Men and women in agriculture: closing the gap


Access to new technology is crucial in maintaining and improving agricultural productivity. But gender gaps exist for a wide range of agricultural technologies, including machines and tools, improved plant varieties and animal breeds, fertilizers, pest control measures and management techniques. Along with other constraints, these gaps lead to gender inequalities in access to new technologies, adoption, and the use of purchased inputs across regions.

Policy recommendations

Develop technologies and environments that address women’s needs

In addition to balancing a variety of tasks related to crop and livestock production, wage employment and child care, rural women spend a large amount of time on additional household obligations such as food preparation and collecting firewood and water. These occupy a large amount of their time and limit participation in more productive activities. Many of these tasks could be made much less onerous and time-consuming through the adoption of simple technologies: 

  • Water sources in villages can significantly reduce the time spent by women and girls fetching water,1 and water projects that meet multiple livelihood objectives and take gender issues properly into account are more likely to be sustainable.2
  • Fuel-efficient stoves can reduce firewood requirements by 40–60 percent,3 in addition to reducing indoor pollution and the time required for cooking. Locally manufactured stoves can also provide income-earning opportunities for rural artisans. Woodlots, agroforestry and improved fallows can further reduce the time spent in collecting firewood by bringing the sources of firewood closer to the home. 

Appropriate farm tools, improved crops, integrated pest management techniques, conservation agriculture, biological nitrogen fixation and other context-specific technologies should also be targeted for development and for enhanced access by women. Conducting baseline surveys of households and communities before new technologies are introduced may help predict how men and women will be affected by them.4 Greater involvement of women in agricultural research and higher education could also enhance the development of female-friendly technology.

Improve extension services

Extension services are important for diffusing technology and good practices, but reaching female farmers requires careful consideration. In some contexts, it is culturally more acceptable for female farmers to interact with female extension agents, and hiring female extension agents can be an effective means of reaching female farmers.  This preference is not universal, however, so in many cases properly trained male extension agents may be able to provide equally effective services.  Whether male or female, extension agents must be sensitive to the realities, needs and constraints of rural women. Extension services for women must consider all the roles of women; women’s needs as farmers are often neglected in favour of programmes aimed at household responsibilities. Extension systems will also have to be more innovative and flexible to account for social and cultural obstacles and for time and mobility constraints.

Scale up farmer field schools

Farmer field schools (FFS) have proved to be a participatory and effective way of empowering and transferring knowledge to women farmers.

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.5 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.6 These more accessible outlets can be particularly beneficial for rural women who have difficulty travelling to central business locations. 

Key facts

Women are much less likely to use purchased inputs such as fertilizers and improved seeds or to make use of mechanical tools and equipment. In many countries women are only half as likely as men to use fertilizers.

Gender gaps exist for a wide range of agricultural technologies, including machines and tools, improved plant varieties and animal breeds, fertilizers, pest control measures and management techniques.

The share of farmers using mechanical equipment and tools is quite low in all countries, but it is significantly lower for farmers in femaleheaded households, sometimes by very wide margins.


  1. IFAD. 2007. Gender and water. Securing water for improved rural livelihoods: the multiple-uses system approach. Rome.
  2. A.R. Quisumbing & L. Pandolfelli. 2010. Promising approaches to address the needs of poor female farmers: resources, constraints, and interventions. World Development, 38 (4): 581–592.
  3. See, Technology for Agriculture. Labour Saving Technologies and Practices Decision Support Tool.
  4. Quisumbing and Pandolfelli, 2010, see note 2.
  5. 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.
  6. 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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