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Gender in rice farming systemsRice and us

Women and men often develop different expertise and knowledge in rice farming systems

Women and smallholder farmers play an important role in both rice production and post-harvest activities, yet they often do not receive proportionate social and economic benefits when improvements in rice cultivation are initiated at the field level.

The introduction of high-yielding rice in Asia during the Green Revolution increased the need for cash incomes in rural households to cover the cost of improved rice seed and other inputs, which resulted in "urban flight" where men moved to cities to earn cash. This increased the need for female labour for farming tasks, thus increasing women's already high labour burden. In order to enhance the productivity of rice-based production systems, especially for smallholder farmers, a careful assessment of gender and labour roles is essential.

Studies show that women often encounter more limitations than men regarding access to critical productive resources and services. They face greater difficulties when trying to access credit, farm inputs, marketing facilities, extension services and information. Furthermore, members of smallholder farming households, in particular women, children, the elderly, and people afflicted by illness such as HIV/AIDS, may have different information needs. They often employ cultivation practices that help them to obtain livelihood benefits: they select crop varieties that maximise returns on scarce labour instead of focusing on increasing yield per unit of land.

National laws may give men and women equal rights to land but in practice this is not always the case. It is frequently observed (i.e. in Gambia) that the introduction of new rice-farming techniques, especially irrigation, have negatively affected women's rights to use certain rice fields. As soon as the new technologies resulted in increased income, men gained control of the women's fields in order to capitalize on increased economic revenues. Real strides in poverty alleviation and improved livelihoods cannot be achieved if the female portion of the population is left behind. For this reason, there is a need to increase awareness on women's work in rice fields and a corresponding increase in information access for women on improved crop production techniques. Finally, there is an urgent need for equitable land and resource policies at the national level, with corresponding enforcement, to ensure that women can benefit from improvements in rice-based systems.