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Executive summary

Executive summary

The present report represents a synthesis of nine national sectoral reports 1 on women in agriculture and rural development prepared within the context of FAO's Programme of Assistance in Support of Rural Women in Preparation for the Fourth World Conference on Women. Both the synthesis report and the sectoral reports follow the guidelines prepared by FAO for reporting on the agricultural sector, which correspond to the UN Secretariat Guidelines for report preparation on the status of women. FAO's Guidelines were prepared in order to ensure that information regarding the agricultural, forestry and fisheries sectors would be included in the country reports presented at Beijing, and that the situation of rural women would thus be adequately addressed in policy and decision-making debates at the national level. The synthesis report is a comparative analysis of the quantitative and qualitative data provided in the sectoral reports and focuses on the similarities among countries, while identifying those countries which vary strongly from the norm. The data is supported, when available, by other documentation in the region.

(1 Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia, Sudan, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The sectoral reports for Mauritania, Morocco and the Sudan were prepared under the auspices of FAO's Regional Programme of Action for Women in Agriculture in the Near East (RPAWANE).)

The Introduction examines the important role of agriculture, and especially the smallholder sector, in the national economies of the nine countries, as well as the critical role of rural women within this sector. In all of the countries women's contribution to the production of food crops is substantial, ranging from 30% in the Sudan to 80% in the Congo. Also examined are the national contexts in which rural women work as well as the regional trends which have an impact on women's productive role in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, including structural adjustment policies, population pressure and environmental degradation, male rural-to-urban migration, and the increasing significance given to rural women's productive roles in national agricultural plans and policies.

The first section of the report describes the situation of rural women working in agriculture, food security, food production and processing during the early 1980s and outlines the major constraints women encountered at this time, including decreased agricultural incomes, increased emphasis on commercial agriculture and export crops (and the subsequent neglect of the smallholder sector), and rural women's lack of access to productive resources. The recent creation of national women's machineries and their capacities and constraints are also addressed.

Changes in the position of rural women since the early 1980s within the six critical areas of concern identified in the UN Secretariat and FAO Guidelines are also examined. These areas are:

Within the first area, women's representation as members and office bearers of agricultural and rural organizations is examined. While women are members of such institutions, they are not represented in proportion to their involvement in agricultural activities and only rarely found in the higher levels of leadership. Women's representation in decision-making positions within Ministries of Agriculture and other ministries and government bodies dealing with rural development is similarly low. At the local governmental level, few women hold decision-making positions and are very rarely involved in traditional authority structures. As these bodies are often responsible for local resource allocation, women's lack of representation at this level has many negative implications in terms of their access to such resources. At the household level, women's role in decision making in farming activities tends to increase if male household members have migrated. However, more research is needed on intra-household decision-making processes, especially those regarding the use of household income.

The second area of concern examines the national machineries for the advancement of women, including the WID units or focal points in the line ministries, as well as the important role of NGOs in increasing the visibility of rural women at local and international levels.

Legislation limiting women's rights to credit, land, and agricultural services is reviewed under the third area of concern. In many countries, discriminatory legislation continues to exist while in others, customary laws may dilute the efficacy of recent equal rights legislation. Even in those countries in which positive legislative initiatives have been taken, both women and men often remain unaware of women's legal rights or the legal and administrative systems to ensure such rights, especially in rural areas which tend to be far from such legislative centres.

The fourth area of concern examines the factors contributing to poverty in rural areas, including economic crises and subsequent economic reforms, environmental degradation, and the increase in the number of women-headed households as men migrate to urban areas in search of employment. Women-headed households are faced with a number of additional constraints that impact on poverty level and food security, including shortages of adult labour, lower wages and incomes, and smaller and less fertile plots of land.

Women's access and rights to land-ownership, credit, extension services and agricultural training are examined under the fifth area of concern. In general, women have less access to land than men; when women do own land, the land holding tends to be smaller and located in marginal areas. Rural women also have less access than men to credit, which limits their ability to purchase seeds, fertilizers and other inputs needed to adopt new farming techniques. Although women's access to credit and extension services is improving due to the increase in special programmer and funds created to address their particular needs, access to land continues to pose problems for rural women in the majority of the countries examined.

The sixth area of concern analyzes rural women's productive role and their involvement in economic activities. Despite differences in the definition of the economically active population, the importance of women's agricultural activities to the national economies is clear -- rural women are a substantial and sometimes dominant proportion of the population involved in agriculture.

The gender division of labour is then reviewed and the following generalities emerge:

The second section of the report reviews selected programmes in support of women in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. These programmes are categorized as follows:

The last section reviews the future strategic goals and objectives for promoting the advancement of women. The need to improve women's access to agricultural resources and services was emphasized throughout the reports. For this, it is necessary to ensure that rural women's particular concerns and constraints are taken into account in the formulation and implementation of development policies, programmes and projects. Six strategies were identified to achieve this objective and are listed below:

In order to accomplish the above mentioned goals, the strategies must be pursued within an enabling policy environment -- one that fully recognizes the importance of agriculture, forestry and fisheries to the national economy as well as rural women's critical productive role within these sectors. If the appropriate commitment to the agricultural sector is lacking, and to the women and men farmers, foresters and fisherfolk within it, then the broader goals of economic development and food security will be difficult to achieve. Information and statistics that accurately portray the nature and role of women's involvement in these sectors, as well as the constraints they face, are prerequisites for gaining this commitment and also critical for the formulation of successful policies, programmes and projects at the national level.

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