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Module V: Gender, population, farming systems & land tenure: Main policy issues

Module V: Gender, population, farming systems & land tenure: Main policy issues

(Topouzis/du Guerny, SDWP, November 1995)

A. Key policy issues

Vertical versus holistic approaches to gender, population & agriculture/rural development.

As seen in modules l-IV, gender, population and agriculture/rural development issues tend to be perceived along vertical lines -- conceptually as well as programmatically -- often in isolation from one another. This leads either to the neglect of linkages between these areas or to simplistic generalizations and deterministic relationships between related variables (as seen in Module II).

For example, to argue that population growth is the main cause of poverty and environmental degradation is to overlook the linkages between these problems, such as the wider gender and social inequalities, unequal land tenure patterns, power relations, etc. Rural women, in their efforts to satisfy the basic needs of their families and lacking alternative means of employment or access to capital, are frequently pushed to overexploit resources. This is largely due to gender inequality, and, in particular, to the fact that resource access and land tenure systems tend to favour men.

The experience of the Philippines illustrates some of the long-run consequences of relatively high population growth. It has become a densely populated country, not only in the fertile lowlands but also in the much more fragile uplands. Economic growth, although moderately rapid, has failed to provide enough mew jobs to shrink the reservoir of impoverished rural households that feeds the stream of upland migration. A family planning program to witch the government has not been firmly committed has yet to reach most poor and rural households. Yet, population policy is only one determinant of the negative effects of population growth on the environment. Economic policies that failed to reduce the burden of poverty, and land tenure policies that provided secure right on public forest lands only in the form of shout-term leases to a few large-scale timber concessionaires have been at least as important.

Source: Word Resource Institute, Population Growth, Poverty, and Environmental Stress: Frontier Migration in the Philippines and Costa Rica, October 1992, p. 12

"Tenurial policies are population policies when they allow uncontrolled land use in frontier areas, thus inviting large-scale migration," has argued a recent study conducted by the World Resources Institute on Population Growth, Poverty and Environmental Stress. "Economic policies that depress real wages and employment also have significant demographic consequences. Similarly, failure to address rapid population growth should be regarded as a policy with massive long-run consequences. "

However, tenurial, agricultural and economic policies are rarely inherently population- and/or gender-neutral. In other words, a concerted effort is needed to develop a holistic approach which incorporates population and gender factors into agricultural/rural development issues, where appropriate. The first step in this process is to identify the linkages between agriculture/rural development, population and gender. Modules l-IV have attempted to delineate some of these linkages, focusing on land tenure and farming systems. Rudimentary working conceptual frameworks and/or broad guidelines on how to incorporate population and gender issues in agriculture and rural development have also been proposed.

Acknowledging the linkages between population, gender and agricultural/rural development issues, however, is not enough. The Thailand case study below shows that population variables should not translate into mere social or demographic information and data, as is generally the tendency, as this does not result in the integration of demographic issues in agricultural policies and programmes. Population data should be used as an analytical tool to enhance our understanding of the relationship between population, gender and rural development over time and to harmonize population with agricultural policies.

A holistic approach to gender, population and rural development by definition needs to encompass a gender dimension, to address the needs, interests and constraints of both men and women (see Module I). The Onchocerciasis Control Programme examined in Module IV shows that migration deeply transforms the relationship between people who have relocated and the land, since those installed in new settlement areas do not own the land they cultivate. Under these circumstances, women's socio-cultural and economic dependence on their husbands, arising from the fact that men had formerly entrusted part of the land they owned to their wives, has no longer a raison d'étre. Module IV argued that if advantage is deliberately taken of the changed relationship between migrants vis-à-vis the land and of its socio-cultural and economic implications, this could facilitate women's access to and control over land.

Case study: Planning for community forestry and population issues -- Thailand. INT/90/P40

INT/90/P40, an on-going project funded by UNFPA and executed by FAO's Community Forestry Unit (FONP), examines in detail the relevance and significance of population issues in community forestry planning. The project has identified key linkages between community forestry and population, including policy issues and training needs and opportunities for community forestry training programmes. A brief summary of the project findings will help to illustrate how similar exercises in the areas of gender, population and land tenure and farming systems can help integrate linkages into mainstream policies and programmes.

Although population pressure and deforestation are quite pronounced in Thailand, existing literature is heavily focused on deforestation; community forestry and its organization; conflicts between communities, forestry officials and capitalists; and how the conflicts are, or should be, solved. Studies on significant population variables -- such as geographic distribution, population composition (e.g. age and sex), family formation, rural-urban density, migration streams, growth rates, age structure, dependency ratio and other socio-economic characteristics -- and their impact on land use, forestry and deforestation are rare.

Current forest/environmental research considers population only in terms of population size, growth and density. Even here, differences of opinion exist as to what is the actual causal relationship between population and deforestation. This controversy, moreover, limits the ability to incorporate population variables into forestry policies, plans and programmes.1

(1 For a discussion of Panayotou's and Sungsuwan's econometric function for defining forest cover and deforestation, see "Population Issues Relevant to Community Forestry Planning: Thailand,- INT190/P40, p.)

The causal link between population and environment in Thailand today is clouded further by a lack of attention to basic population data. Though data on some variables have been collected -- such as age structure, population size, migration, income and occupational distribution, and community organization -- they are only collected to give a descriptive profile of the communities or areas under study and are not used as analytical tools for understanding the relationships between population, deforestation and environmental degradation, especially over time.

In forestry and environmental planning, population variables should not be looked at as social or demographic profile information only, though this has been the case for Thailand thus far. In fact, this approach largely explains why population variables are absent from forestry training programmes as well as policy-making and planning. Rather, they should be able to indicate linkages (both direct and indirect) between those variables and land and forestry use, as well as whether or not they affect land and forest degradation, to what extent over time, and how. In effect, what studies of population and community forestry need most is a dynamic time series approach to understand the actual interaction between population variables and community forestry, and thereby integrate basic population data into forestry use planning. This type of approach does not exist at present and current assessments are as a result limited, as they only look at a "snapshot" in time and not how that picture has developed over time.

For example, changes in community and household demographic variables (growth, size, age-sex composition) should be studied over time in relation to land use and deforestation to determine whether or not population pressure changes are actually influencing environmental stability at present versus in the past. Moreover, it is often assumed that population growth is one major determinant of environmental degradation, and that reducing population growth rates by launching more effective development programmes aimed at rural poverty alleviation is one effective measure against population growth. In Thailand's case, however, the population growth rate has declined significantly over time due to an effective national family planning programme. What is now the real issue is that the number of births added each year (which amounts to over half a million) is still a problem for national, social and economic development planning, particularly in terms of preserving the environment and natural resources.

Family formation is another important population consideration. It includes such aspects as age at marriage, post-nuptial residence, age at having first and second children, family planning, inheritance patterns which should be investigated in relation to land tenure, land fragmentation, migration as well as land and forest use. For instance, while large families may have been the norm in the past, contributing to the population-environment pressure process, today the family is changing toward a more nuclear structure. This may reduce pressure on the environment, especially under conditions where some, or most, family members out-migrate at a certain age.

Migration needs to be examined in terms of the relationship between migration, land, forestry use, and degradation, particularly over time and with regard to gender and occupational alternatives. Migration can serve both positive and negative purposes with regard to community forestry conservation and an accurate understanding of each of its dimensions is crucial.

Gender roles are also important as they give indications as to:

For instance, in community forests in Northern Thailand, the traditional pattern included a clear-cut division of labour between men and women. Women were responsible for child care, obtaining and preparing foods in and around the village, obtaining water and firewood and collecting forest products for sale. Men were responsible for gathering foods (animals, plants) deep in the forest, clearing the land, ploughing and harrowing rice fields, tending cattle and livestock, cutting trees and constructing houses, basket weaving, as well as selling forest products. Today, however, this relatively rigid traditional division of labour pattern has broken down. With the advent of a cash economy, men's and women's roles have become more flexible since more human resources are needed. As a result, gender roles have become diversified in order that all the required tasks be done. In relation to the land, for instance, men and women now share work more equitably, and men are also assisting in child care.

Finally, ethnicity, especially with regard to gender roles and division of labour, is another important population variable which must be studied in connection to land use and conservation. Two cases in point are Northern Thailand's largest hilltribe ethnic groups, the Karen and the Lawa. These groups are known to conserve the environment. Women make the fire breakers when clearing new land and are involved in maintaining water resources in the community. Women also take part in community forestry projects which are becoming more widespread among the hilltribes. At the household level, the women plant vegetables, herbs, and spices in the rice fields for family consumption. Although women have not formed a formal forest conservation group in hilltribe communities with regard to environmental conservation, they are the ones who directly use and benefit from natural resources.

Therefore, traditional population variables associated with the environment (e.g. geographic distribution, rural-urban density, growth rates) are not the only relevant or critical variables that must be considered in assessing problems related to deforestation and pressure on forestry resources. Additional factors (such as ethnicity and family formation mentioned above) are also important considerations that need to be integrated into training programmes for forestry officials, in order to promote better landuse planning and more sustainable management and use of forest and tree resources.

To conclude, although some population issues have been explored in research projects related to community forestry, they have been primarily used to compile descriptive profiles of communities for background information purposes. They have not been used as analytical tools in community forestry planning. Thus, in the future, INT/90/P403 recommends that training programmes improve the capacities of foresters and demographers to facilitate local people in developing their own forest land management plans, by integrating some of the following population components:4

1. Population Structure.

Main thrusts/objectives: To provide analytical information on population size, age and sex composition in relation to land and forestry use. Age and sex structure elements are core components of all demographic processes -- fertility, mortality, migration, etc. -- and accordingly, have a direct relationship to rates of natural increase and overall increase or decrease in a community or other large social grouping. Age and sex structure also determines the proportion of men and women in the labour force and the dependency ratio which is also important for understanding past, present and future settlement patterns and their population composition/characteristics.

2. Fertility, Mortality, Migration

Main thrusts/objectives: To provide analytical information on births, spacing, familiar size, family planning accessibility, contraceptive method use, ability to choose whet, to have and when to stop childbearing. To provide analytical information on mortality, which includes rates, differentials and causes. To enhance the understanding of foresters, other government officials, policy-makers, etc. of the inter-relationships between population movement and land/forest use.

3. Family Structure, Formation and Inheritance Patterns

Major thrusts/objectives: To examine the relationship between family structure (i.e. types, status and roles, division of labour, family formation, family developmental cycle and inheritance patterns), and land/forest use. Family structure is dynamic and is shaped by population change due to changes in fertility, mortality and migration. Coupled with inheritance rules, these aspects have had a tremendous impact on land use patterns, land fragmentation and forest use.

The case study of project INT/90/P40 shows how 'population' issues are relevant to community forestry planning. Similar exercises on Population, Gender and Farming Systems and Population, Gender and Land Tenure, could help to document and substantiate some of issues raised in Modules II, III and IV with "hard" supporting data. Action-oriented research into these linkages and concrete programme recommendations will enable the integration of this holistic approach in FAO regular programme activities and budgets and in Member States' development plans and programmes.

Gender bias and stereotypes

Modules l-IV have shown how gender bias and stereotyping are major stumbling blocks to the adoption of more equitable and holistic policies. Gender bias and stereotyping permeate development terminology and are at the core of widely held assumptions, including the following:

- that economic development, including agricultural and population policies, are gender neutral;

- that farmers are "male" while their wives are mere assistants to their husbands. It is usually taken for granted that the male farmer is the head of household, the decision-maker, and thus the target group of agricultural policies, programmes and services;

- that the farm household consists of husband, wife and children sharing common interests and working towards common goals and that within households, the burdens and benefits of poverty and wealth are distributed equally regardless of gender;

- that most migrants are men and that female migration is associational rather than economic in motive; etc.

Part of the reason for gender stereotyping is the lack of data and empirical evidence on the differential roles, contributions and constraints of men and women farmers. Any further work, therefore, on the linkages between gender, population, farming systems and land tenure should include gender-dissagregated data collection and analysis to provide policy-makers with evidence that will help break down these stereotypes and redress gender bias.

Population, gender and land tenure issues

Module II on Gender, Fertility/Mortality and Land Tenure showed how differing household demographic conditions demand differing land and tenure arrangements, and, similarly, how certain land and tenure arrangements are better suited to certain types of household demographic situations. While emphasizing the specificity of each context, the module proposed a more holistic approach to the relationship between fertility/mortality and land tenure. It was seen how the capacity of a household to make an appropriate land or tenure response depends on three conditions: land access, security and sustainability. Men's and women's constraints to these three conditions and the likely impact of these constraints on household demographic characteristics and strategies were examined. The module raised the issue of the need to develop broad guidelines in order to help policy-makers design optimal tenure arrangements for different types of households. The need to review the traditional gender focus on land ownership, given the fact that security of tenure emerged as a far more important issue for women (and men) than ownership, was also underscored.

Module IV on Gender, Migration, Farming Systems and Land Tenure, used the Onchocerciasis Control Programme as a case study to illustrate the linkages between rural-to-rural migration, gender and tend settlement. The case study clearly delineated how a population component -- in this case, rural-to-rural migration -- can be a critical factor to the success and sustainability of a 'non-population programme.' It also showed that the gender dimension of a population variable (rural-to-rural migration) can be used to enhance land tenure conditions.

Population, gender and farming systems issues

Module III showed how growing population pressure on increasingly degraded land, male out-migration, and socio-economic changes are transforming the traditional pattern of intra-household rights and obligations and the very role of women in agriculture. At the same time, levels of time and human energy inputs required in women's farm- and home-based productive and reproductive chores are increasing. In this context, having a large number of children continues to be a major asset and source of immediate and long-term economic and social security for rural women. In developing regions, this is reflected in the high value placed on child labour and in the absence of labour-saving home and farm technologies and of social safety nets.

The module further indicated that a critical area which needs to be addressed is the limited appreciation of the gender and other relationships within and between rural households, of the access to resources that different members have at their disposal, of the constraints under which different household members operate, and of the complexity of the farming systems that they practice. This calls for the need for gender-dissagregated data and gender-responsive methodologies in farming systems research, including data linking agriculture and population. The increasing incidence o, female-headed households (either through male out-migration or through polygyny) also needs to be addressed in farming systems research and in the design and introduction of new technologies.

It was also shown that there is some evidence linking partial breast-feeding and early weaning with women's increasing involvement in subsistence activities (just as changes in land tenure and farming techniques may have a profound impact on women's farm work and ability to breast-feed).5 Additional research is needed into how and to what degree the pressures on women's time at certain points of the agricultural cycle may lead to curtailment of breast-feeding and corresponding demographic effects and the likely impact of different types of agricultural innovation on breast-feeding. The module also raised the need to quantify, document and incorporate the economic contributions of children by gender into programmes and projects. Finally, the impact of AlDS-related mortality on farming systems and rural livelihoods was examined within a gender perspective, pointing to the need for population and agricultural programmes alike to design responses that take into account the linkages between gender, food security and HIV/AIDS.

B. Recommendations

1. Conduct field research on the linkages between gender, population and agriculture/rural development

Field projects similar to INT/90/P40: Population Issues Relevant to Community Forestry Planning, on gender, population and farming systems/land tenure could help elucidate key policy issues with supporting data and empirical information. This would:

a) make visible the linkages between gender, population and farming systems and land tenure;

b) show the relevance of these linkages in a specific programme or project; and

c) help propose concrete policy recommendations.

2. Merge agricultural censuses and demographic surveys

An important step in the process of translating the need for a more holistic approach into practice would be to merge agricultural censuses with demographic surveys. At present, the Demographic and Health Surveys are usually conducted in isolation from agricultural censuses. Agricultural censuses undertaken jointly with demographic surveys could be initially carried out and tested on a pilot basis. This would make both sets of surveys more effective, while facilitating the articulation of population, gender, agricultural and other linkages.

3. Regionalize existing modules on gender, population, farming systems and land tenure

Given time and space constraints, modules l-IV on gender, population and rural development are general and global in scope. As a result, and given the variety of land tenure and farming systems, and demographic conditions and priorities of different regions, oversimplification of the issues at stake has been to some extent unavoidable. The next step in identifying policy-relevant linkages between these variables would be to make them region-specific and to find ways of incorporating them into regional and national population and agricultural policies and programmes.

4. Hold an expert consultation of gender, population, land tenure and farming systems specialists

An expert consultation of population, farming systems, land tenure and gender specialists could:

a) set up a policy and action-oriented research programme on the issues and linkages identified in these modules;

b) deliberate on the recommendations proposed in this module and work out the modalities of operationalizing these recommendations;

c) develop a methodology to help harmonize policies and programmes in the areas of population, gender and agricultural/rural development; and

d) organize a subsequent meeting of population and agricultural policy makers to discuss and disseminate the findings of the expert group meeting.


1. M.C. Cruz, C. A. Meyer, R. Repetto and R. Woodward, Population Growth. Poverty, and Environmental Stress: Frontier Migration in the Philippines and Costa Rica, World Resources Institute, October 1992, p. 12.

2. The case study is based on the Draft Population Issues Relevant to Community Forestry Planning: Country Profile Thailand, by Bencha Yoddumnem-Attig, George A. Attig, Tirapong Suntipop, and Kriangsak Rojkureestein, 1995.

3. ibid.

4. For a complete list of project recommendations, see Draft Population Issues Relevant to Community Forestry Planning: Country Profile Thailand, op. cit., 1995, pp. 19-26.

5. Christine Oppong, Relationships between Wombats Work and Demographic Behavior, 1991 and Ingrid Palmer, Gender and Population in the Adjustment of African Economies: Planning for Chance, 1991, cited in C. Oppong, "Introduction," in C. Oppong and Aderanti Adepoju (eds.), Gender. Work and Population in Sub-Saharan Africa, ILO, London, 1994, p. 14.

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