There are increasing concerns that the vital contribution of women to the management of biological resources, and to economic production generally, has been misunderstood, ignored, or underestimated (Howard, 2003). Women are the sole breadwinners in one-third of all households in the world. In poor families, with two adults, more than half the available income is from the labour of women and children. Furthermore, women direct more of their earnings to meet basic needs. Women produce 80 percent of the food in Africa, 60 percent in Asia and 40 percent in Latin America (Howard, 2003).
Women tend to be more actively involved than men in the household economy. This typically involves the use of a much wider diversity of species for food and medicine than are traded in regional or international markets. Women generally have the primary responsibility of providing their families with food, water, fuel, medicines, fibres, fodder and other products. Often they need to rely on a healthy and diverse ecosystem for a cash income. As a result, rural women are the most knowledgeable about the patterns and uses of local biodiversity. Yet, these same women are often denied access to land and resources. In many countries, such as Kenya, women have access only to the most marginal land - medicinal plants are collected along road banks and fence rows and fuel is collected in the de facto commons - land too far from villages to be claimed by men.
Gender issues cut across agrobiodiversity management activities in several ways. First, agrobiodiversity management is community-based, and requires the support of the entire community - young and old, rich and poor, men and women, boys and girls. Because women play a restricted or invisible role in the public affairs of many communities, special steps need to be taken so that women are consulted on agrobiodiversity management.
Tradition may dictate that the household head speaks for the household. However, many men are not sufficiently aware of womens concerns to raise them adequately in public meetings. Hence, other ways must be found to tap womens knowledge, needs and requirements, and to determine their commitment and contributions to agrobiodiversity management.
Second, men and women use agrobiodiversity in different ways and have diverse allocation and conservation measures. Agrobiodiversity management therefore requires information, participation in decision-making, management and commitment from both sexes.
Moreover, in several regions, womens roles and responsibilities are greater than ever because of male migration to urban areas. Frequently, men are absent from rural homes because they leave to earn an alternative income. This creates de facto female-headed households, where the men may retain decision-making power, even though the women are managing the farm and household on their own for long periods. This feminization of agriculture may indicate that women are obtaining more decision-making power with regard to agrobiodiversity management.
Because of these above-mentioned tendencies, it is important for us to recognize that gender considerations in agrobiodiversity always need to take into account both mens and womens roles, responsibilities, interests and needs.
Furthermore, within these two groups, we need to be aware of other differences that need to be taken into consideration: those of age, ethnicity and social status.
Failure to consider these differences, between men and women, leads to unsuccessful project activities. It may also lead to the marginalization of a major sector of society and a large part of the agricultural workforce. Thus, understanding gender relationships, and adjusting methods and messages, is crucial for the full participation of all sectors of the community.
Bravo-Baumann, H. 2000. Capitalisation of experiences on the contribution of livestock projects to gender issues. Working Document. Bern, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
FAO. 1997. Gender: the key to sustainability and food security. SD Dimensions, May 1997 (available at www.fao.org/sd).
Guinand, Y. & Lemessa, D. 2000. Wild-food plants in southern Ethiopia: Reflections on the role of famine-foods at a time of drought. UN-Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia, UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia.
Howard, P. 2003. Women and plants, gender relations in biodiversity management and conservation. London, ZED Books.
Synnevag, G. 1997. Gender differentiated management of local crop genetic resources in Bafoulabe Cercle, Kayes region of Mali - A case study. In Actes du Colloque, Gestion des Ressources Génétiques de Plantes en Afrique des Savanes. Bamako, Mali, 24 - 28.2.1997, pp. 85-92. Montpellier, France, Institut dEconomie Rurale, Bureau des Ressources Génétiques, Solidarités Agricoles et Alimentaires.
FAO Web site on gender: www.fao.org/Gender/gender.htm
FAO Web site on sustainable development issues: www.fao.org/sd/index_en.htm
FAO Web site for Gender, Agrobiodiversity and Local Knowledge: www.fao.org/sd/links
Additional background papers
FAO. 1999. Women-users, preservers and managers of agrobiodiversity. Rome.
Torkelsson, A. 2003. Gender in agricultural biodiversity conservation. In Conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity. Manila, CIP-UPWARD in partnership with GTZ, IDRC, IPGRI and SEARICE.