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Gender and market-oriented agriculture

How should women be incorporated in the development of market-oriented agriculture? (© FAO/Desmond Kwande)
How should women be incorporated in the development of market-oriented agriculture?
© FAO/Desmond Kwande

Women play a critical but often unrecognised role in agricultural development. "Countries that are hungry are also the countries that have high levels of gender inequality," explains Jemimah Njuki, leader of the Poverty, Gender and Impact team at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya. "For agriculture to lead to rural development, we have to think about markets, and for women it is critical because they face many more constraints than men do in accessing and engaging with markets."

In February 2011, researchers, development practitioners, donors and policymakers working in Africa and Asia gathered at the Gender and Market-oriented Agriculture workshop in Addis Ababa, organised by ILRI, to discuss ways of enabling women to participate in and benefit from agricultural markets. A selection of participants offered New Agriculturist their points of view.

Why is gender important?

Gender in agriculture is not just a moral obligation; it is also an issue of growth and equity. If you put assets, capacity, resources, inputs, and technologies in the hands of women it has big implications for poverty reduction. If you address gender inequalities, you promote economic growth, food security, and child nutrition.
Jemimah Njuki, Poverty, Gender and Impact Team Leader, ILRI

Women play a critical but often unrecognised role in agricultural development (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Women play a critical but often unrecognised role in agricultural development
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

If the roles and responsibilities of women are recognised, if women have more rights of ownership, better access to services and markets, more say in decision-making about inputs and outputs and more control over the income, then the basic needs of women and their families can be better met, thus reducing poverty and hunger. And then women's strategic needs can be better met, giving them a higher status in the family and community and increasing their self-confidence to contribute more to production.
Ann Waters-Bayer, ETC Foundation

Because it makes business sense. Without good relations and good decision-making forums at the household level, productivity is affected. So beside talking about human rights and justice issues, if it makes business sense I think everyone should be able to buy in because that's a good way to improve the wellbeing of society.
Gerald Mutinda, Regional Advisor for the East African Dairy Development programme

Women and markets

Markets are a key component but it's really important that we consider them in a nuanced way. For example, a market opportunity for a woman may not be the same as a man but they may have complementary roles in addressing a market opportunity.
Shirley Tarawali, People, Livestock and the Environment Theme Director, ILRI

When there is commercialisation of production and formalisation of markets men seem to take over, and in my opinion it's because when the markets are formalised they move away from the household and because women are constrained to the household then they fail to participate.
Elizabeth Waithanji, Poverty and Gender Team, ILRI

Many - but not all - women face travel constraints (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Many - but not all - women face travel constraints
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

The main constraint that women face is with travel and transportation to the markets. Sometimes the markets are so far away and the women do not have the money to travel or if they must travel then it is at the expense of the other reproductive roles at household level.
Martha Tureti, National Gender and Development Coordinator, World Vision Kenya

We've found a lot of success in engaging women in the production side of things, getting women to participate in training and then having them implement what they have learnt on their agricultural plots. Our next focus is getting women more engaged at the cooperative level, as cooperative members and managers, to get them engaged all along the value chain for the purpose of really maximising the income that they are seeing from volume increases.
Hallie Goertz, Technoserve

We have to identify markets or commodities that fit the conditions and situation of women, considering their previous experience, their living conditions, their knowledge, and their skills. It's very difficult to introduce something which they don't know.
Gizachew Sissay, Senior Value Chain Advisor, Oxfam

Constraints and risks

There needs to be a lot more deliberate focus on how women can gain access to services, information, education and training. You have to look at why women are not able to take part, what are the constraints and what can we practically and deliberately do to overcome those constraints. In Africa, women have a much lower literacy rate so you have to do a different kind of training and information dissemination for women than for men that might be more literate.
Ann Waters-Bayer

Why are women not able to take part in education and training? (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Why are women not able to take part in education and training?
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

There are a lot of potential benefits of agricultural growth for women but there are also real risks. Once we concentrate money, power and supply chains, lots of times women can be left out. And if we change agricultural production technologies there can be a lot of risks. It's important we try and help women work through the risks and be real partners all the way in what happens.
John McDermott, Deputy Director General of Research, ILRI

In some families when the men are positive and they want their wives to participate, the woman is not business oriented or she's not motivated. On the other side there are some men, when women are motivated and they want to participate, they don't want her to leave the house. They would rather not have that income than have their wife involved in an association.
Elfinesh Dermeji, Ethiopian woman farmer

Access to extension, information and services tend to be fairly male dominated and they tend to be organised in such a way that it's more difficult for women to take part than it is for men. Men often have more freedom of movement and often a lot of the training is at places where women cannot go, at times when women have other work to do.
Ann Waters-Bayer

The gender balance

It is impossible to forget one wing and then fly with the other wing. You have to try to change the attitude of men so that they consider women as equal partners who can contribute.
Yisehak Baredo, Research and Development Officer, Improving Productivity & Market Success in Ethiopia (IPMS)

Many times we mistake that men are not interested in change in terms of gender equality but some are very willing to support change. It is important for programmes to go out with a balanced focus because there is no way you are going to empower one sex without considering the other - it becomes counterproductive.
Gerald Mutinda

Are men better off when women are empowered? (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Are men better off when women are empowered?
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

The idea is to have the whole society benefitting from interventions that empower women and the only way we do that is getting men to understand that when there is gender equality, as a man you benefit, your whole household benefits. When your wife has a voice, it's two ideas coming together; there can only be value added in that.
Jemimah Njuki

What we are seeing in Bangladesh is that whenever there are more than five men engaged in a group of 25-30, there has been a tendency by those men to take over control of certain resources and ultimately the women lose control. But whenever the number is less than five, and the role of the men is very well articulated, the groups do remarkably well compared to the women-only groups, who face certain challenges.
Muhammad Siddiquee, Project coordinator, CARE Bangladesh

If you give women an opportunity, they can change their life, they can improve their livelihood and the perception towards women changes within the family and the community. When women have good communication with their husbands it means their decision-making power has improved because he will consult her.
Yisehak Baredo

If women have low self esteem and they are being abused within their household, you can provide all these wonderful things but if you don't deal with the social cultural issues that make it difficult for that equality to really happen, it's not going to happen.
Kate Waller, Gender consultant

What needs to be done?

There are projects which are doing great things with the resources they have but will they be able to make it effective in national programmes? And what are the policy implications of the interventions they have seen? That bit of it is missing and that is what is needed - how do we harness the lessons and upscale it.
Seblewongel Deneke, Gender Equality Advisor, CIDA-Addis

Highlighting the work of successful women in rural development can change perceptions (© FAO/Ishara Kodikara)
Highlighting the work of successful women in rural development can change perceptions
© FAO/Ishara Kodikara

It's important to get government extension systems up and running. There are some instances where it's critical to have women extension agents because women are in closed communities where they are not permitted to interact with men. But there is no reason why both men and women can't be good extension agents for both men and women and that's what we should be working towards.
Rekha Mehra, Director of Economic Development, International Center for Research on Women

A lot of the solutions need to be driven by communities. We need to really listen to the community and collect that data upfront and figure out what's holding people back and what they think would be helpful and want to engage in.
Hallie Goertz

One important aspect is to start paying attention to family planning because child birth reduces the capacity of the women to be involved in other developments. So if we could do something about family planning then I believe we ultimately would get a better environment for developing the world in a more sustainable way and with more participation by women because they have to look after their children less.
Dirk Hoekstra, Project manager, IPMS

We need to put a spotlight on women who innovate, who take collective action to solve their problems, who openly express their views about the changes they seek, who take active part in project planning, research and development. High profile documentation would give strong messages to women and men at all levels about women's actual and potential contributions to developing value chains and help change perceptions.
Ann Waters-Bayer

Date published: March 2011


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