FAO Programme ::: Livelihoods

Rural development programmes must address gender discrimination in wages and access to livelihood assets

Economic globalization has linked even isolated rural areas in a chain that connects local, national, regional and international markets. Value chains are evolving rapidly with the expansion of supermarkets and of the demand in industrialized countries for fresh produce year round.

For millions of agricultural producers, agro-processors and rural workers, globalization offers increased employment and income opportunities. But improvements in livelihoods will depend on how effectively developing countries can participate in markets.

FAO's strategy aims at creating "enabling environments" that benefit everyone in the value chain, from producers to exporters. It calls for policies that enhance the development impact of agro-industries, promote rural employment and help small producers diversify into new enterprises.

Gender dimensions of rural employment and livelihoods

As agriculture shifts from subsistence to commercial production, the future of small-scale producers in developing countries depends on their being able to diversify into new income generating activities, including off-farm employment.

Rural women's employment prospects are severely limited. Like women everywhere, they have primary responsibility for raising children, preparing food, and taking care of sick family members, plus extra burdens, such as collecting fuel wood. Gender roles reduce rural women's participation in labour markets and confine them to lower paid and more precarious employment in agriculture.

As farmers, women grow traditional food crops, while men are more likely to grow cash crops and, therefore, are better positioned to capitalize on new market opportunities. Women farmers face systematic discrimination in access to the resources and services needed to improve their productivity, such as credit, secure land title and education. Gender bias in North Africa and the Near East limits women's use of machinery, such a tractors, which affects the productivity of farms run by women.

Women farmers in some countries have established profitable businesses supplying international markets with organic or fair trade produce. But studies show that women can lose income and control as a product moves from the farm to the market - in Uganda, strong urban demand for leafy vegetables led men to take over their cultivation.

When off-farm employment is available - for example as farm labourers or in agro-processing - women continue to suffer gender discrimination. In India, the average wage of female farm workers is 30% lower than that of men. As casual or seasonal labourers, they are usually the first to be laid off.

Worldwide, the agro-processing of vegetables, flowers, shrimp, pigs and poultry is carried out mainly by women. Low-paid tasks in agro-processing are generally "feminized", while men are more likely to have jobs that require training and earn higher wages. Limiting women's range of occupations has high efficiency costs. It also leads to less investment in girls' education. Because girls receive less schooling, they are more likely to be employed as poorly paid "bonded labour" on large farms and plantations.

Rural wage employment can help women escape from poverty by increasing their income and strengthening their household bargaining power. However, there can be significant trade-offs. In Ecuador, young women's employment in the cut-flower export industry has brought them economic benefits, but reduced the amount of time they have for communal work and child care.

FAO's targets 2008-2013

To mainstream gender equity in its programmes for rural employment and improved livelihoods, FAO has set itself the following targets to 2013:

Agro-industries and rural infrastructure    
Address gender issues in policy guidance for agro-industrial development, and produce technical guidelines of best practices in infrastructure design that recognizes gender needs.

Conditions and wages
Promote equitable employment conditions for men and women in agro-industries, measured by ratio of men's to women's wages.

Fisheries policy and enterprise development
Include gender issues in guidance to governments on fisheries and aquaculture policy, and increase men's and women's incomes through enterprise development.

Gender equity in value chains    
Produce business development training materials that address the different needs of rural men and women, and promote gender sensitive activities that link both male and female farmers to value-chains.

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