Men and women in agriculture: closing the gap

Financial services

Financial services such as savings, credit and insurance provide opportunities for improving agricultural output, food security and economic vitality at the household, community and national levels. Without access to credit, producers may be unable to bear the risks and up-front costs associated with the innovations and investment necessary to enhance their productivity, income and well-being. 

But evidence shows that credit markets are not gender-neutral: Women generally have less control over the types of fixed assets that are usually necessary as collateral for loans. Legal barriers and cultural norms can bar women from holding bank accounts or entering into financial contracts in their own right. And institutional discrimination by private and public lending institutions often rations women out of the market, or grants them loans that are smaller than those granted to men for similar activities.1 These constraints on women’s access to capital have a measurable negative impact on their production capabilities.

Policy recommendations

Promote financial literacy

Financial institutions, governments and NGOs should offer financial literacy training to ensure that women can compare products and make decisions based on a clear understanding of the products available.Steps could include: 

  • disseminating information in places or through channels that women can access; 
  • simplifying application procedures and adapting them to women’s literacy and numeracy levels; 
  • and simplifying insurance contracts and communicating their conditions using language and examples that less-literate women can easily understand. 

Promote a women-friendly and empowering culture

Lenders and other financial institutions should promote a gender-sensitive culture throughout their organization.3 Women should be consulted and included in discussions, decision-making, planning and provision of services. Marketing strategies, promotion and service delivery should be gender sensitive. 

Use technology and innovative delivery channels

Technological innovations such as prepaid cards and mobile phone plans to make loan payments and transfer cash make it easier for women to gain access to capital by reducing the need to travel long distances, allowing them to sidestep social constraints that restrict women’s mobility or the people with whom they can interact.4 Financial institutions in countries such as Brazil, India, Kenya, the Philippines and South Africa have been able to reach rural customers at a lower cost by handling transactions through post offices, petrol stations and stores, and many telecommunication service providers allow their customers to make payments or transfer funds.5 These more accessible outlets can be particularly beneficial for rural women who have difficulty travelling to central business locations. 

Key facts

Smallholders everywhere face constraints in accessing credit and other financial services, but in most countries the share of female smallholders who can access credit is 5–10 percentage points lower than for male smallholders.

Improving women’s direct access to financial resources leads to higher investments in human capital in the form of children’s health, nutrition and education.


  1. D. Fletschner. 2009. Rural women’s access to credit: market imperfections and intrahousehold dynamics. World Development, 37(3): 618–631; World Bank, FAO & IFAD. 2009. Gender in agriculture sourcebook. Washington, DC, World Bank.
  2. L. Mayoux & M. Hartl. 2009. Gender and rural microfinance: reaching and empowering women. Guide for practitioners. Rome, IFAD.
  3. World Bank, FAO & IFAD, see note 1.
  4. R. Duncombe & R. Boateng. 2009. Mobile phones and financial services in developing countries: a review of concepts, methods, issues, evidence and future research directions. Third World Quarterly, 30(7): 1237–1258.
  5. World Bank. 2007. World Development Report 2008. Agriculture for development. Washington, DC.
SOFA 2010-2011


FAO Gender Programme
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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