Promising Approaches to Address the Needs of Poor Female Farmers: a literacy review on resources and constraints in access to land.
Agnes R. Quisumbing, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC (USA)
Lauren Pandolfelli, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY (USA)
Agnes R. Quisumbing Lauren Pandolfelli, Promising Approaches to Address the Needs of Poor Female Farmers Resources, Constraints, and Interventions, IFPRI Discussion Paper 00882 July 2009.
Quisumbing, A. and L. Pandolfelli. 2010. Promising Approaches to Address the Needs of Poor Female Farmers: Resources, Constraints, and Interventions, World Development 38(4): 581-592.
Applied Participatory Approaches:
Recognizing that “gender matters,” many development interventions have aimed to close the gender gap in access to resources, both human and physical, and to address the specific needs of female farmers. This article critically reviews attempts to increase poor female farmers’ access to land in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. It surveys the literature from 1998 to 2008 that describes interventions and policy on land tenure. The article specifically attempts to identify the promising participatory approaches that have been used in the field. Some indications for future interventions are provided in the conclusions, in consideration of the trade-offs between practical and strategic gender needs, and the culture and context specificity of gender roles.
Why “gender matters”: inequitable access to land and productivity differentials in Sub-Saharan Africa
Women are often disadvantaged in both statutory and customary land tenure systems (Agarwal 1994; Lastarria-Cornhiel 1997; Kevane 2004). They have weak property and contractual rights to land. Even where legislation may be in place to strengthen women’s property rights, lack of legal knowledge and weak implementation may limit women’s ability to exercise their rights.
Many explanations have been proposed for the existence of productivity differentials among male and female farmers, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Udry (1996) found 30 percent lower productivity on female plots than on male plots within households in Burkina Faso, because labor and fertilizer (manure) tended to be more intensively applied on men’s plots.1
Goldstein and Udry (2005) attributed the productivity differential among male and female farmers in Ghana to women’s higher level of tenure insecurity, which renders them less likely to invest in fallowing their land since they risk losing the land if they are not actively farming it.
Holden, Shiferaw, and Pender (2001) found that female-headed households in Ethiopia have lower land productivity, owing to resource poverty (insufficient male labor and oxen) and low substitutability among factors of production.Imperfections in land rental markets may lead to large productivity differentials that are not gender neutral: not only is female-headed households’ land used much less productive than land cultivated by male-headed ones (Holden, Shiferaw, and Pender 2001), but female-headed households also tend to rent out their land to tenants with much lower productivity (Bezabih and Holden 2006; Holden and Bezabih 2007).
Holden and Bezabih (2007) found significantly higher levels of inefficiency linked to contracts of female landlords with in-law tenants, owing to the difficulty of evicting one’s relatives and the high transaction costs of tenure-insecure female landlords who are less able to freely screen and select the better tenants. An important policy implication of their analysis is that strengthening women’s land rights may be good not only for equity but also for efficiency of land use.
Indeed, following a low-cost, rapid, and transparent community land registration process in Ethiopia, female heads of household in Tigray were more likely to rent out land, because tenure security increased their confidence in doing so (Holden, Deininger, and Ghebru 2007). The Ethiopia land certification scheme is an interesting initiative because land administration committees at the kebele level (the smallest administrative unit in Ethiopia) were required to have at least one female member and land certificates were issued after public registration for transparency (Deininger et al. 2007). The land certificates included maps and pictures of husband and wife.
Holden, Deininger, and Ghebru (2007) argue that land certification had a greater impact on women’s participation in the land market because land certificates may be more valuable to women, whose tenure rights have been less secure than those of men. In Ethiopia, participation in the land rental market may have been women’s best option to obtain returns to owned land because cultural norms do not favor women’s cultivating the land themselves. Single women or married women without an able-bodied man in the household would have to depend on assistance from other, unrelated men to cultivate their land.
Participation in the land rental market as landlords increases women’s options to obtain returns from owned land. Participation in land markets may be critical to women’s ability to sustain a livelihood, even if only in the land rental market. Indeed, women may find leasing land easier than purchasing it because leasing does not create long-term secure property rights in the borrower/lessee.
In Burkina Faso, the increased and changing market value of land has had the surprise effect of creating avenues outside of traditional channels for women to lease land over the long term, anonymously. Male landholders who have excess land are more willing to lease to women because women cannot claim permanent rights to land. Husbands generally support this borrowing of land by their wives, and women are therefore better able to cultivate land independently, even though they do not own it (Giovarelli 2006).
In situations where women face labor market discrimination, obtaining access to land may be even more important to women’s livelihoods. In India, returns to women’s labor in own-agriculture are higher than in off-farm employment because of wage discrimination in the latter (Deininger, Jin, and Nagarajan 2006). However, this finding is very context specific.
Several innovative pilot interventions have been used to build awareness about women’s property rights, although it is important to note that these have not yet been evaluated. In Zambia, the Justice for Widows and Orphans Project, a network of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), has established community-level advice groups for women and trains them on property law and the writing of wills. In Zimbabwe, Women and Law in Southern Africa trains community-based paralegals on inheritance laws. And in Rwanda and Kenya, NGOs are promoting marriage registration, oral and holographic wills, and memory books because lack of identification cards and low literacy rates among women constitute a major impediment to acquiring land title (Knox et al. 2007).
Promoting collective action to foster gender-equitable land tenure
Working with groups is a major mechanism through which development programs and women themselves can increase women’s control of assets, including land, and enhance their status and well-being. In fact, the social capital that groups generate has been recognized as an important asset in itself. Women draw upon a range of social networks for personal and family livelihood. Women’s clubs, various forms of women’s groups, and kinship ties, for example, are thought to further women’s empowerment through fostering social capital, especially trust and norms.
However, building social capital is not costless: networking takes time, especially when formal group meetings are required, and many groups require fees to participate. Women in poor households face particularly serious time constraints because of their various livelihood activities and childcare responsibilities. Membership fees may create a further barrier to participation by poor women who have limited control over cash resources.
Thus, group-based programs should include institutional mechanisms that enable women to join groups and remain active members. Such mechanisms include allowing nonhousehold heads and nonlandowners to be group members, since adult males are usually defined as heads of household and women often do not have title to their land; timing meetings to accommodate women’s workloads, which will vary according to agricultural cycles and their nonfarm employment; ensuring that all women (for example, poorer, less educated, single, or widowed women) have opportunities to voice their concerns in group meetings; and soliciting women’s feedback in project monitoring and evaluation (Pandolfelli, Meinzen-Dick, and Dohrn 2008).
A range of participatory rural appraisal tools, as well as stratifying groups according to different social criteria (for example, widows, landless women) can help to ensure women’s inclusion in groups. Where strong gender segregation exists, working with existing women’s groups may help facilitate entry into communities and allow women to retain control of project benefits.
Development practitioners tend to assume that women want to participate in groups, but like men, women need incentives, especially when the opportunity costs of their time are high, such as in labor-intensive collective action schemes. In the Philippines, for example, attempts to have women monitor lake water to determine whether soil conservation techniques were reducing silting were unsuccessful until the project realized that women were more interested in health issues than in soil loss. When the project began to raise awareness about how water quality affected the health of families and the program then expanded to include monitoring for E. coli, women’s participation significantly increased (Diamond et al. 1997).
Gender norms are complex. They change in response to shifting economic, political, and cultural forces, which can create new opportunities for women to strengthen their control of resources. Yet gender norms do not change overnight, and attempts to directly challenge such norms may unintentionally result in an erosion of women’s claims to resources. Thus, development planners who seek to put land in the hands of women need to consider the trade-offs inherent in interventions that challenge or respect local gender norms. In the gender and development literature, this is often referred to as meeting women’s practical versus strategic gender needs, and a range of policy approaches, from Women in Development to Gender and Development, have focused on strengthening women’s economic participation to challenging structural causes of women’s disempowerment (Molyneux 1985; Moser 1989).
It doesn’t mean that gender norms that disadvantage women should not be challenged outright in agricultural interventions but that strategies for doing so must be weighed against other project objectives, such as increased food security or better management of natural resources, which, in turn, may influence gender norms. Encouraging women to define their needs and preferences prior to the design of projects is a first step toward ensuring balance between challenging and respecting local norms.
Gender norms are also context specific, varying across cultures and even within the same country, implying that there are no one-size-fits-all strategies for addressing the needs of poor rural women. Adopting the promising approaches described in this article involves tailoring interventions to the specific sociocultural context in which gender relations unfold.
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