Women and Agriculture

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Agriculture may be defined as “production that relies essentially on the growth and nurturing of plants and animals, especially for food, usually with land as an important input; farming”  [umich.edu]


About 4.8 billion hectares of land- more than a third of the earth’s total land area- are used for agriculture. [World Book]


Women in agriculture

“Women play a significant role in agriculture, the world over. About 70% of the agricultural workers, 80% of food producers, and 10% of those who process basic foodstuffs are women and they also undertake 60 to 90% of the rural marketing; thus making up more than two-third of the workforce in agricultural production (FAO, 1985). In West Africa, up to 80% of the labour force in all trade is female. Yet, the role of women in these activities, so important economically, has remained obscure for long because women seldom played any major roles in political activities or decision making processes . Despite the fact that women produce much of the food in the developing world, they also remain more malnourished than most men are. In many rural societies, women eat less food than men do, especially when the food is scarce, such as just before the harvest, or when the workload increases without a corresponding increase in the food intake." (Roodkowsky, 1979)

[Participatory Assessment of the Impact of Women in Agriculture Program of Borno State, Nigeria]


“Although women do the majority of work in agriculture at the global level, elder men, for the most part, still own the land, control women’s labor, and make agricultural decisions in patriarchal social systems.” [Carolyn Sachs]


In the EU, agriculture is the seventh largest employer of women (3%). However, in Greece about 38% women (of all family workers in agriculture) are employed in agriculture. In Portugal, over 50% of the agricultural workforce is female. [EASHW]


Throughout the South Asian region, women account for about 39 percent of the agricultural workforce, working as managers of land to agricultural laborers. [IFPRI]


In India, in over all farm production, women’s average contribution is estimated at 55% to 66% ...In the Indian Himalayas a pair of bullocks works 1064 hours, a man 1212 hours and a woman 3485 hours in a year on a once hectare farm, a figure that illustrates women’s significant contribution to agricultural production. (Shiva FAO, 1991) [NCW]


Women provide one half of the labour in rice cultivation in India (Unnevehr and Stanford, 1986). In the plantation sector women are the crucial labourers (Shivaram, 1988). Depending on the region and crops, women's contributions vary but they provide pivotal labour from planting to harvesting and post-harvest operations...In rural India, agriculture and allied industrial sectors employ as much as 89.5% of the total female labour. [FAO]


In China, women constitute about 70 percent of the agricultural labor force and perform more than 70 percent of farm labor...the general pattern is- the poorer the area, the higher women's contribution, largely as subsistence farmers who farm small pieces of land, often less than 0.2 hectares. [AGNET/UNIFEM]

Diversion of income from women

According to FAO, the rapid modernization of agriculture and the introduction of new technologies, such as those that characterized the green revolution, have benefited the wealthy more than the poor, and men more than women. This premise is also supported by the ILO, which has found that new techniques in agriculture, particularly those involving commercialization, "often shift economic control, employment and profit from women to men". The diversion of income from women causes increased suffering for families because studies have found that, in general, income controlled by women benefits families more than income controlled by men. [UN]


Feminisation of agriculture

Feminisation of agriculture refers to women’s increasing participation in the agricultural labor force, whether as independent producers, as unremunerated family workers, or as agricultural wage workers. Specifically, feminisation of agriculture entails:


1. An increase in women’s participation rates in the agricultural sector, either as self-employed or as agricultural wage workers; in other words, an increase in the percentage of women who are economically active in rural areas.


2. An increase in the percentage of women in the agricultural labor force relative to men, either because more women are working and/or because fewer men are working in agriculture.

[Feminization of Agriculture: Trends and Driving Forces]


According to the FAO, while the proportion of the labor force working in agricultural declined over the 1990s, the proportion of women working in agriculture increased, particularly in developing countries. In some regions such as Africa and Asia, almost half of the labor force is women. This trend has been called the feminisation of agriculture. This feminisation of agriculture is caused by increased "casualization" of work, unprofitable crop production and distress migration of men "for higher casual work in agriculture and non-agriculture sectors", leaving women to take up low paid casual work in agriculture.

[AGNET/UNIFEM]


FAO facts

  • In 2007, women made up about 41 percent of total employment in agriculture globally.
  • FAO’s projections through 2010 indicate that of the percentage of economically active women in least developed countries, more than 70 percent work in agriculture.
  • In developing countries, most women’s work is devoted to agriculture. Women are involved in every stage of food production.
  • A recent FAO survey found that female farmers receive only 5 percent of all agricultural extension services worldwide.
  • The census data that are available suggest that in most regions of the world one out of five farms is headed by a woman
  • In the rural areas, where most of the world’s hungry people live, women produce most of the food consumed locally. Their contribution could be much greater if they had equal access to essential resources and services, such as land, credit and training.
  • In developing countries, women tend to work far longer hours than men. In Asia and Africa, studies have shown that women work as much as 13 hours more per week.
  • On average, rural women and girls spend almost an hour each day gathering fuel and carrying water, needed to prepare meals. In some communities, these activities may take up to four hours a day.
  • A study in Africa found that, over the course of a year, women carried more than 80 tons of fuel, water and farm produce for a distance of 1 km. Men carried only one-eighth as much, an average of 10 tons for 1 km each year.
  • Studies have shown that women use almost all that they earn from marketing agricultural products and handicrafts to meet household needs. Men use at least 25 percent of their earnings for other purposes.
  • In Africa, women perform 80 percent of the work associated with rural domestic tasks, including collecting water and firewood, preparing and cooking meals, processing and storing food, and making household purchases.
  • In the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa, women produce up to 80 percent of the basic foodstuff.
  • In 15 EU countries, women hold 20 percent of agricultural land, compared to the 77 percent held by men and 3 percent by government.
  • In Africa, women provide nearly 90 percent of the wood for household consumption and 70 percent of wood collected for sale.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, women comprise 60 percent of the informal economy, provide about 70 percent of all the agricultural labour and produce about 90 percent of the food.
  • In India and Thailand, fewer than 10 percent of landowners are women.
  • In several countries in sub- Saharan Africa and Latin America, the number of female-headed households is increasing, largely due to male migration, divorce, illness (especially AIDS) and conflict.

[FAO-WFS / FAO]


FAO’s approach to gender equality

“FAO advocates gender equality and promotes the economic and social empowerment of rural women. By actively focusing attention on the discrimination rural women face daily, FAO supports government efforts to ensure that their policies and programmes promote and support women as equal contributors to agriculture and rural development.” [FAO]


IFAD’s gender perspective

“In its operations, IFAD aims to: expand women’s access to and control over fundamental assets – capital, land, knowledge and technologies; strengthen women’s agency – their decision-making role in community affairs and representation in local institutions; and improve well-being and ease workloads by facilitating access to basic rural services and infrastructures. IFAD’s action is guided by the principle that development initiatives should incorporate the priorities and needs of both women and men and give them equal opportunities to access benefits and services. In this way, IFAD seeks to address the structural inequalities that prevent women from realizing their potential as human beings, producers and agents of change in the fight against poverty.” [IFAD]


Lack of comprehensive data

Although all international conferences have highlighted the need for accessible information and data as a starting point for any programme for the advancement of women – from the First World Conference in Mexico in 1975 to the Fourth World Conference in Beijing in 1995, according to FAO nearly all countries face constraints in producing and using gender data and statistics. These include:


  • (i) a lack of adequate concepts, definitions and methods to reflect the different roles of men and women across different socio-economic groups and their contributions to agriculture;
  • (ii) stereotypes and biases that make women less visible and prevent survey enumerators and respondents from providing correct and reliable information;
  • (iii) under-utilization of existing data for gender analysis; and,
  • (iv) a lack of communication between producers and users of data.

[Gender-Disaggregated Data for Agriculture and Rural Development: An FAO Guide]


The FAO also found that out of a sample of 93 national agricultural censuses conducted worldwide from 1989 to 1999, only 53 contained information on female-headed holdings. [FAO-WFS]

See also


Article Information
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