keefe, capacity building manager at ACIAR, explained to Devex. “Lots of the research is about heterosexual women and heterosexual men living in nuclear families — not sexual and gender minorities.”

Bosibori Bett, a project officer at ACIAR, looked into the research that had been conducted and found it to be nonexistent.

“When I did an empirical search, I found no hits — no articles that talk about sexual and gender minorities in agriculture,” she told Devex. “For that reason, we are not able to know or to gauge the impact of sexual and gender minorities in agricultural research and development. If there is anything, it is very scant.”

O’Keefe speculated that the existing gaps in LGBTQ agricultural research may be due to existing funding models.

“There could be an issue of how research institutes and universities are funded to do different types of research,” he said. “CGIAR groups, for example, have gender targets surrounding women’s economic empowerment, not sexual and gender minorities. So I think this is a reason funding may be challenging.”

Building the evidence base

Despite there being a lack of evidence on LGBTQ communities in agricultural awareness, there is “overwhelming” interest from the agricultural research community, O’Keefe said.

“When we talk about sexual and gender minorities there is an immediate awareness of the gap that exists,” he said. “Researchers want to do more about it.”

But in encouraging researchers to contribute to the discussion, the question they commonly first receive is how to begin in areas where LGBTQ issues are taboo or criminalized with fear that asking the question will create risk for LGBTQ communities.

“We specifically talk in our article about sexual and gender minorities, not LGBTQ issues, because we are aiming to create a discussion about contextual and local identifies which are outside the somewhat narrow focus of the contemporary agricultural research approach,” O’Keefe said.

Bosibori Bett, Jane Alver, and Geoffrey O’Keefe speak at #SeedsofChange19 about sexual orientation and gender identities in agriculture. Via YouTube.

To start the discussion Alver, Bett, and O’Keefe recommended doing away with preconceived ideas and partnering locally — including with community organizations and faith-based groups — to understand the entry points to the discussion within each specific community.

Alver added that it is important to not shy away from the discussion, as the results might be surprising. As part of her ongoing doctorate research, she identified that transgender communities in important sites of agricultural research within the Pacific are actively shaping the agenda to put LGBQI issues on the table for wider discussion.

“Our idea of capacity building is that it goes from the global north to the global south,” she said. “But the rich lessons I am seeing in the Pacific show that there is a lot to share from the south to the north. It has inspired me to do this work in building the grassroots relationships and become an ally in this work to share stories in spaces.”

As a call to action, the three are asking agricultural research to begin engaging with sexual and gender minority discussions — and share them with the broader sector using the hashtag #SGMinAg on social media.

“We want people on the ground sharing their insights because we realize it is contextual,” Alver said. “In different places, it is harder to talk about. We recognize that and we want to start the dialogue on the barriers researchers are facing, how we can discuss it in a sensitive way and who we might be able to partner with to raise some of these topics.

“We need to put the topic on the table and really talk about how to move forward — because we don’t want to leave anyone behind.”

For ACIAR, the hope is that this discussion and the data it generates will create a new stream of agricultural research that they can support and fund.

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.