Despite the fundamental role of rural women in agricultural and livestock production, their contributions to achieving food security and sustainable development have been systematically ignored and undervalued. In recent years, however, there has been a growing interest in the incorporation of alternative models that take account of a gender dimension in development policies and guidelines.
The purpose of this study is to propose a conceptual and methodological framework that integrates a gender perspective into the analysis of farming systems. The aim is to produce a reference guide for future rural development programmes and projects. The first part of the study reviews systems and gender analysis within the agricultural context. The second part reviews the experiences of the Nicaraguan project "Strengthening the Capacity of Women in the Management of Small-scale Farm Production Units" (GCP/NIC/020/NOR). It sets out to identify the methodological findings, including the advantages and disadvantages, emanating from that project's valuable experience, rather than to carry out an actual evaluation of the project.
When applied to agriculture, systems analysis focuses on boosting productivity and production by studying the socio-economic and agro-ecological context, as well as reviewing farming systems. Gender analysis, on the other hand, examines the roles, activities, responsibilities, opportunities and constraints of each member of the community under review, and attempts to achieve greater equality between women and men within their spheres of interaction.
Although the research areas of gender and farming systems analysis intersect at various points, each has its own scope. While gender analysis takes into consideration economic production, reproduction and community participation, farming systems analysis tends to focus on the technical and socio-economic aspects of agricultural production. A conceptual framework, designed to combine both approaches, would therefore offer a better opportunity for grasping the complex and heterogeneous reality of peasant economies.
The overall goal of the Nicaraguan project was to stimulate and strengthen rural women's participation in the community and in agricultural development in farming areas affected by armed conflict in Nicaragua. When the project activities began, a conceptual framework combining farming systems analysis with gender analysis was not available. As the project advanced, methodologies, tools, variables and concepts were adjusted through a process of trial and error to constitute such a framework.
In concrete terms, elements from systems and gender analysis in relation to agriculture were combined to produce appraisals in various communities and municipalities of Nicaragua. The aims of the appraisals were to illustrate and review the local socio-economic and agro-ecological conditions; analyse farm production units and their strategies; design consonant farming system typologies; review the status of women in terms of their work and activities; and highlight areas that were appropriate for technological improvement. The study findings and data were then used to formulate recommendations and introduce innovations that are consistent with the needs of the local population.
This document proposes certain methodological guidelines and instruments based on the Nicaraguan experience, as well as a review of the conceptual frameworks of systems and gender analysis to be taken into account when analysing agrarian systems from a gender perspective.
Appraisals grounded in systems analysis incorporating a gender perspective allow us to understand women's and men's different roles and perceptions of their roles, as well as providing accurate information for tailoring activities to specific needs. The objective is to look at the farm family production unit from the standpoint of gender roles within the spheres of production, reproduction and community participation, highlighting the division of labour, access to resources, participation in decision-making, and felt needs and priorities.
The two steps in the process entail carrying out appraisals first at the municipality level and then at the community level, choosing methodological guidelines, tools and variables in line with the specific objectives of the study. The active participation of community members in gathering and reviewing the relevant data and defining their needs is fundamental at both stages.
The microregional study provides an overview of the agro-ecological and socioeconomic characteristics of the area, a concrete understanding of women's status within the local context, and a clear idea of past and current trends in the agrarian system.
The analysis of the community involves a number of methodological steps, ranging from an overview of the local history and geography to an analysis of the expressed needs and priorities of the local inhabitants. Some important steps in the process include an analysis of community organization, a review of the local farming systems and their underlying logical sequence, and the identification of farming system typologies, bearing in mind the role of rural women within the farm production unit.
Although the breadth and scope of the appraisals will obviously vary in accordance with the depth of the analysis desired, any ensuing recommendations should take into consideration the various farming system typologies identified, thus ensuring that models for technical improvement consider both the specific features identified and their diversity.