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Responsivenees of research institutes to the needs of women farmers

Responsivenees of research institutes to the needs of women farmers

Agricultural research has a key role to play in increasing food production, improving natural resource management and carrying out policy analysis. At the heart of the agricultural research system are the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in both developed and developing countries and the 17 International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs): five in Africa, five in Asia, including one in western Asia, three in Latin America and three in the developed regions. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) was established by 40 public and private donors to support these centres. These centres carry out scientific research and technological development in the fields of agriculture, forestry and fisheries with the aim of improving agricultural productivity in developing regions.

Most research to date has been oriented to cash crops and staple crops such as wheat, rice and maize, and has neglected food crops grown by small farmers and women farmers in particular, such as hardier grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Consequently, women farmers have not received full benefit of the investment in agricultural research. Moreover, the emphasis on cash crops over food crops for household consumption often means less land and labour available for food production.

Box 8 - Whose Criteria Matter?

The major technological thrust of the Green Revolution was the development by agricultural research centres of high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat which under favourable conditions increase grain yield considerably over indigenous varieties. But increase in grain yield is not the only desired criteria or preference for women farmers who also value biomass and other components of the crop or plant. To a small producer, rice is not just grain: it provides straw for thatching and mat-making, fodder for livestock, bran for fish ponds, and husks for fuel. These products not only have a role in the domestic economy but are often a valuable input to other income-generating enterprises which provide a livelihood for many of the rural poor, especially women.

Adapted from Janice Jiggins, Gender-Related Impacts and the Work of the International Agricultural Research Centres, World Bank, 1986 in FAO, Women and the Green Revolution, 1996.

The neglect of women farmers in the development of technologies has also had several negative effects:

The lack of responsiveness of agricultural research institutes to the needs of small farmers, and especially women farmers, constitutes a constraint on the ability of these groups to improve food production and their contributions to food security, as well as abandons them to a cycle of poverty.

Is there a correlation between the lack of responsiveness of agricultural research institutes and women's participation in these institutes? It would appear, from data compiled by the CGIAR, that there may be. The great majority of the professionals trained in agricultural and biological sciences and forestry, engineering and chemistry, social sciences, math and statistics, and environmental sciences who staff these institutes are men. Table 4 shows the small percentage of women composing the staff of the seventeen IARCs and CGIAR. It is also significant that while there is a moderate participation of women in the non-scientific and trainee staff of the IARCs, only a small percentage of this number reach management and policy-making levels.

TABLE 4 - Women Staff in International Agricultural Research Centres, 1991


Total Staff

% Women

Seventeen centres


Scientific staff




Other international staff




Postdoctorates and trainees








Board Members



Total in centres



Consultative Group (CGIAR)


Secretariat (at the World Bank)




Technical advisory committee




Total in Consultative Group






Source: United Nations, The World's Women 1995, Trends and Statistics, Chart 4.12, using data from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), 1992.

Data on women's participation in international cooperative service in agriculture is very scarce, but those which are available show a very low participation of women, except among overseas volunteers in agriculture where women's participation reaches 28 percent (see Table 5).

TABLE 5 - Women Staff in International Cooperative Services in Agriculture, 1991


Total staff

% Women

National development assistance institution UK Overseas Development Administration


Technical cooperation officers (agriculture)




Natural resource advisors



International non-governmental organization


Volunteer Services Organization (volunteers overseas in agricultural sector)



Int'l development assistance programme FAO technical cooperation officers (agriculture)



Source: United Nations, The World 's Women, Trends 1995 and Statistics, Chart 4.13, using data from the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR), 1992.

The low participation of women in agricultural research institutes can be partly attributed to the low participation of women in scientific and higher agricultural studies. However, the percentage of women in agricultural research institutes does not even correspond to the percentage of women in higher agricultural education. This indicates that even qualified women have difficulty in benefiting from their education, and that there are other barriers that women face in moving into senior scientific and technical positions.

There is a growing awareness of the need for greater responsiveness of research institutes to the needs of women farmers. Recommendations from farmers' representative organizations, the World Food Summit and others have called upon agricultural research institutes to focus on the needs of landless farmers and women farmers. In particular, agricultural research institutes need to recognize women farmers as a key constituency and give attention to the multiple uses of plants for food and other products, and for household food processing, storage and preparation technologies.

FAO has recommended that:

A number of agricultural research institutes are beginning to put such recommendations into practice, as the examples in Box 10 show. However, efforts need to be intensified and multiplied.

Box 9 - Responding to Women Farmers' Research Needs

"In Peru, the International Potato Centre(CIP) is testing and screening staple food crops grown by women in sub-Saharan Africa, such as the sweet potato, in order to find combinations of early maturity and high yields with some degree of drought tolerance. These crops are often used by women during periods of famine and shortage, and are eaten before the main harvest or when harvest is poor".

"In the Côte d'Ivoire, the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) has been conducting surveys to identify preferences of women and men farmers in adopting improved rice varieties. While men prefer short-statured high-yielding varieties, women will be reluctant to grow these varieties due to the difficulties of harvesting them while carrying infants on their back. As the constraint may lead women farmers to reject such varieties, WARDA has increasingly shifted its emphasis toward the development of medium to short-statured varieties".

FAO, Research and Extension. A Gender Perspective, 1996.

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