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I. Gender and systems approach: main considerations

1.1 Introduction: agriculture, gender and appraisals

Transformations in agriculture and appraisals

Activities defined as "development programmes" or "projects" involving major financial, human, institutional and technical resources at the local level are generally designed to "improve the living conditions of rural households and increase their agricultural production". These programmes and projects affect the progress of rural households and their production units.

Many agricultural development programmes and projects are unsuccessful because those who design and implement them know little of the rural setting in which they operate.

Often, the proposed solutions are based on preconceptions rather than solid observations of the actual situation at the field level. Questions such as "When might one specific cropping technique be preferable?" "What would be the economic impact on local farmers of introducing this or that technique?" and "What do we mean by an appropriate variety?" need to be asked.

Clearly, the answers to these questions depend on the specific local conditions such as soil type, climate, technologies used, market threats and opportunities. In addition to these variables, rural development agents[2] should also be aware of other social factors, such as the structure and dynamics of the rural societies in which they work and to which agricultural problems are related. Familiarity with the reproduction processes of farm production units, as well as with the inner dynamics and trends of the surrounding community, is also necessary.

The comparative failure of various programmes and projects has produced a situation in which many experts now insist on conducting a pre-project appraisal and analysis before any action is taken. Understanding the local rural situation, current agricultural transformations, agrosocio-economic dynamics and changing patterns in rural production units is crucial if programmes and projects are to have a significant and successful impact.

An in-depth appraisal is essential in defining programme and project objectives. The value of implementation, monitoring and evaluation of results and activities in a project is highly subject to an accurate interpretation of the situation under review - just as the success of a prescribed cure in medicine depends largely on whether the illness has been correctly diagnosed.

In other words, if a programme or project is to improve the living conditions of the target group, it must be relevant to the ongoing transformations in the rural societies and social groups involved. This means that the proposed changes or improvements must be feasible within the local context, and compatible with the felt and unexpressed needs of the population. Relevance in terms of the social, economic and environmental transformations already under way means having at hand a broad and fundamental appraisal of the situation, and being aware of the overall issues. Overall, a clear and shared understanding of these issues is essential if the planners, field officers, women and men farmers and other local stakeholders involved in the project are to work together efficiently, pooling their resources.

In recent decades, application of the systemic approach in agriculture has led to the use of a specific appraisal method that examines the transformations under way in rural societies and in agriculture. The appraisal focuses on farming systems within the larger context of "agrarian systems" or "development".

The systemic approach is based on the core assumption that each farmer acts in accordance with a specific farming system and family circumstances, which are determined by the productivity and constraints of the farm production unit. If family labour is abundant and underutilized, but land is scarce, the farmer will tend to favour labour-saving technologies (giving a higher yield per unit of farm production), and will probably also seek to engage in off-farm activities to supplement the family income. If instead capital is available and labour is scarce, the farmer will probably give priority to labour-extensive techniques (maximizing productivity for each working day).

Furthermore, according to the systemic approach, a detailed knowledge of the farming strategies and practices of the production units must precede proposals for specific technical changes. A clear picture of the socio-economic objectives and farming characteristics of the various types of farm production units is essential to ensure that the innovations to be introduced into the farming system are consonant with its resources and with its patterns of decision-making and behaviour. Taking into account all these aspects increases the chance of farmers utilizing the given innovations.

The role of a systemic approach in agrarian research is to adapt the recommendations designed by research centres in order to transform farm household practices and techniques. As technical or economic innovations proposed for farm production units had previously only very rarely proved compatible with the varied and highly complex conditions of agriculture,[3] from the early 1970s onwards, the trend in agronomic research has been to apply a systemic approach.[4]

In the context of development programmes, the purpose of the systemic approach is to formulate and implement strategies designed primarily to improve farming techniques and productivity.

Transformations in gender roles and appraisals

In the last few decades, agriculture has undergone important transformations. Parallel to this, serious questions have arisen on gender roles and relationships. The agriculture sector has been subject to major technological, economic, social and environmental transformations. Consequently, new social realities have emerged, in both rural and urban areas. With reference to gender, there have been clear and significant changes in the relationships between women and men, and a remarkable change in the role, image and position of women in society. These changes have also altered patterns of behaviour and culture, as well as the economic and social contexts.

Although the evolution in behavioural patterns and responsibilities in relationships between women and men within the household and at work is still slow, legislation increasingly recognizes greater equality of rights for all. The principle of equal incomes and equal access to education and other public services is increasingly widespread. At the same time, there is a growing female presence in the decision-making, policy-making, economic and institutional spheres.

Rural development projects showed little concern for gender issues until the 1980s. The usual "target groups" were "rural families" or "poor peasants". Some projects highlighted the productive role of women, but primarily as an extension of women's reproductive role, while others had women-oriented components, but ignored the dynamic evolution of gender relationships.

In the last two decades, gender analysis methods have been promoted as significant factors for studies and assessments of socio-economic transformations. It is interesting to note that some of the components forming the conceptual framework of the gender analysis approach, i.e. the criterion for equality in gender roles, are of relevance in the fields of sociology and economics. However, in this type of approach, the search for equal opportunities and the participation of both women and men establish that the definition of sex should not represent a condition for the accomplishment of human rights and that the division of gender roles should not lead to subordinate relationships. Gender analysis has thus taken concepts from other disciplines and tailored them to fit its own needs and objectives.

The analysis of gender relations is now becoming widespread in studies and appraisals of agriculture. Gender has been incorporated as a collateral aspect of the different participatory rural appraisals that have been promoted during the past decade as instruments for participatory planning at the community level.

The strategic nature of adopting a gender perspective as a tool to promote sustainable development was recognized by the United Nations during the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. The Beijing Platform for Action stipulated that economic growth, social development and environmental protection are objectives closely related to the progress of women. Women's and men's active and equitable participation in development, and their equal opportunities, represent fundamental aspects in the eradication of poverty and in achieving sustainable human development.[5]

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in combining the approach to farming systems analysis with that of gender analysis. Unquestionably, there are opportunities for mutual enrichment, as well as enhancing the effectiveness of both, by combining their separate fields of study and analytical targets and methods. This paper is intended to be a further contribution to the discussions in this field by exploring ways of achieving this objective and offering some practical and theoretical suggestions for future actions and research.

1.2 Systemic analysis

The analysis of farming systems is broadly based on systems theory - a tool that is applicable to any subject of study (a living organism, a factory, an institution, a vehicle, etc.). It is worth examining some of the main features and principles of the systemic theory, before looking at the systemic approach applied to agriculture. The following are some general guidelines that are useful for the study of any subject or object.

1.2.1 Background to the basic theory of systemic analysis

In L. Von Bertalanffy's General Systems Theory: foundation, development, applications (1976), a system is defined as "a set of components interlinked by relations that confer upon them a certain organization in order to accomplish certain specific functions". Other similar definitions (De Rosnay, 1975) describe a system as "a set of components that interact dynamically, organized around an objective".[6]

To analyse a system, it must first be circumscribed within certain boundaries, then its components must be identified, along with everything that, although not lying within the system (meaning the rest of the world), is related to and conditions its functioning. A farm family production unit, for example, can be described as a system combining human resources and a set of physical components utilized in the farming process. In this case, the system's boundaries are those of the nuclear family and of the territory where the farming activity takes place - the farm, land parcels, etc. - and the various factors of production. The components of the system are the members of the nuclear family and the resources involved in the farming process, such as herds, tools and implements, buildings, etc. The rest is what lies outside the system: neighbours, family outside the nuclear unit, the natural resources surrounding the unit, the market supply and demand, public community services, etc. Before making an in-depth analysis of the system's components, it is necessary clearly to identify its boundaries.

The analysis of a system combines the following aspects:

A system can be viewed as the combination of ranked and interdependent subsystems, where each component can be analysed as a separate system (these could be livestock and cropping subsystems in the aforementioned example).

In short, the structural analysis of a system entails studying its composition. This consists of the study and description of the system's components, focusing only on a limited number of significant elements.

The functional analysis of a system examines the relationships and exchanges among these components (i.e. the exchanges, interactions and mechanisms of regulation and control within the components).

Analysis of the dynamics of a given system identifies past and present trends in the system's overall context and transformations over time, taking into account external influences. Such analysis normally includes a study of how the system relates to the outside world.

1.2.2 Basic concepts of systemic analysis applied to agriculture

The various types of systems taken into account when applying systemic analysis to agriculture are as follows:

Possible subsystems within the farming system are the livestock subsystem at the herd level, and the cropping subsystem at the level of land parcels. Sequences of farming techniques called "technical itineraries" are applied in both cases.

The agrarian system

The set of components of the ecosystem and local rural society, and the relationship between the rural society and the territories in which it operates are referred to as the "agrarian system". Reference to an agrarian system entails a geographic unit (geophysical, administrative, etc.). The farm production units are subsystems of the agrarian system.

There are a number of definitions pertaining to the agrarian system concept. However, the most renowned is the one offered by Mazoyer (1985), which places the agrarian system as an historical and social artefact:

"An agrarian system is a historically constituted and sustainable way of exploiting the environment, a system of forces of production adapted to the bioclimatic circumstances and necessities of the moment."[7]

Although widely diffused, this interpretation of the agrarian system has been subject to several criticisms. For instance, while one argument sees Mazoyer's definition as referring to the system as a means of exploitation (i.e. viewed from a purely human and environmental utilization standpoint), another argument regarding the environmental and social dynamics questions the feasibility of obtaining a system that is in equilibrium with certain bioclimatic conditions and specific needs. In other words, it is important to highlight that agrarian system analysis provides an understanding of the environmental, economic and social trends involved, as well as the ongoing transformations of agriculture and rural society within a microregion - in terms of its specific context and the factors influencing that context. In this way, agricultural development is perceived as the process of transformation of an agrarian system. That is, the process of change taking place within the web of relations between a rural society and the territory and environment in which it operates.

To summarize, use of the agrarian system concept facilitates the identification and study of the dynamics in which development programmes plan to intervene. The appraisal of zones helps to understand ongoing transformations, local agrarian history and current trends that explain the present and future situations of individual production units.

The farming system

"A farming system is the spatial and temporal combination of certain resources derived from the labour force (family, paid workers, etc.) and various means of production (land, water and irrigation systems, plant and animal genetic resources, credit and capital, buildings, machinery, implements, etc.), in order to obtain different agricultural productions" (Dufumier, 1984).

The farming system should be understood within a micro-economic context, as it refers to the production unit or agricultural enterprise.[8]

The system operates according to the particular farming logic of the household unit, pursuing its specific socioeconomic objectives. Decisions concerning the management of the system are considered to be rational (assumption of consistency of the system), meaning that the production unit mobilizes and uses certain means in a coherent manner to achieve the desired socio-economic objectives. Such "logic" varies from one farming system to another, according to the available resources, external influences and the particular strategy adopted (e.g. survival with short-term horizons, simple reproduction of the unit, accumulation, etc.).[9]

It is important to note that application of the farming system concept to a rural economy, particularly when referring to the farm family production unit, assumes that the units of production, reproduction, residence, consumption, accumulation and the like are identical aspects of the system. In reality this is not the case. Although they overlap to a considerable extent, they are rarely totally identical. Nonetheless, in some cultural contexts, such as those prevailing in Latin America, social, historical, agrarian and religious spheres have produced a high degree of correlation among these aspects. The farm family production unit (FFPU) corresponds to what has survived of the "domestic production mode" (Sahlins, 1972) or the "domestic agricultural community" (Meillassoux, 1975). Sahlins prepared a "domestic production mode" model based on farm production characteristics from a gender perspective. Main aspects of the Sahlins model include division of labour by sex, the "introverted" circulation of domestic products, a predominance of the value of use over the value of exchange, and the fact that within the domestic unit, commercial exchange is ignored.

Referring to the FFPU and the peasant sector as the basis of out-migration for salaried workers, Meillassoux points out that "the domestic farming community, through its ordered capacities for agricultural production and reproduction, represents a form of integral social organization that has persisted since the Neolithic era, and upon which rests even today a major portion of the reproduction of the labour force necessary for capitalist development."[10]

The cropping system

A cropping system is defined by Sebillotte as the area covered by a land parcel that is homogenous in terms of its crops and technical itineraries. Several cropping systems may coexist in a farm family production unit, constituting a cropping combination or "plant production system". The aim of studying a cropping system is to understand the patterns of plant population (growth of crops, their spatial distribution, crop rotation over time, competition with weeds, etc.), the technical itineraries in use, production rates, labour and land productivity, and crop yields.[11]

The livestock system

This subsystem refers to animal production activities. It consists of grouping all the animals together as a herd and applying to them all the elements of the technical itinerary, i.e. breeding, reproduction, animal health and hygiene. For animal production it is the equivalent of the cropping system for crop production. Nonetheless, given that the time and population variables are different, a herd may not be assimilated to a land parcel or an animal to a vegetable; they are analysed separately as subsystems. Therefore the existing interrelation takes into account the complementary or competitive use of resources or their general mutual contributions to the system's functioning.

The technical itinerary

With reference to crops, the technical itinerary has been defined as the "logical, ordered sequence of techniques by means of which the environment is controlled and made to produce" (Sebillotte, 1974). It comprises the technical operations and activities applied to a plant or animal population (normally livestock and herds). Knowledge of the technical itinerary makes it possible to choose between alternative methods that are appropriate to the operation of the system. The roles of rural family members and the techniques used can be analysed to determine how they fit and operate within the farm production unit, in order to be able to design alternative roles and techniques.

To summarize, within the systemic approach applied to agriculture:

1.2.3 Key aspects of systemic analysis applied to agriculture

The analysis of farming systems is applicable to all types of agriculture. Of particular relevance to rural development is the "peasant economy", with its characteristic "farm family production units" (FFPUs). From the standpoint of agricultural production, FFPUs are the agricultural production units, while from a general social standpoint they are consumption and accumulation units, in which all family members are bound in the familiar economic dynamics of consumption/accumulation, which are considered an overall situation.

A preliminary phase of a systemic approach usually involves a socioeconomic and agro-ecological analysis of the area of intervention. The goal is to identify the characteristic components of a specific municipality, watershed, administrative area, etc. in order to analyse it subsequently as an agrarian system.

The next step is to analyse the agrarian system's production units, which entails describing and reviewing such units and, within these, the livestock and cropping subsystems with their respective technical itineraries. During this process, relatively homogenous broad categories of production units are identified, leading to the designation of typologies with specific, case-by-case criteria.

Farming systems derive from the above analysis, where the productive and socio-economic logical sequence (also referred to as "strategies") of any of the various types of production units identified can be deduced within the microregional context.

Appraisals of this type facilitate the understanding of a hidden reality, the introduction of technical and agronomical innovations, the reorganization of existing farming systems, or the incorporation of either alternative farming systems or cropping and livestock subsystems. The analysis is followed by experimentation, demonstration and tailoring of the agronomic innovations selected to the actual conditions at the field level; this process is referred to as validation or verification. The final phase is to monitor and evaluate the effects of the intervention on farming productivity, income and environmental balance.

The analysis of farming systems as applied to rural economies focuses on the farm family production unit as a whole, without differentiating among the individual behaviours and strategies of its members. Therefore, in this context, technical recommendations lack the data and analytical basis to promote a balanced, gender-responsive approach within the FFPUs, which takes into account individual family members. One way of bridging this gap is to integrate gender analysis with systems analysis.

1.3 The importance of gender as an analytical category

1.3.1 Historical background

Despite the indispensable socioeconomic role played by women, their full participation in the development process and their opportunities to benefit fully from such a process are limited. One of the prime concerns of the various gender methodologies[12] has been to analyse this situation with a view to overcoming the aforementioned obstacles. Two approaches that deserve special attention are the Women in Development (WID) and the Gender and Development (GAD) approaches.

WID was one of the major outcomes of the Women's Decade (1975 - 1985), which aimed at strengthening the productive role of women in developing countries. WID identifies women as the direct focus, or target group, of development programmes or projects designed both to stimulate women's participation in the productive sphere and to bolster overall economic growth and development.

Despite the significant input of the WID approach to the analysis of women's contribution to the development process, and the inherent constraints to such participation, during the 1980s a number of methodological gaps became apparent. The WID approach tends to focus on the household as the unit of study, leaving aside women's status compared with that of men in other spheres. The GAD approach produced a significant shift in perspective; in this approach analysis of the position of women starts off by analysing the context. Therefore, development policies and programmes need to take into account such conditions. This perspective of analysis highlighted the need to focus on the roles and responsibilities of both women and men, to differentiate their participation in the decision-making process and to foster changes in social structures, values and behaviour, in order to improve women's living conditions.

Gender-responsive analytical methodological tools and concepts tailored to the GAD approach are now available. Particularly, but not exclusively, as part of the Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis Approach (SEAGA) developed by International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and FAO. SEAGA proposes a systematic review of six related and socially relevant fields: the environment, economics, society, culture, demographics, and policy-making. Its purpose is to provide a conceptual tool kit and practical lessons for research and action, with the goal of acknowledging and considering the functions of gender and enhancing equality between women and men.[13]

1.3.2 Concepts and gender roles

FAO's Plan of Action for Women in Development (1996 - 2001) defines gender and gender roles as follows:

"Gender refers not to women or men per se, but to the relations between them, both perceptual and material. Gender is not determined biologically, as a result of sexual characteristics of either women or men, but is constructed socially. It is a central organizing principle of societies and often governs the processes of production and reproduction, consumption and distribution." (FAO Plan of Action for Women in Development, 1996 - 2001.)

In other words, gender refers to men's and women's social responsibilities within society and in family contexts. These responsibilities can vary considerably within cultures and from one culture to another, and are subject to change.

"Gender roles are the socially ascribed roles of women and men, which vary among different societies and cultures, classes and ages, and during different periods in history. Gender-specific roles and responsibilities are often conditioned by household structure, access to resources, specific impacts of the global economy, and other locally relevant factors such as ecological conditions." (FAO Plan of Action for Women in Development, 1996 - 2001.)

Thus, gender roles are learned behaviours. Women and men in a given society are each allocated activities, responsibilities and functions that define their position within the group. These gender definitions are usually related to other variables, such as age, social class and ethnicity. Gender roles are not immutable, and can vary as the result of changing social conditions (FAO/ILO/UNDP/SEGA, 1997).

1.3.3 Gender analysis

Gender analysis conducted within a specific social group is an instrument for studying relations between women and men by examining the activities, responsibilities, opportunities and constraints regarding resources, decisions and the execution of personal activities in the group under review. Essential questions in this type of analysis are: Who does what? When? Why? and For whom?

"Gender analysis seeks answers to fundamental questions such as who does or uses what? How? and Why? The purpose of gender analysis is not to create a separate body of social knowledge about women, but to rethink current processes - such as natural resource use and management, economic adjustment and transformation, or demographic changes - to better understand the gender factors and realities within them. Armed with this knowledge, it should be possible to avoid the mistakes of the past and tailor interventions to better meet women and men's specific gender-based constraints, needs and opportunities." (FAO Plan of Action for Women in Development, 1996 - 2001.)

1.3.4 Key aspects of gender analysis applied to agriculture

Gender analysis when applied to agriculture examines the roles played by individuals (women and men) in relation to the spheres of production (agricultural and non-agricultural), the sphere of reproduction, and the social or community life of a specific group. Under this perspective, and in contrast with the farming system analysis, there is a review of farm family production units (FFPUs), giving the same weight to these three spheres.

Gender analysis applied to rural societies with a focus on agricultural units makes a detailed evaluation of four pivotal or key[14] aspects in the areas of production, reproduction and social life.

It first looks at the division of labour by sex. Secondly, it analyses the access to and control over resources, including tangible resources (means of production, such as land and water) and intangible resources (such as knowledge). Differentiating access to and control over resources by gender is fundamental, because it affects and frequently determines the gender roles within FFPUs and communities. Thirdly, it analyses the different roles that women and men assume in decision-making and management within the FFPU and the community. Lastly, it differentiates between practical and strategic gender needs. Practical gender needs are usually those claimed by women and men (but not families) in terms of their current and accepted social roles. Neither the division of labour nor the position of women in society are questioned. These are immediate needs perceived as such, and may include water, health, the need to strengthen productivity etc. Strategic needs, on the other hand, are those concerning women's subordinate position in society and the search for gender equality.

Summary Table:
Conceptual frameworks for farming systemic analysis and gender analysis

Conceptual and ideological roots

Farming systems analysis

Gender analysis

  • Systems theory

  • Systemic research by geographers, anthropologists, agronomists and economists on the rural sector, farming techniques, rural society and the rural economy

  • Structural influences (Marxist and neo-liberal)

  • Research development

  • Sustainable development

  • Principal schools: "agrarian systems and research
    into farming systems"

  • Socio-economic and anthropological research on home economics

  • The feminist movement

  • The Women in Development (WID) approach

  • The Gender and Development (GAD) approach

  • Discussions on equality and equitable power-sharing

  • Sustainable development

  • Main approaches: on gender roles, development planning; "feminist economics"

  • Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis (SEAGA) of FAO, ILO and UNDP

Scales and objects of observation

Farming systems analysis

Gender analysis


  • FFPUs as units of agricultural production, consumption and accumulation; FFPUs represented as farming systems

  • FFPU economy

  • FFPU agronomy: cropping and livestock subsystems (land parcels and herds) and technical itineraries

  • Possible technical-agronomic and economic changes

Meso- or intermediate level

  • The agrarian system, the dominant general system of agricultural production in the FFPU area and/or the development context at the community or microregional level

  • The social and technical transformations of agriculture at the community or microregional level (agrosocio-economic dynamics)


  • The decisive macroeconomic institutional and agricultural policy factors


  • The FFPU and the community - gender and role relationships

  • Workload division by sex in the FFPU: productive and reproductive

  • Access to, use of, benefit from and control over tangible resources in the reproductive and productive spheres

  • Gender management and decision-making in different spheres

  • Practical and strategic gender needs

Meso- or intermediate level

  • Men's and women's participation in institutions and organizations

  • Men's and women's access to services (credit, extension, etc)


  • The decisive macroeconomic institutional and agricultural policy factors

Project cycle

Farming systems analysis

Gender analysis

  • Analysis of agrarian systems or development contexts within the microregional context (meso)

  • Analysis of farming systems (micro)

  • Typologies of production systems, with their respective socio-economic logic

  • Constraint analysis of farming systems

  • Project formulation with identification and introduction of agronomical alternatives or alternative farming systems

  • Experimentation, demonstration and tailoring to actual conditions (validation) of the agronomical innovations selected

  • Monitoring and evaluation of the impact of these innovations on farming productivity, income and environmental balance

  • Analysis of gender roles and women’s living conditions compared with those of men in the household and in the community

  • Formulation of activities to achieve some of the following objectives:

i) reorganizing women’s triple role by reducing their domestic workload, increasing their agricultural productivity and improving their participation in organizational and community terms;

ii) improving women’s access to tangible resources (factors of production such as land, water, labour, plant and animal genetic resources, capital/credit) and their control over these;

iii)strengthening and improving women’s role in management and decision- making at the FFPU and community levels;

iv) meeting some practical gender needs and formulating strategies for equity and equal opportunities in development

1.4 Some conclusions

The fields of study relating to gender and farming systems analysis tend to overlap. Although their scopes and objectives do not coincide, appraisals and field activities combining the two approaches are possible. The purpose of such a combination is to coordinate agricultural production and reproduction analysis, taking into account their interrelations and reciprocal conditional factors.

This exercise recognizes the need to broaden the respective areas of study. On the one hand, by expanding systemic agricultural research, it allows an in-depth review of gender roles and an adequate integration of economic production, social reproduction and the organization of social collective life. On the other hand, by linking gender research, it becomes easier to integrate the technical, economic and social dimensions of agricultural production.

For this purpose it is essential to consider FFPUs as true social and economic units, examining them simultaneously as: production units (farm, non-farm and off-farm); consumption and social reproduction units (including for procreation, education, recreation, etc.); and accumulation units (in which members share a common economic system). The present systemic overview visualizes the existing interrelation between these three aspects.

Systemic analysis sees the rural sector in its complex dynamics, thus suggesting technical and economic recommendations that are tailored to the specificities of the various typologies of farming systems. Consequently, comparative analysis and the construction of farming system typologies are among the principal tools of this approach.

At the same time, the development of production unit typologies that acknowledge gender relations as the main prevailing variable allows a deeper insight into the strategies of the units under study. However, within FFPUs there are gender-related differences because women and men participate in different ways in agricultural production, reproduction and social life. Indeed, their different ways of participation vary from one FFPU to another.

The two analytical approaches must be carefully combined in accordance with the overall goal, which is generally to ensure that project recommendations and activities concerning technical and agronomic (and thus economic) improvements are effective and equitable for both rural women and rural men, and that they are linked to the production systems and the rural family unit. For this purpose, project recommendations should not only differentiate farming systems from subsystems, but should also take into account gender disparity, as well as the obstacles and constraints that exist in the roles carried out by the household members.

Finally, it should be noted that the "tool kit" approach and the general duplication of data of this (or any other) type of appraisal are to be avoided, as both lead to an automatization of the acquisition of knowledge, renouncing an understanding and analysis of the situation, as well as wasting valuable resources, such as time, energy and information. Professor B. Sautter, a geographer and prominent figure in the area of systemic analysis applied to agriculture, referring to such appraisals, among other methods, stated that: "There is no replicable formula for the scientific representation and analysis of agrarian systems, and the same is true for development practices, for which such representation is essential .... The worst temptation is intellectual resignation ... an attitude that, claiming objectivity and the elimination of the personal factor, draws support from a process of automating the acquisition of knowledge, or action, in the rural context .... To give priority to mechanisms, to rely on replication, is to use knowledge as a pretext for intellectual laziness, for the narcissistic pleasure of one whose desire is to remake the world in his own image " (Sautter, 1987).

The experience developed in Nicaragua by the national technical team of the project "Strengthening Women's Management of Production Units" represents an effort to develop and put into practice the analytical methodology that combines both approaches (GCP/NIC/020/NOR 1994, revision). The project came to life in response to the need to assist rural families, particularly those affected by the war in Nicaragua, with an emphasis on supporting and improving the living conditions of women working in the farming systems identified in the project areas.

[2] These include planners, technical experts, field officers, extension workers, gender and development experts.
[3] Traditionally, such innovations were based on research that focused on a "topic", or they were purely "technical" or "productivist", proposing "technology packages" that failed to consider (or at least to give sufficient weight to) the specificities of the farm in question.
[4] Based on such disciplines as geography, anthropology, economics and agronomy, and drawing on different schools of thought (from the English-, French- and Spanish-speaking spheres).
[5] United Nations. 1995. Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action.
[6] A system is a representation of reality: it is the outcome of modelling, the product of operations analysis and synthesis of the subject of study to learn more about its structure, functions and evolution. "The system is not the reality; it is the analytical and synthetical vision of the actual object of study. This vision (...) is subject to the objectives and disciplinary slant of the analysis" (Poussin, 1987).
[7] Other schools of thought, particularly in the English-speaking context, refer to the "circumstances" or the "development context", and a "farming system based on a given dominant crop association" (e.g. Andean potato-based farming systems). Systems concepts are more developed within the agrarian system concept.
[8] In this case "farming systems" and "sistemas de producción" refer to identical realities.
[9] The use of the concept "farming system" has been expanded to designate the farming system "types" identified in a specific agricultural territory, in addition to a specific system of a given farm production unit. The term "farming system" refers not to the simple microeconomic system of a given farm production unit, but to the groups of farms within a community that share certain specific characteristics.
[10] Meillassoux introduced the prospect of a simultaneous and parallel observation of the functions of production and reproduction in FFPUs, granting equal importance to both. This opened up new ways of studying farming systems.
Sahlins stresses the absence of commercial exchange within the peasant unit among members of the same family. This continues to be a dominant feature of rural economies in developing countries.
[11] In the English language literature, the cropping system as defined by Sebillotte is often used interchangeably with "cropping pattern".
[12] Such as the Gender Roles Framework, the Development Planning Unit Framework, the Social Relations Framework and the Feminist Economist Frameworks.
[13] At the institutional and policy-making levels, a SEAGA framework seeks to promote systematic, gender-sensitive appraisals of all aspects and influences on social reality. At the field level, the goal is to promote changes in patterns of behaviour, and gender analysis of the activities and roles of the individual, the family and the community. The idea is to promote a gender perspective among women and men farmers, development agents, project planners and formulators, etc.
[14] Research from the University of Florida, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and publications by S. Poats, A. Spring, M. Schmink, H. S. Feldstein, J. Jiggins, etc.

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