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Agricultural investments can raise women’s income and improve lives

Land-related investments in agriculture can greatly impact rural people’s lives. One of the main conclusions drawn from four FAO studies is that women’s livelihoods were improved when private investors took measures to increase women’s participation in agricultural land-related investments.

©FAO/Simon Maina

The benefits extended beyond the rural women interviewed for the FAO studies in Ghana, Lao PDR, Tanzania and Zambia as they invested the additional income in their children’s health and education and food for the family. The women said they were playing a stronger role in household decision-making and community initiatives.

FAO conducted the studies to analyze how land-related investments in agriculture affected women’s and men’s employment and earning opportunities as well as their access, control and use of land in three African countries and a fourth in southeast Asia.

In Northern Tanzania, for example, a horticulture company in Arusha took measures to increase women’s participation. It ensured that women could join as outgrowers by establishing individual contracts for both men and women. The company’s efforts also included extending social security, healthcare and maternity leave benefits to permanent women employees and promoting women to management positions.

Similarly, a company that produces mangoes in northern Ghana issued individual contracts to any member of the same family who wanted to participate as an outgrower. Thus, a woman could join the scheme even if her husband was already a member. In two communities, located in Geshiegu-Karaga District, more opportunities were created for women to join the scheme when the chiefs made considerable areas of land available for mango cultivation to any community member. Traditionally, men are reluctant to grant women access to land for tree cultivation for fear that they may claim rights over the trees and the land on which they are grown.

In Zambia, a sugar cane-producing company that had mostly male outgrowers decided to increase the number of female outgrowers. To do so, it allowed widows to take over their deceased husbands’ contracts. These women felt that by having their names on the contracts and being the outgrowers themselves they had challenged negative attitudes about their capabilities and rights. The women also felt that this has helped them to better articulate their problems and identify solutions when necessary.

“Giving jobs to young women, especially from poorer households and ethnic minorities with little or no access to land, on a banana plantation in Lao PDR made a big difference in their livelihoods,” says Martha Osorio, FAO Gender and Rural Development Officer. The company employing them created opportunities for women to be promoted to supervisory roles with accompanying pay rises.

In all of these examples, the measures taken helped promote women’s economic empowerment. Conversely, when companies did not proactively support women’s involvement, the land-based investments in agriculture presented several challenges:

  • Women were often left out of the consultations and negotiations with investors over the terms of inclusion in the companies. As a result, they did not receive monetary or land compensation from the private investors.
  • In some cases, communal and forest areas were allocated to investors, causing women to lose access to land where they collected fuelwood, medicinal plants and other non-timber forest products that were essential to their income and food supply.
  • The wives of outgrowers experienced a large increase in workload when they had to tend to a new crop in addition to those for which they were traditionally responsible. Despite the additional work, the women did not benefit directly from the extra income because their names were not on the outgrower contracts.

The four studies are part of a larger FAO programme which seeks to generate knowledge and raise awareness on the consequences for men and women of land-related agricultural investments. From these findings, recommendations have been drawn for policy makers and investors to better take women’s and men’s needs and priorities into account in agriculture and investment policies, strategies and programmes.