Copyright: Hewlett (Peru).
Briefing: Gender & Agriculture
Agriculture remains the foundation of global food security and an economic pillar in many regions of the world, accounting for 26% of GDP in low-income countries in 2016. An estimated 2.5 billion rural people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, with 65% of adults living in extreme poverty engaged in agricultural activities such as farming, fishing, animal husbandry, hunting, and forestry. The World Bank estimates that given significant levels of employment in the sector, growth in agriculture may be 2-4 times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest populations than investment in any other sector.
Gender remains an important consideration in the sustainable expansion of agribusiness in low- and middle-income economies. Women have historically played a central role in the cultivation and processing of agricultural products. Yet, since women disproportionately face barriers to land ownership, farming inputs, equipment, technology, financial services, education, and markets, a gender gap is often reflected in agricultural yields. In the era of climate volatility, sub-optimal yields affect the entire value chain, from the livelihoods of smallholders and viability of farmer cooperatives, to the operational continuity of companies involved in aggregation, processing, and export of agricultural commodities.
In order to contribute to progress on Sustainable Development Goal #2: Zero Hunger (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture), a more explicit gender lens needs to be applied to investments in agriculture. Gender-smart investment in agribusiness supply chains has the potential to increase sustainability and spark inclusive economic development, while conferring widespread social and health benefits to families and communities. If women had equal access to inputs and thus achieved equal yields, overall productivity in developing countries would increase by 2.5-4%, which the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates could reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 100-150 million people, or 12-17%.
Beyond engaging women as farmers/suppliers, agribusinesses further downstream may glean additional organizational and commercial benefits from maintaining a gender diverse workforce. While many companies in the sector perform activities in only one or two segments of the end-to-end value chain (e.g., agronomic research and training, farm inputs and finance, or processing and packaging), women’s participation in all areas and levels reinforces efficiencies and advantages across various agricultural industries. Specifically: