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Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

The role of gender in Climate-Smart Agriculture

Enabling Frameworks

The gender gap in agriculture and its implications on the context of climate change

In developing countries, women are heavily involved in small-scale agriculture, often in temporary or unpaid activities. The trends towards agricultural feminizationii are prominent in all regions. 

The visible rise in women’s responsibilities in agriculture is a result of increasing diversification out of family farming, which is being driven by demographic pressures and land fragmentation. It also reflects the intensification of agricultural production, which affects the demand for female and male labour. The growth of jobs in other sectors and significant male out-migration from rural areas is another factor that is increasing women's workload. (Slavchevska et al., 2016)

There is growing evidence that neglecting the large ‘gender gap’  that persists in agricultural productivity and development in most countries carries with it substantial costs (Ali, 2015; Peterman et al., 2014; UNWomen, 2015). It is estimated that closing the gender gap in agriculture would raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent, and would reduce the number of hungry people by 12 to 17 percent globally, the equivalent of 100 to 150 million people (FAO, 2011).

Evidence also points to the fact that more equal gender relations within households and communities contribute to agricultural and rural development, including gains in productivity and nutrition (Farnworth et al., 2013). 

Two primary areas of concern have emerged from interventions related to gender and agriculture:

  1. gender-specific use, control and ownership of assets and their effect on the adoption of agricultural practices; and, conversely,
  2. the impacts of agricultural interventions on the gender-differentiated use, control and ownership of assets. 

It is important to note that female farmers are just as efficient as male farmers. They produce less because they control less land (as illustrated by Figure C6.2), use fewer inputs and have less access to labour and important services, such as agricultural extension (FAO, 2011). In addition, when crops traditionally managed by women farmers become commercially profitable, men will often take over their production and marketing (Berti et al., 2004; Doss 2001; Momsen 2010). 

When climate-smart interventions are being designed, all the stakeholders must give a thorough examination of the important role women play in small-scale farming. Policy-makers and development practitioners need to carefully weigh, from a gender perspective, the potential trade-offs that may need to be made. What appears as progress from one perspective, may actually have negative side effects for women. Improvements in one area may increase women’s economic dependence and diminish their income opportunities and status. There is a clear need for careful gender analysis in all climate-smart agriculture interventions.

There is compelling evidence that climate change can reinforce or exacerbate inequalities. However, it is important to recognize that resolving gender inequalities is not only a matter of 'righting a wrong'. It also represents an important opportunity to make use of previously underused and under-recognized abilities, knowledge and talents. Providing equal access to women and men farmers to land and other productive resources can provide a 'triple dividend' of greater gender equality, improved food security and enhanced climate change adaptation and mitigation. It opens up the possibility of a cost-effective and transformative approach to climate-smart agricultural development. To make this a reality, there is a need for a careful re-evaluation of current agricultural practices and any proposed climate-smart innovations.

Paying attention to gender equality is essential for meeting the objectives of climate-smart agriculture, as it will serve to increase agricultural productivity and incomes, build resilience to adapt to climate change and contribute climate change mitigation. 

C6 - 2.1 Challenges for sustainable production intensification for women smallholder agricultural producers

It is clear that the significant gender gap in agriculture must be addressed to achieve a shift to climate-smart agriculture. The factors that contribute to this gender gap are described below. This section also looks how taking gender-sensitive approaches during the planning and implementation processes of climate-smart agriculture interventions can support the uptake of transformative practices that have the potential to make rural households and communities more productive and resilient.

Land tenure and soil quality

  • Even though women make up 43 percent of global agricultural labour force, women own, operate and manage fewer, smaller and less valuable plots than men (FAO, 2011). Figure C6.2. illustrates regional figures on male and female agricultural land ownership.

Limited ownership and tenure security seriously limit women’s access to credit, which compromises their adaptive capacity. Without formal title to land, they cannot finance climate-smart agriculture innovations. It also means that women have little access to services that could help facilitate investments to obtain new technologies, improve their natural resource management practices, and adopt more efficient and productive cropping and livestock management, all of which could help them address the degradation of natural resources and build their resilience to climate change (World Bank, 2009).

Figure C6.2.  Share of male and female agricultural land holders in developing regions

Source: FAO, 2011.

Defining land ownership is complex, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, the maps in Figure C6.3 show clear differences in areas where women tend to own more land, and the relative importance of sole ownership compared to joint ownership. The left column shows by district, the share of land owned only by women, the land owned only by men, and the land owned jointly by women and men as reported in the survey. 

The right column presents the share of landownings for each group where soil quality is reported to be 'fair' or 'poor', as opposed to good quality. It shows that women’s landownings are much more likely to have poor-quality soil (about 47 percent overall, compared to about 35 percent for male-owned and jointly-owned land); and the areas where these gender disparities are more prominent. These maps can be further compared with available spatial data, such as Geographic Information System (GIS) data to capture climate and weather patterns. In this way they can be used to demonstrate specific driving factors for the gender gap in agriculture.

Figure C6.3. Agricultural land ownership and soil quality distribution by gender across districts in Uganda

2011 Uganda The Living Standards Measurement Study - Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) Survey 

Share of parcels owned by:
(Only women)

Shared parcels where soil is "fair/poor" quality and owned by: (Only women)

(Only men)

(Only men)

(Women and men - Jointly)

(Women and men - Jointly)

Access to extension and climate-related services

Improving men and women's access to climate information is another crucial aspect for making the transition to climate-smart agriculture. In 2011, out of 97 countries, only 5 percent of extension services were directed to women; and only 15 percent of extension personnel were female. In some cultures, women working in agriculture were effectively barred from engaging with these services (FAO, 2011). In some countries, staff of advisory service providers may have attitudes that reflect a bias against farmers who lack access to credit and have less education. Extension workers tend to target resource-rich farmers, and women, who typically have poorer access to resources, are neglected (Elias et al., 2015). 

Women's work burden

The gender gap in agriculture is also manifest in women’s work burden. Their multiple and competing roles lead to their time poverty, which can imply asset and income povertyiii

Women are farmers, workers and entrepreneurs. They also spend a significant of amount of time ensuring that other members in their household, including children and the elderly are adequately fed and properly nourished. Rural women often manage complex households and pursue multiple livelihood strategies. Their activities typically include producing agricultural crops, tending animals, processing and preparing food, working for wages in agricultural or other rural enterprises, engaging in trade and marketing, caring for family members and maintaining their homes. They also look after the energy needs of the household, collecting fuelwood and water. These domestic activities are time-consuming tasks that limit women's opportunities to participate and benefit from climate-smart agriculture initiatives. The burden of work that women take on must be alleviated to allow them and their families to spend their time in more rewarding and productive ways. Case studies from Bangladesh Ghana and Uganda show that one of the most significant social impacts of environmental stress in farming systems is the intensification of women’s workloads and the decreases in the assets of poor households (Jost et al., 2015; Goh, 2012).

Many climate-smart agriculture practices require relatively high investments in time and/or labour (e.g. building stone bunds and terraces) – investment that many households with few working-age adults or with more women than men cannot afford to make.

Women's entry and presence in the labour force will vary depending on their personal situations. Shifts in the labour market are bringing about fundamental changes to women’s workload and power relations in the home and the community. Women’s disproportionate responsibility of unpaid care work traps them in 'time poverty'. They do not have the time to participate in agricultural development initiatives and other social, economic and political activities, which deprives them of the full enjoyment of their economic and social rights (Action Aid, 2013).

Viewing climate-smart agriculture practices through a 'work and time burden lens' can help lead the way to effective gender-responsive interventions. For example, some climate-smart agriculture interventions, such as the introduction of improved cooking stoves, and the use of biomass for energy and biogas, are more attractive to women because of their labour-saving features.

Box C6.1 describes a tool developed by Action Aid to monitor and evaluate women's workload, including activities related to climate-smart agriculture practices.

Box C6.1  Action Aid Time Diary Tool 

The Action Aid Time Diary Tool was developed and piloted in the framework of Action Aid’s Women’s Rights to Sustainable Livelihoods project. It is a participatory and self-administered time diary, providing a detailed report on how the diarists' time has been spent and the number of activities they have carried out. Women track on an hourly basis any changes that result from various interventions, such as opening child care centres and the introduction of water harvesting and other climate-smart agriculture practices. 

The main objective of using the time diary tool is to track the amount of time women spend on each activity, such as fetching water and fuelwood, and caring for children compared to the time they spend doing unpaid work that could be counted as contributing to the gross domestic product (GDP). Women also note the amount of time they spend resting, engaging in social activities, and activities related to project interventions. The tool was also used to record the income generated from agriculture and other activities as a means of tracking the financial progress and improvements in women’s self-reliance that had been achieved through a voluntary savings and loan scheme. 

In Rwanda, by using this tool it was possible to confirm that there was a 15 percent reduction in women’s unpaid care work due to the project's activities. In Ghana, a 10 percent reduction in time spent on child care was observed following the introduction of community child care centres and water harvesting technologies. A considerable increase in time spent on GDP-quantifiable work, rest and relaxation was also noted. Many of the men who used the time diary tool were also reported as becoming change agents in their communities as they were more likely to take on unpaid care work within the household. The time diary format has also proved to be an influential advocacy tool for public sector stakeholders.

Source: Action Aid, 2016


ii Feminization of agriculture: Based on the latest internationally comparable data, women comprise an average of 43 percent of the agricultural labour force of developing countries. The female share of the agricultural labour force ranges from about 20 percent in Latin America to often over 50 percent in Eastern and Southeastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The trends towards agricultural feminization are especially prominent in the Near East and North Africa. Between 1980 and 2010, the share of women employed in agriculture increased from about 30 percent to 43 percent in North Africa, and from 35 percent to 48 percent in the Near East. (SOFA, 2011)

iii Gender roles include: (1) productive roles that generate an income – women engage in paid work and incomegenerating activities, but gender disparities persist in terms of wage differentials, contractual modalities, and informal work; (2) reproductive roles related to social reproduction, such as growing and preparing food for family consumption and caring for children; (3) community managing roles that include unpaid and voluntary activities, mainly carried out by women, to complement their reproductive role for the benefit of the community, such as fetching water for the school; and (4) community or politics roles related to decision-making processes, such as membership in assemblies and councils. Women’s role can be identified as reproductive, productive, and community managing, while men’s roles are categorized mainly as either productive, community, or politics. Women’s multiple and competing roles lead to their time poverty, which can imply asset and income poverty. The unequal value placed on roles of women compared with men is mainly responsible for their inferior status and the persistent gender discrimination they experience.