The agriculture sector is predicted to come under substantial stress from climate change induced increases in temperature, variability in rainfall and extreme weather events which could trigger crop failures, pest and disease outbreaks, and the degradation of land and water resources. These impacts will be felt more acutely in the poorest regions of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa, where agriculture is the mainstay of millions. In Africa, agriculture supports 70 percent of the population and accounts for about 30 percent of the continent’s GDP. Women play vital roles in ensuring food security and enhancing agricultural productivity. It is therefore important that responses to climatic stresses on the agriculture sector are informed by the concerns and contributions of women and men, and broader issues of gender equality.
Agriculture is central to the livelihoods of women
It is now widely acknowledged that climate change impacts will not be gender neutral. This is evident from current experiences of extreme climatic events such as droughts and flood. Men and women have different coping and adaptive capacities which translate to gender differentiated vulnerabilities to the impacts of a changing climate. Gender based inequalities in access to assets, and gendered social roles are mainly responsible for this difference in adaptive capacities to respond to the effects of climate change. Legal and socio cultural barriers also inhibit women from effectively responding to climatic risk. These barriers notwithstanding, women do play a major role in agricultural production. Women farmers generally have valuable knowledge in seed selection, vegetative propagation and the reproduction of plants and animals. Although the roles of women in agriculture vary widely by region, age, ethnicity and social station, many women are involved in agricultural production, food security as well as other related agricultural ventures. Women comprise 20 to 50 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. Seventy nine percent of women in Least Developed Countries who are economically active report agriculture as their primary economic activity, which highlights the importance of the agricultural sector for women. In countries such as Lesotho, Mozambique and Sierra Leone, women constitute over 60 percent of the agricultural labour force.
Gender-based constraints in agriculture
Women play a pivotal role in the three components of food security; namely, food availability (production), food access (distribution), and food utilization. Besides, women play a wide range of activities that support agricultural development such as soil and water conservation, forestation and crop domestication. Men also play a crucial role in food production; they, however, face far fewer constraints than women. Men are more likely to have access to productive resources such as land, credit and extension services. In cases of crop failure due to harsh climatic conditions, cultural traditions often make it easier for men to leave their farms in search of employment elsewhere, leaving women behind to struggle to feed their families and make ends meet. In many cases women have diminished assets and resources to help them plan for and potentially avert the next crisis. Moreover, women are inhibited by a diversity of gender-based barriers in access to well as access to technology which render them vulnerable to food insecurity. Discriminatory socio cultural practices (such as customary laws on access to land) are among these barriers.
Gender-based constraints in agriculture; Empirical evidence
■■ Adverse environmental factors are expected to boost world food prices 30 to 50 percent
in the coming decades and increase price volatility, with harsh repercussions for poor households. The largest risks are faced by the 1.3 billion people involved in agriculture, fishing, forestry, hunting and gathering.
■■ Between 10 to 20 percent of all land holders are women. In Africa, on average, 15 percent of land holders are women; the range is from below 5 percent (Mali) to above 30 percent (Botswana, Cape Verde and Malawi).
■■ In some countries, farms operated by female headed households are only half to two-third
the size of farms operated by male-headed households.
■■ Women receive only 5 percent of agricultural extension services worldwide.
■■ In most countries the share of female smallholders who can access credit is 5 to
10 percentage points lower than for male smallholders. This in part because women often do not have the necessary collateral.
■■ Out of 141 countries, 103 (25 of 35 in Africa) have legal difference between men and women that may hinder women’s economic opportunities, including access to credit.
■■ Studies in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia show that women are much less likely to use purchased inputs such as fertilizers and improved seeds or to make use of mechanical tools and equipment.
Sources: UNDP 2011, FAO 2011a, FAO 2011b, World Bank 2011b.
Empowerment of women and girls is critical for agricultural development and food security
Empowerment of women and girls is critical for agricultural development and food security. There is also a strong economic rationale for this if women farmers were given the same access to resources (such as finance), women’s agricultural yields could increase by 20 to 30 percent; national agricultural production could rise by 2.5 to 4 percent and the number of malnourished people could be reduced by 12 to 17 percent.15 More importantly, gender equality is a fundamental human right. It is imperative, therefore, to discard the systemic cultural and legal barriers that constrain women from contributing further to agricultural production.
Closing the technology gender-gap in agriculture (Uganda)
Farmer field schools have proved to be a participatory and effective way of empowering and transferring knowledge to women farmers. This was evident in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania where women who participated in these schools were more likely to adopt major technologies, including improved crop varieties, livestock management and pest control techniques.
The sustainable rural livelihoods programme established in 2004 in eastern Uganda’s Kamuli District was designed to improve food security, nutrition and health at the household and community levels. The programme employs a farmer-to-farmer training and extension approach to demonstrate and disseminate information on key management practices such as planting banana or cassava in ways that ensure productivity and control diseases, enhancing soil fertility through composting with manure, growing and utilizing nutrient dense crops such as amaranth grain and Vitamin A-rich sweet potatoes. It also emphasizes the establishment of multiplication gardens and seed nurseries, post-harvest management and storage, improving livestock breeding and feeding, integrating nutrition and health with agriculture, farm enterprise development, marketing, and strengthening farmer groups. Women make up the majority of farm group members, leaders and trainers.
They comprise about 58 percent of community-based rural development extension workers, 75 percent of community nutrition and health workers, 76 percent of committee members and 71 percent of executive committee members.
The programme has resulted in the enhancement of women’s human capital through training and experience gained in developing leadership skills, improved nutrition and health, and communitywide respect for their role as sources of valuable knowledge. The women are also involved in farm groups and emerging marketing associations. Another key reported result has been a significant increase in household food security.
Source: FAO (2011b).
Recommendations for action
■■ Eliminate discrimination under the law related to ownership and access to assets. Improving women’s access, ownership, and control over land will potentially contribute to greater investments in the land and increased productivity and welfare.
■■ Integrate gender analysis and gender- sensitive tools (such as assessment, design, monitoring and evaluation). This analysis should be integrated into all areas of adaptation planning for the agriculture sector.
■■ Gather sex-disaggregated data in agriculture and food security including on access to land and land tenure security, finance, extension services and agricultural tools. This would be helpful for gender responsive policy design and monitoring.
■■ Develop technologies that address women’s needs.
■■ Ensure that women benefit from access to agricultural extension services. At present only 5 percent of women farmers have meaningful access to extension services; the design and implementation of gender aware agricultural extension strategy are, therefore, essential to ensure that women use and benefit from vital information.
■■ Ensure that women’s voices are heard at all levels of governance and in all policy
and decision-making processes.
“If women farmers were given the same access to resources (such as finance), women’s agricultural yields could increase by 20 to 30 percent; national agricultural production could rise by 2.5 percent to 4 percent; and the number of malnourished people could be reduced by 12 to 17 percent.”
FAO 2011 b.