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Closing the gender gap in agriculture

The two articles below point to the crucial roles that women play in agriculture and the importance of closing the gender gap. Not only would providing women the same access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets as men lead to higher agriculture production (Item 1), women are also showing the way in practicing and reaping the benefits from ecological agriculture (Item 2).

The articles were published in Third World Resurgence #247, March 2011 and are reproduced here with permission.

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Item 1

Closing the gender gap in agriculture

If women in rural areas had the same access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets as men, agricultural production could be increased and the number of hungry people reduced by 100-150 million, says FAO.

YIELDS on plots managed by women are lower than those managed by men, says a recently released UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report. But this is not because women are worse farmers than men. They simply do not have the same access to inputs. If they did, their yields would go up, they would produce more and overall agricultural production would increase, says FAO in its 2010-11 edition of The State of Food and Agriculture report.

'The report makes a powerful business case for promoting gender equality in agriculture,' said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, in launching the report on 7 March, the eve of International Women's Day.

'Gender equality is not just a lofty ideal, it is also crucial for agricultural development and food security. We must promote gender equality and empower women in agriculture to win, sustainably, the fight against hunger and extreme poverty,' he added.

Closing yield gaps reaps gains for all

Just giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources could increase production on women's farms in developing countries by 20 to 30%. This could raise total agricultural production in developing countries by 2.5 to 4%, which could in turn reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17%, or 100 to 150 million people. An estimated 925 million people in the world were undernourished in 2010, of which 906 million live in developing countries.

'We must eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, ensure that access to resources is more equal and that agricultural policies and programmes are gender-aware, and make women's voices heard in decision-making at all levels. Women must be seen as equal partners in sustainable development,' Diouf said.

Women's work

Women make up on average 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, ranging from 20% in Latin America to almost 50% in East and South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The share is higher in some countries and varies greatly within countries.

Where rural women are employed, they tend to be segregated into lower-paid occupations and are more likely to be in less secure forms of employment, such as seasonal, part-time or low-wage jobs.

New jobs in high-value export-oriented agro-industries offer better opportunities for women than traditional agriculture, the report says.

Mind the gap

The report documents gender gaps in the access to a wide range of agricultural resources, including land, livestock, farm labour, education, extension services, credit, fertilisers and mechanical equipment.

Women in all regions generally have less access to land than men. For those developing countries for which data are available, between 3 and 20% of all landholders are women. The share of women in the agricultural labour force is much higher and ranges from 20 to 50% in developing-country regions.

'Women farmers typically achieve lower yields than men, not because they are less skilled, but because they operate smaller farms and use fewer inputs like fertilisers, improved seeds and tools,' said Terri Raney, editor of the SOFA report.

Levelling the ploughing field

'Evidence from many countries shows that policies can promote gender equality and empower women in agriculture and rural employment. The first priority is to eliminate discrimination under the law,' Raney said. 'In many countries women do not have the same rights as men to buy, sell or inherit land, to open a savings account or borrow money, to sign a contract or sell their produce. Where legal rights exist on paper, they often are not honoured in practice.'

Government officials must be held accountable for upholding the law and women must be aware of their rights and empowered to claim them.

Women face multiple constraints in agriculture arising from the complex nature of agricultural production and from competing demands on their time. To be effective, interventions must be 'bundled' so they treat these constraints together, the report says.

Policies and institutions often have different impacts on men and women - even when no explicit discrimination is intended. 'Men and women have different roles in society and face different opportunities and constraints,' said Raney. 'We can't make good agricultural policy unless we consider gender differences.'

Building human capital

In addition to increasing overall agricultural production, closing the gender gap in agriculture would also put more income in the hands of women - a proven strategy for improving health, nutrition and education outcomes for children.

'One of the best investments we can make is in building the human capital of women and girls - basic education, market information and agricultural extension services are essential building blocks for agricultural productivity and economic growth,' Raney said. - FAO Media Centre                                  

Item 2

Women farmers show the way forward in eco-friendly farming

Bharat Dogra

THE experience of several efforts to find durable solutions to the farming crisis has revealed that low-cost, environment-friendly, self-reliant and organic farming is extremely important for the success of sustainable farming. When efforts have been made to adopt such farming methods, women farmers have been found to be particularly enthusiastic in these efforts and some of these have given very good results.

In Jalaun district in India's Uttar Pradesh state, farmers' group Laghu Seemaant Krishak Morcha has worked in very close cooperation with voluntary organisation Samarpan to spread such technologies.

While visiting these villages of work here, what is perhaps most remarkable and visible is the increasing assertiveness of the role and identity of women farmers.

Radhekrishna, Director of Samarpan, says that during training programmes in the early years of their work, when women were asked to name three farmers in their village, (despite the ongoing training) they almost never mentioned women farmers (never mentioned themselves) and even among the male members, they generally mentioned the bigger, influential farmers. From this low level of consciousness of their identity as women small farmers, now women have come a long way with a strong sense of their identity as not just farmers but also change-makers capable of exploring various avenues of improvements, taking decisions regarding this and overcoming hindrances in the perceived path of betterment.

This was evident from the way women small farmers talked about their 'experiences and aspirations'. In Daangkhajuri, for instance, women dominated the discussion in the presence of male farmers and when we wanted to go around the village to get a better view of their problems and improvements needed, it was again women who led the way. These women, particularly Bitoli, who appeared to be a natural leader, had a clear sense of priorities and how to present these well before outsiders so as to get the required help. The way in which farmers find self-help solutions, like checking wastage of water from overflowing artesian wells, is remarkable. They have calculated that a billion litres of water could be saved in this way in a year in a single village. Several women farmers have overcome serious personal problems to play a more assertive social role. Rekha of Byonaa Raja village is almost blind, yet plays an active important social role.

In areas where Samarpan and Morcha have been active for several years, organic and sustainable farming practices have a good spread. Radhekrishna says, 'Women organic farmers here have taught us some important lessons. In the beginning we were cautious while advocating organic farming practices because we also apprehended that initially there may be some loss of yield. But we were ourselves surprised when several organic farmers informed us that they are not only reducing expenses but also increasing yield.'

In fact we met several women organic farmers who claimed to have improved yield apart from minimising expenses. In addition the quality of their produce is better. Not only do they find it more nourishing but they are also able to get a better rate for it. We heard happy anecdotes of traders coming to villages and willingly offering a better rate for organically grown peas (and other crops).

Ranjana Sharma of Jugrajpur village had picked up information about the benefits of organic farming from books and radio and then she was also exposed to the training programmes of Samarpan. She was so convinced about the benefits of organic farming that she prevailed upon her father to set aside 5 bighas out of the farmer's total holding of 25 bighas for organic farming. When Ranjana's 5 bighas gave better yield at lower expense, her father was also convinced of the benefits of organic farming and gradually almost the entire land was converted to organic farming.

Many women farmers who do not learn at training workshops innovate in their own ways. Daangkhajuri village provides an example of how about 35 diverse crops (grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits etc.) are being grown in a relatively small village organically in such a way (using mixed cropping patterns and appropriate rotations) that fields are almost always green and preparations for the next crop are made even as one crop is still maturing. Then at all times farmers keep getting one crop or another, which provides some cash earning as well as meeting nutrition needs. In addition the village makes excellent use of scarce water resources to irrigate as much land as possible. This village has been able to reduce water wastage from artesian wells using makeshift devices and now they are waiting for some help from the government or the voluntary sector to carry this work further.                

Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist and currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

 


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