#BeBoldForChange – Gender Equity in Agriculture

Posted by on March 6th, 2017 | 0 Comments »

By: Ann Steensland, Deputy Director, Global Harvest Initiative

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, the Harvest 2050 Blog is featuring stories from the 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®) that highlight how women in agriculture can #BeBoldForChange.

Gender inequities in agricultural production have implications for food security, nutrition and sustainability. In lower income countries, small-scale women farmers tend to be the primary source of labor for planting, cultivating and harvesting.  At the same time, women often have limited say in the household purchase and use of agricultural inputs that would increase their yields and decrease the drudgery of farming.  These inputs include improved seeds, fertilizer and crop protection, irrigation and mechanization equipment and post-harvest storage. [1] Women are also less likely to have access to public sector agricultural extension services which often focus on the needs of male farmers or farmers operating at larger scales.

Agricultural yields would increase by 30% if women farmers had equal access to productive inputs. – UN FAO, Smallholders and Family Farmers Fact Sheet

Without access to or control over agricultural inputs and knowledge, the household’s primary producer is less efficient and the farm is less productive and sustainable over time.  To increase their output and incomes, women may have no choice but to put more land into production. As a result, their labor burden will rise, the amount of time they have for family-care will decrease and fragile ecosystems will be damaged.

Gender Equity is Good for Business

Agri-food businesses are realizing the crucial role that women farmers and producers play in the productivity and sustainability of their supply chains.

For example, coffee production will need to increase three-fold by 2050 to meet projected demand. [2] One of the major constraints is that women contribute most of the labor for planting, harvesting, processing and sorting coffee beans, while men control access to land, agricultural inputs, credit, training and market information. [3]

One way women can access agricultural inputs, credit, knowledge and markets is through farmer cooperatives (co-ops). Co-ops concentrate the market power of women who might otherwise be marginalized by a male-dominated agricultural system.

In 2016, ACDI/VOCA, a leader in agricultural value chain development, began a pilot project with two coffee cooperatives in Ethiopia to improve the gender equity of their organizations and leadership.  Cooperatives in Ethiopia are not segregated by gender, so increasing women’s participation and leadership in the coffee co-ops would give them significantly more influence in Ethiopia’s coffee value chain.

ACDI/VOCA is coordinating workshops to help the co-ops develop gender equity strategies and practices.  The co-op leadership teams are gender-balanced with male and female spouses, female household heads and single males.  ACDI/VOCA is providing a gender advisor to assist the cooperatives as they implement their plans and to monitor their progress.

Farmer cooperatives give women greater influence in agri-food value chains and provide a foundation for social and economic equality.

Still an Uphill Battle

In countries where women struggle for basic human rights, such as the dryland regions of North Africa and the Middle East, women farmers face an uphill battle.

The International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) analyzed four value chains in Morocco (argan, rose, cactus and saffron) and found that institutional weaknesses and cultural expectations were limiting the benefits of the country’s Rural Women’s Cooperatives (RWCs). [4]

The extension services and market analyses provided by RWCs were often outdated and incomplete.  Cultural norms excluding women from selling directly in the marketplace reduced their sales opportunities and suppressed their potential incomes.

While women who were members of RWCs earned more than those who were not, their incomes were usually less than the legal minimum wage. ICARDA is working to improve the quality of extension and market services offered by RWCs, focusing on profit-making opportunities that also take into consideration expectations on women’s time.

Despite these challenges and other constraints, women farmers around the world are showing how they can #BeBoldForChange, creating more opportunities for themselves and brighter futures for their families.


[1] UN FAO, Smallholders and Family Farmers-Fact Sheet, (2008).

[2] “Future demand and climate change could make coffee a driver of deforestation,” Phys.Org, http://phys.org/news/2016-04-future-demand-climate-coffee-driver.html, accessed July 18, 2016. See also, Dr. Timothy Killeen and Grady Harper, “Coffee in the Twenty-first Century: Will Climate Change and Increased Demand Lead to New Deforestation?” Conservation International (April 14, 2016).

[3] Inge Jacobs and Susan Cote with Lisa Conway and Kimberly Easson, The Way Forward: Accelerating Gender Equity in Coffee Value Chains, Coffee Quality Institute, (2015), 11.

[4] International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dryland Areas, “Cooperatives: Can They Deliver for Rural Women?” in Caravan: Review of Agriculture in the Dry Areas, Issue 30, (2014), 6-7.

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