Posted March 1998
In recent years this contribution has been gradually increasing. A phenomenon found in many regions and countries today is the trend towards the so-called "Feminisation of agriculture", or the growing dominance of women in agricultural production. A major cause of this phenomenon is male out-migration from rural areas to towns and cities for more lucrative occupations, leaving women behind to take the sole responsibility for agricultural production. In Africa, for example, the percentage of female headed households ranges from 10% in Niger, to 46% for Botswana (both early 1990s) and 72%! for Lesotho (late 1980s) . In Asia 14% of the households in rural areas are headed by women .
Despite women's growing responsibility for agricultural production, their contributions to farming, forestry and fishery are usually still underestimated. Much of their work in producing food for the household and community consumption, as important as it is for food security, is not counted in statistics.
Women also lack access to other support services like extension: While 15% of all extension workers is female, only 5% of all extension is addressed to rural women . Many times women are wrongly stereotyped as housewives who are not involved in agriculture and as such do not need any extension. This stereotype is kept alive by the fact that the work of women is hardly ever counted in surveys and censuses.
Besides, extension in many countries focuses on cash crops, while women are mainly working in staple crops. New technology and machinery is mainly designed for cash crop production and hardly take the special tasks and needs of rural women into consideration.
Another factor that is hindering the extension workers to reach women is that in many developing countries and especially in rural areas women are illiterate. In Southern-Asia around 63% of all women above 15 years is illiterate (1995), against 24% in South-east and Eastern Asia and Oceania, and 56% in Northern-Africa and Western-Asia. The illiteracy rates for men are in all cases much lower .
The lack of attention for women's work is maintained since women are hardly involved in decision making bodies, research and extension work so that their needs, interests and constraints are often not reflected in laws, research, planning and extension.
Currently more than 800 million people throughout the world, do not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs. Although food supplies have increased substantially, constraints on access to food , the instability of supply and demand, as well as natural and man made disasters, prevent people from being food secure. The problems of hunger and food insecurity are likely to persist and even increase dramatically in some regions, unless urgent action is taken to provide for the anticipated increase in the world's population and the stress on natural resources.
Given women's crucial role in and contribution to food security, any efforts to reduce food insecurity world-wide must take into consideration factors and constraints affecting women's ability to carry out these roles. Improving productivity will depend to a great extent on ensuring that women farmers, as well as men farmers, have sufficient access to production inputs and support services.
Moreover, studies have shown that when women farmers have access to resources, they are actually more productive than men farmers. It has been reported in Kenya that when women use the same resources as men, women's productivity would increase 22% and surpass the productivity of men .
During the FAO World Food Summit (1996), and in its subsequent documents "the Rome Declaration" and the "Plan of Action", the role of women in food security was highlighted once again to give an extra impetus to governments to take the needs and constraints of women farmers into consideration. Governments agreed to promote women's full and equal participation in the economy and for this purpose to introduce and implement gender sensitive legislation providing women with secure and equal access to and control over productive resources including credit, land and water. Furthermore, they agreed to promote investment in food security programmes which benefit small scale food producers, especially women, and their organisations, as well as to strengthen their own capacity to design and implement these programmes. China was one of the many countries that signed the agreement.
From a national point of view, China is at present food secure. However, at the end of 1996 still 58 million people were living below the poverty line, meaning that 58 million people in China still do not have enough food to eat, since they do not have the means to produce or not enough money to purchase the food .
In the past, efforts to improve food security in China have been rather successful. While in 1978 still 250 million people lived in poverty , this number was reduced to 125 million in 1985 and to 58 million at the end of 1996. However, the pace of poverty alleviation over the last few years has been slowing down and it is becoming more difficult to reach this group of 58 million since they are living in the most remote and resource poor areas.
In the future China will face new challenges in food security since the population is still growing and natural resources are limited. The Chinese Government has estimated that they have to reach an annual grain output of 500 million tons per year in 2000 in order to be able to feed its population.
In order to reach the goal of 500 million tons of grain in 2000, China will depend for a large part on increased yield per unit since wasteland is limited. As a consequence the Government is focusing on increased financial support for agriculture, bio-technology and the introduction of advanced scientific methods of production. In 1997 39% of the increased production was contributed by science and technology. This should be 45% in 2000. In order to be able to spread the use of scientific methods of production, China needs a well educated and trained population of farmers. Millions and millions of farmers need to be trained. As will be explained underneath, also China depends for a large part on the contribution of women farmers to improve the agricultural production and will have to reach women farmers in order to be successful in securing present and future food security.
This increased responsibility of women for agricultural production is partly due to out-migration of men to better paid jobs in townships, towns and cities. In an FAO/UNDP study it was found that of the total population of the 8 investigated villages, 41.65% of the residents had migrated. Of the total numbers of migrants, 64.3% was male .
As Elisabeth Croll  has summarised , migrants not only tend to be male rather than female, but are also younger rather than older, and are generally better educated than the local populations left behind in the village.
Women, and especially older women, are likely to be left behind in the villages to single-handedly take responsibility for agriculture, sidelines and housework and these combined tasks frequently make excessive demands on their labour leaving them tired and exhausted.
The study further states that where older women are left to undertake agriculture, they are rarely able to maintain the previous levels of cultivation whether measured in terms of land area or types of crops or allocate sufficient labour and accrue the technical knowledge and inputs necessary to expand into new cropping and agricultural activities. So increased migration patterns might have serious repercussions for agricultural production in some areas in China.
In areas where men did not migrate, women share the workload equally with men in land preparation, crop sowing, orchard management, harvesting, threshing and are mainly responsible for raising small animals like pigs, chicken and rabbits. Since women in rural areas also perform 90-100% of all domestic chores, the average working hours for women in rural areas is 1.5 hours per day more than men .
This shows that women play an important role in food security as agricultural producers in China. Considering this important role, it is of crucial importance that women have access to production resources.
From a legal point of view, women enjoy equal rights as men to land and credit. However, there are indications that in practice the contracted land is written on name of the 'governor of the household', the man . With the new regulations that households can keep the land for up to 25 years, it is very unlikely daughters will 'inherit' the land if sons are available, since daughters usually move away to their husband's family.
In the beginnings of the 1990s, two-third of the Chinese Provinces provided loans with preferential interest rates to rural women. However, it is not known what percentage of women has really made use of this or other services . For general credit schemes, demand is greater than credit supply, and applications are made through the head of the household (usually the man), thereby creating difficulties for women who may need inputs when their husbands are working off the farm in township enterprises .
There are strong indications that in many areas, women have less access to extension services and training than men have, especially when we are talking about the more formal training activities that take place beyond village level. This phenomenon was highlighted several times during the International Seminar on Women in Agriculture and their Participation in the Development and Use of Agricultural Technology (1995)  . During the Seminar it was stated that in most cases, women only get information passed on from men who were being trained. In one of the UNDP/FAO programmes in the Northwest, 30-40% of all participants of training activities is female, while they perform 60-70% of all agricultural work. Other small surveys indicate similar findings .
One of the constraints women face in attending training activities, is that they need to look after the house and the children, and usually do not have time to leave their village for one or more days. Also socio-cultural beliefs like "Women are the Minister of Home Affairs and Men the Minister of Foreign Affairs" keep them from going out to attend training and extension activities.
Besides, a larger percentage of the rural women farmers, especially the elder ones, have no or limited education which makes it difficult for them to understand and accept new technologies .
As a follow up activity to the Fourth World-wide Conference on Women, the Ministry of Agriculture has made its own plan for the advancement of women. So far, this workplan is mainly aimed at improving the position of women working under the Ministry of Agriculture. Important additions to the workplan could be the following:
1. Given the fact that gender-disaggregated data are hardly available, especially on access to resources and services, and benefits derived by men and women from Government Programmes, it is of utmost importance that the Ministry of Agriculture (in co-operation with the SSB) starts collecting gender-disaggregated data, through their surveys and census.
In this regards, it is of utmost importance for the Ministry of Agriculture to gather gender-disaggregrated data on the access of men and women to extension and training. Only with these data can the Government monitor whether their efforts to improve production through extension and training are effectively reaching women farmers.
If women are not benefiting equally with men from extension and training, a constraints assessment could be conducted to see how women can be better reached.
2. Training people in the extension system to take women's need into consideration and to provide them with some simple tools for gender-analysis and planning, could be a first step to ensure that women get better access to input and support services . Although the All China Women's Federation (ACWF) and her local counterparts are rather active in promoting a greater access of women to production resources, through campaigns like "Shuang Xue, Shuang Bi" (Two studies and Two Comparisons), their efforts still lag behind the demand. Efforts could be greatly enhanced when the extension service itself also starts targeting the needs of local women.
Attention should be paid to tools for the transfer of new technology to illiterate people or people with low educational attainment..
3. To ensure better access of women to production resources like improved technology that fits their needs, researchers and engineers should be encouraged to do research and develop technology and/or design machinery that especially benefit women.
To ensure that in areas where migration is common, agricultural production is maintained or improved, ways should be sought by researchers and engineers to decrease women's workload, a.o. through designing labour-saving technology for agricultural production and processing.
4. To ensure that gender-disaggregated data will be adequately translated into practice in agricultural development programmes and planning, policy makers and planners could be trained in gender-issues so that the needs of women farmers will be addressed.
These are not easy tasks for such a large country as China, but paying attention to women as agricultural producers will certainly benefit food security in China in the long run.
The establishment of a Gender Unit within the Ministry of Agriculture, that would specialise in assisting the collection of gender-disaggregated data, monitoring of women's access to extension and training, doing constraints analyses, training of extensionists, researchers and policy-makers etc., could be of great help to the implementation of the above mentioned tasks and as such to China's future food security.
2. In: "Women, Agriculture and Rural Development: A Synthesis Report of the African Region", Fao, Rome, 1994
3. In: "Rural Women and Food Security : Current Situation and Perspective", FAO, Rome, 1997
4. In: "Rural Women and Food Security: Current Situation and Perspectives", FAO, Rome, 1997
5. In: "Women. The Key to Food Security", FAO Rome, 1996.
6. In: Idem
7. In: Idem
8. "The World's Women 1995. Tends and Statistics"' United Nations, New York, 1995. pg. 90
9. Saito, A. Katrine etal (1994). "Raising the productivity of women farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa." World bank Discussion Papers. Africa Technical Department Series, No.230. Washington.
10. To underline the importance of food security, agriculture was highlighted as being the foundation of the national economy during the Fifth Session of the Eight National People's Congress (1997) and the 15th Party Congress (1997). These two bodies are considered the most important decision making bodies in China. During both Congresses it was stated that agricultural production should be given priority in terms of attention and budget.
11. The poverty line is based on the amount of money needed in actual prices for a healthy consumption pattern with sufficient calories.
12. All data from the FAO lecture on Poverty Alleviation by Mr. Liu Fuhe, State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, 11 Nov. 1997
13. All data from "The Status of Rural Women in China", IFAD, Rome, 1995
14. "Rural Migration in Rural Development in the Evolving Market Economy. Micro-and Macro-Studies", Huang Ping etal., UNDP/FAO, 1997.
15. "Rural Migration in Rural Development in the Evolving Market Economy. Summary Report", E. Croll, UNDP/FAO, 1996
16. "The Status of Rural Women in China", IFAD, Rome, 1995
17. "Review of Women in Agricultural and Rural Development. People's Republic of China", TSS-1 CPR/92/T01, FAO/UNDP, China. 1993
18. "The report of the People's Republic of China on the Implementation of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women", by ?, Beijing, China, 1994
19. "Review of Women in Agricultural and Rural Development. People's Republic of China", TSS-1 CPR/92/T01, FAO/UNDP, China, 1993
20. This International Seminar was held in Beijing from 15-20 January 1995 through co-operate efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture, the ACWF and the CECAT.
21. E.g. small surveys by the CIAD, and FAO
22. 37% of the rural women were illiterate in 1990. "Women and Men in China, State Statistical Bureau, 1995