Around the world some 600 million women are smallholder farmers or landless workers. A new video from CGIAR showcases the experiences of twelve women from Zambia, Bangladesh, Philippines and Cambodia to mark International Women’s Day on 8th March 2014.
Recognition of the importance of focusing on gender in agricultural development has been growing but authors of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s State of Food and Agriculture 2010/11: Women in agriculture, claim that in the writing of the report many gender myths became apparent. Statistics repeatedly used but for which there is little hard evidence. As an example it is commonly stated that women produce 60-80% of food but only own 2% of the land, yet these claims are often generalised, out of date or hard to track to their original source. Through investigating big data such as this it became clear to authors that evidence on women in agriculture was outdated and quite poor. The picture of gender in agriculture that emerged was far more nuanced, as Terri Rainey of FAO discussed at a policy seminar, Beyond Gender Myths, held by the International Food Policy Research Institute in November 2013.
While it is very hard to generalise, women tend to operate smaller farms then men and generate lower yields because they have access to fewer inputs. The FAO calculated that If this yield gap (on average around 20-30%) was closed, national level gains in productivity of around 2.5-4% would result, which would reduce the number of hungry by 12-17%, the equivalent of 100 to 150 million people. These numbers have been widely criticised both for being too large and also too low. As productivity was only increased on female-headed households’ farms, despite women being much more broadly involved in agriculture, Terri Rainey believes these increases in yields and reductions in hunger are an underestimate of the transformational change that focusing on increasing female farmers’ productivity can bring about.
The SOFA report helped dispel some of the myths and it also generated significant amounts of information, motivating the development of a new publication due to be released this spring. The book, “Gender in Agriculture and Food Security: Closing the Knowledge Gap” is a comprehensive handbook on the state of knowledge in gender and agriculture.
Closing the gaps be they knowledge gaps, yield gaps or gaps in access to productive resources is clearly an urgent challenge and one that could bring about transformational global change, and one that fits with the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, “equality for women is progress for all”.
The CGIAR has acknowledged the lack of gender targeted research across their work. They have discovered that context, an understanding of location-specific social and geographical dynamics, is critical to successfully designing and implementing agricultural technologies for women rather than relying on assumptions and gender myths. In developing and distributing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP), CGIAR have learnt that gender plays a large role in land use and adoption. Through local partners, CGIAR have shown women how OFSP can boost household food security and nutrition but also raise women’s standing in the community. The probability of adoption of OFSP is now highest on farms where women decide which crops are grown and those jointly managed by men and women.
Moving beyond assumptions and reducing inequality between men and women will, as evidence suggests, have a large impact on progress, be it in reducing poverty and hunger or economic development. The International Livestock Research Institute have suggested some practical steps that can be taken to reducing gender inequality. Although focused on livestock value chains, these actions could apply across other agricultural sectors.
1) Collecting, analysing and using gender disaggregated data to understand the division of labour along value chains, differences in decision-making processes and apply this knowledge to agricultural interventions
2) Using participatory (and inclusive) research methods to ensure the voices of men and women are heard equally
3) Addressing women’s priorities and concerns such as the timing and format of technological interventions to increase their involvement
4) Using gender-sensitive indicators, including qualitative and quantitative data, to mark changes in the status and roles of women and men and to adapt projects accordingly
Optimising women’s involvement in agricultural development activities can boost incomes, rural family welfare and the bargaining power of women. We hope that this International Women’s Day will not only continue the work of breaking down gender barriers and dispelling myths but will result in greater opportunities for women around the world to improve their productivity and livelihoods. You can follow the action this Saturday on Twitter #IWD2014.