Understanding gender’s role in agriculture

Article Date

27 July 2011

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

A recent trip to Nairobi to conduct a workshop for agriculture practitioners and researchers revealed to me just how much more work needs to be done to bolster women’s roles in agriculture, from the farm where food is cultivated to the homes and plants where it is packaged and processed.

For the workshop, ICRW brought together experts from around the world to assess the state of play in terms of how gender is – or isn’t – considered in the production, processing and sale of food.  Each of those steps is part of the agricultural value chain, which includes: Suppliers and service providers who among other things provide seeds, fertilizer and credit to farmers; producers who labor to cultivate the agricultural crop; processors who add value to crops by, for example making tomato paste from tomatoes; and retailers who sell the crop at the marketplace. Theoretically, each person contributes and profits at every step on this journey from the farm to the dinner table.

But for small-scale farmers, many of whom are women, the value chain isn’t producing profit. For example, a woman who labors on a farm may not be the same person who transports the crop to the market and gets paid. Those earnings don’t automatically trickle down to the woman, meaning she often has little say in how the earnings are spent and may have little interest in continuing to work. This can affect the success of agriculture programs, which often depend on women’s labor without considering how they are compensated for it within the household.  We need to better understand the varied relationships within farming families as well as the gender dynamics involved. More research can provide such insight.

What’s needed specifically is research that analyzes the unique experiences of men and women farmers at each point of a commodity’s journey from “farm to fork.” This type of contextual evidence should drive how we design programs that aim to boost agricultural efficiency and productivity as well as help farmers – men, women and entire households – profit from their contributions.

During our workshop, we realized that part of why research doesn’t underpin programmatic activities is because practitioners tend to develop programs with a particular crop in mind, instead of the people affected by the success or failure of that product in the marketplace. Meanwhile, practitioners and researchers traditionally work separately from one another. By not sharing valuable information, neither group has recognized the potential benefit of collaboration to reach the same end goal.

But I witnessed progress in that direction during our two days of discussion with experts from Uganda to the Netherlands who work in everything from raising chickens to growing passion fruit and cassava in East Africa. I saw researchers and practitioners taking steps toward understanding each group’s needs and concerns related to women’s equitable inclusion in agricultural markets – and figuring out how to address them. Small steps, they were, but they began to break down the divisions between researcher and practitioner.

We need to build on this progress so that both researchers and practitioners better understand how gender matters in agriculture. Then, we can all start integrating these considerations in programs so everyone working along the value chain benefits.

A slideshow of ICRW’s presentation at the workshop is available on SlideShare, and a detailed summary of the gathering is available online at the International Livestock Research Institute’s (IRLI) website.