While in previous decades rural policy relied very much on central government, policy-makers are now facing three fundamental changes: the expanding role of the private sector; increasing decentralization in decision-making, with corresponding demands for and expectations of transparency; and increased stakeholder participation in planning and decision-making processes at all levels - community, regional and national. Small farmers and food entrepreneurs are becoming active stakeholders. These changes are directly related to the necessity for comprehensive and technically sound databases capturing the variety of economic activities through which rural people participate in the production process.
According to a recent report by the World Bank (1999a), monolithic decision chains dominated by central governments are giving way to broad-based stakeholder participation and to a greater variety of disaggregated agricultural operations comprising smaller and more diverse components. Governments may have to shift from their traditional role of centres that define rural development to a new role where they are primarily administrative and trouble-shooting organizations, providing standards for development and control mechanisms. This new role cannot be performed without solid and broad statistical information about rural producers, both landowners and landless farm workers.
It should be emphasized, however, that the decentralization of policy-making for rural development will require not only more accurate and systematic statistics on rural producers, but also officially collected data that are more relevant to the needs and concerns of data users and producers' associations, academic institutions and public and private development practitioners at all levels. As stakeholders involved in the diffusion of information, communication and public representation of various development interests, these information agents will thus empower men and women from different social groups to participate in the development processes. In this respect, some fundamental issues are not adequately addressed in agricultural censuses and surveys; for example, sex differentiation in:
i) landownership and use;
ii) access to credit;
iii) training and extension services;
iv) technology; and
Since these variables are usually ignored in the data collection and tabulation processes, censuses need to be supplemented by other socio-economic surveys in anticipation of stakeholders' increased need for information.
The production of more accurate estimates regarding the participation of men and women in the labour force, particularly in agriculture, not only generates sound statistics but also sound economics. Accurate information forms the basis of awareness about potential labour force misallocations and resulting welfare losses (such as loss of qualification or skill potential). In rural economies striving to maximize the use of available resources, skill loss would be a high price to pay, since skills and qualifications are directly involved in the development of new and more productive processes. Despite the mechanization and intensification of agriculture, agricultural labour is likely to remain the principal factor affecting food security and economic change in many developing countries in the foreseeable future. Over the past 20 years, agricultural planners have often overlooked the "human factor", while social planners may have overlooked production or market factors, possibly because agricultural and social planners often belong to different ministries and their efforts are not easily coordinated. This indicates a limited use of information about social and human development in relation to the developmental priorities in agriculture. The lack of information on women's input in agrarian economies may be only one example of this misunderstanding of the role people play as human capital and agents of rural development in general. However, since the focus of this publication is the gender dimension, it concentrates mainly on issues related to the use of gender-related information for socio-economic development.
The general approach in development strategy over the last 20 years has moved from women in development (WID) to gender and development (GAD). Thus, the focus has shifted from women in isolation to women in relation to men. Specifically, the gender approach considers the roles of men and women, how they differ, their interrelationships and the different impacts that policies and programmes have on them. In statistics, the focus has therefore moved from statistics on women to gender statistics. These changes in the conceptual framework and approach of gender and development represent a challenge for FAO to provide more gender-balanced policy and technical advice to address development needs in member countries.
Collecting gender-sensitive data is not an end in itself. There is increasing evidence that human capital - involving the efforts of both men and women - is a crucial factor in development, more important than the physical capital involved in the process of food production. But data on rural producers in general, and women in particular, are still regarded as being of only marginal relevance to policy-making. This may be a result of policies in agricultural development that are often narrowly aimed at product growth, overlooking labour input as a major factor and, hence, the importance of human resources as well as the social and welfare aspects of development. Collecting gender-sensitive data goes beyond the simple disaggregation of data by sex. It attempts to reflect the diverse and differentiated situation of men and women, their specific contributions to agrarian economy and the consequences of their traditional roles in different social and economic situations.
Agricultural development aims at increasing productivity and overall production while, at the same time, securing the preservation of natural resources, increased incomes, the creation of employment and the improvement of food security and adequate levels of nutrition. However, these objectives are often pursued in the face of serious economic constraints and resource shortages. Thus, agricultural planning should make full use of existing resources, in particular human capital. Development lessons from the past have revealed that the invisible input of women - when taken into account by rural planners and policy-makers - can produce tangible and sustainable improvements in the quality of rural life at the household and community levels.