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Module 3



In Module 1 we learned that men and women play important, often distinctive roles, in the management and conservation of agrobiodiversity. Frequently, there is a clear gender differentiation in terms of labour division, roles and responsibilities in agriculture. This causes men and women to be responsible for the management of different aspects of agrobiodiversity having different purposes and demands. This in turn has an impact upon men's and women's knowledge of the management and utilization of specific elements of agrobiodiversity.

Module 2 emphasized the importance of analyzing agrobiodiversity within the wider livelihoods framework. The reality, in terms of gender relations and their linkages with agrobiodiversity, is far more complex. Moreover, a number of trends and shocks impacting upon the management and conservation of agrobiodiversity and local knowledge should also be analysed (please refer to Module 2, Figure 1 Sustainable Livelihoods framework).

Shocks, within the vulnerability context, have an impact on gender relations and interaction with other livelihood assets. HIV-AIDS is an important example of this because millions of households across Africa have been affected.

For households that are dependent on agriculture, the consequent intra-household re-allocation of labour can lead to a decline in crop production, which can result in food insecurity and an overall decrease in financial assets. Households may then respond with a further range of coping strategies. For example, in Uganda, a farming household's typical initial response is to change the mix of farm products. This would be to first focus on producing enough for subsistence; then to grow a surplus to sell in the market (Armstrong, 1993). Another common response is to reduce land under cultivation, resulting in reduced outputs (FAO, 2003). A recent case study from Uganda, showed that this was particularly evident in affected female-headed households, which cultivated only 1.3 acres on average, compared with affected male-headed households cultivating 2.5 acres on average (FAO, 2003).

It has been observed that some AIDS-affected households have turned to livestock production as an alternative to crop production. This strategy was adopted when soils became infertile and crop management practices too demanding for the available labour. Other households sell cattle more frequently to pay medical bills and funeral expenses. A trend has been identified whereby households raise smaller stock, such as pigs and poultry, which is less labour-intensive and is often readily available to women. A shift has been identified where farmers change from cultivating labour-intensive crops to those needing less labour, are drought-resistant and that can be cultivated throughout the year, such as cassava and sweet potato. A reduction in the cultivation of cash crops has been observed. Farmers choose to focus available labour on the production of secondary subsistence crops, often to optimize household food security (White and Robinson, 2000).

The response of a household that is affected by HIV-AIDS is to return to local crops and livestock-based agricultural systems. This illustrates how shocks can impact upon gender relations and the management of livelihood assets.

Key points


OBJECTIVE: Fact sheet 3.1 aims to raise participants' awareness of the importance of considering and understanding the context in which agrobiodiversity management and conservation takes place. The understanding of the dynamic nature of this context is crucial for planning a successful and gender-sensitive intervention.

LEARNING GOALS: The participants understand the impact of trends and shocks on agrobiodiversity and recognize the relevance of gender relations within this context.


  1. The participants should be encouraged to explore the issues, raised in fact sheet 3.1, based on their own working experience. The trainer could facilitate this process by forming three groups; they would explore possible shocks, trends and seasonality that could affect the management of agrobiodiversity from a gender perspective. The groups could sit together and “buzz” their ideas, which would then be presented, after a short time period, to the plenary. This exercise may take 1 hour in total.

  2. Afterwards, the trainer could complete the findings with other key issues highlighted in the fact sheet. At this stage, it is important to relate the discussion to the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework introduced in Module 2. If possible, a chart of the Livelihoods diagram (Figure 1) should be available throughout the course.

  3. The trainer could facilitate a podium discussion, to explore positive and negative effects of gender changes on agrobiodiversity. This discussion should not take more than 1 hour, including a short preparation time.

OUTCOMES: The participants have experienced the usefulness of the livelihoods framework. They have used it to explore the impact of the context on agrobiodiversity management and gender relations.

TIME ALLOCATION: Minimum 3 hours


In order to understand the values and benefits of agrobiodiversity, from a gender perspective, it is important to look at the different values and benefits of agrobiodiversity in general first. There are two main categories of values to be identified: use-values and non-use values1 . The former can be divided into three main subcategories:

Non-use values include the existence value, for biological communities or areas of scenic beauty. Often these are valued in crude terms; at the amount people are willing to pay to prevent a species from becoming extinct, or an area being developed (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1994). The existence value is relevant to a much wider stakeholder group as it is not linked to any direct uses. For example, people may pay to see plant or animal life in another country or region that they cannot see in their own.

The range of values and benefits obtained from agrobiodiversity management are closely related to the underlying livelihood strategies and livelihood outcomes pursued by different people. (Please refer to Module 2, Livelihoods strategies and outcomes).

Direct use-values are of more immediate importance to agrobiodiversity management. We know that agrobiodiversity can only be sustained if the people who manage it will obtain benefits or direct use from doing so. We will, therefore, focus more on these types of values. Applying a more gender-differentiated perspective to direct use-values will help us to better understand the benefits obtained from managing agrobiodiversity.

Taking livestock management as an example, we know that men and women around the world participate in livestock production. However, men and women generally:

Both men and women benefit from the direct use-values obtained from keeping livestock. However, men often focus on income values, obtained through commercialization of livestock products or animals, whereas for women, in many cases, the non-income values are of greater importance (Anderson, 2003).

Similar aspects apply to women for the management of plant genetic resources. Here women are often in charge of the management and conservation of minor food crops. These are used for home consumption, rituals and medicinal properties. Often, these species are grown in home gardens, or they are intercropped in small areas of the main plots. Men are frequently in charge of the cultivation of staple crops and commercial crops, which take place in the fields outside the homestead. The following example, from a Bamana village in Mali, shows the gender roles and responsibilities found in crop production (see box 1).

The men in a Bamana village in Mali work collectively in their group's main upland field (foroba). This is located in a bush area a few kilometres from the settlement. Here, they produce a suite of staple crops including sorghum (nyo - Sorghum bicolor), millet (sanyo - Pennisetum glaucum), corn (kaba - Zea mays), cowpeas (sho - Vigna unguiculata), peanuts(tiga- Arachis hypogaea) and Bambara groundnuts (tiganinkuru - Voandzeia subterranea).
Women, on the other hand, are responsible for the cultivation and collection of plants for the sauces that flavour men's grain crops in the daily meals. During the rainy season, married women work individually in upland fields assigned to them by the dutigiw to produce nafenw, or “sauce-things.” In most cases, women intercrop peanuts (tiga-Arachis hypogaea), cowpeas, kenaf (dajan - Hibiscus cannabinus), roselle (dakumun or dabilenni - Hibiscus sabdariffa), okra (gwan - Abelmoschus (Hibiscus esculentus) and sorghum. They focus their cropping patterns on traditional leafy and vegetable items that complement the staples produced on the forobaw. The vast majority of women's crops are destined for direct consumption. From time to time, some items are sold to generate income, which is typically used to purchase commercial sauce ingredients such as bouillon cubes, vegetable oil or salt. In addition, to cultivating relish crops in upland fields during the rainy season, throughout the year women gather various wild or semi-wild plants from their fields or bush areas for use in their sauces. For example, they gather and process the leaves of the baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) to make a key sauce ingredient. They use the fruit of the shea nut tree (Butryospermum parkii) to make cooking oil and skin-care lotion. Women maintain these productive trees in their fields, and make use of species in the bush areas around the community. In this way a wide variety of wild and semi-wild greens are regularly used for their sauces.
Source: Wooten, 2003.

However, these responsibilities can and do change. For example, with male out-migration, women may take over men's roles and decentralization may shift emphasis from milk to meat production. Moreover mechanization, and other technical innovations, may involve men in what were formerly women's production systems.

To appreciate and understand the different values and benefits obtained from agrobiodiversity from a gender perspective, the following four key aspects are important:

These gender-based differences reflect the different livelihood strategies and outcomes adopted and pursued by men and women, and exemplify the different values obtained from doing so. Rural women's key role, as food providers and food producers, links them directly to the management of genetic resources to secure family food production. At the same time men's role, as income earners, links them more often to cash crops and improved species and varieties.

For indirect use-values it is important to consider the social status obtained by managing or owning a certain resource. Status, within the community or society, can be defined as an indirect use-value. The status of men and women is often defined by their access and control over plant and animal resources. Rearing chickens in the backyard, for instance, in many places is a criterion for the social status of the family. A case study in Botswana revealed that over 80 percent of backyard chicken-keepers are women, and that the absence of chickens is seen as an obvious sign of poverty (Moreki, 2001). This example shows that rearing chickens results in direct use-values (eggs, meat) and in indirect use-values, such as social status. In Botswana, as in many other African regions, chickens are generally regarded as livestock raised by women. This is mainly because they are perceived to be of lower commercial value than other kinds of livestock (cattle and goats) (Moreki, 2001). A man's status in such a society may be defined by the number of cattle he keeps or similar criteria.

In the introduction we said that option values are derived from the value given to safeguarding an asset. This provides the option of using the asset at a future date. It is a kind of insurance value against the occurrence of, as an example, new diseases or climate change. It is difficult to assess whether people are aware of this type of value, or to what degree this may influence their management practices. There are examples nonetheless of farmers cultivating, or at least not eliminating, wild plant species in their fields. They know these plants may be important for their food security if the main crop fails. In this sense they recognize the option value of these wild species.

Key points


OBJECTIVE: Fact sheet 3.2 aims to introduce the different values and benefits obtained from agrobiodiversity, and to stress the differences, from a gender-differentiated perspective. Its objective is to broaden the participants' understanding of different potential values. It also links these values to overall livelihood strategies and outcomes adopted by different actors.

LEARNING GOALS: The participants understand the difference between direct and indirect use-values and non-use values and are able to identify potential values for different livelihood strategies and outcomes.


  1. Brief introduction to the topic by the trainer, based on fact sheet 3.2 (max. 30 minutes).

  2. The participants could then watch the FAO video on Livestock diversity in Africa, with the main focus being on different benefits obtained from livestock diversity. (20 minutes)

  3. Afterwards, the participants could break up into groups to try to identify different categories of benefits and values. They could add further examples covering plant diversity from their own working background. (1 hour)

  4. The findings of the group work will be presented to the plenary. The process will lead to the identification and organization of different categories of benefits and values. This organization process could then be complemented by the categories suggested in fact sheet 3.2. (1 hour)

  5. Following, if time allows, the participants could discuss in plenary the importance of different categories of values for different livelihood strategies. This discussion could lead to a reflection on gender differences in terms of values and benefits obtained. (45 minutes)

OUTCOMES: The participants recognize the diversity of values and benefits obtained from agrobiodiversity for different people and different livelihood strategies. This will help them to further apply the livelihoods framework and increase their awareness of the complexity of agrobiodiversity management.


1 For examples of these different values please see Anderson, S. 2003. Sustaining livelihoods through animal genetic resources conservation. In Conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity. Manila, CIP-UPWARD in partnership with GTZ, IDRC, IPGRI and SEARICE.



A range of legal instruments exists that regulate the management and use of agrobiodiversity. Although they are established at the global level, it appears difficult to locate them at the local level. In many instances, extension workers, farmers and even researchers are unaware of their existence or their contents. It would be beyond the scope of this fact sheet to analyze these legal instruments in detail. However, we think managers and users of agrobiodiversity need to be aware of their existence and main purpose. This fact sheet will give a short overview to which extent gender issues have been taken up in international policies and agreements concerning agrobiodiversity. In this fact sheet, we will not go into the regional details concerning ratification of these legal instruments or existence of different national policies1

In terms of gender, these legal instruments do not make any attempt to discuss the gender implications of resulting policies and legal agreements. Only the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Global Plan of Action acknowledge the key role played by women, especially in the developing world, in the management and use of biological resources. It is a challenge for extension workers, researchers and farmers to understand the impact and meaning of these legal instruments in their daily work.

Countries that have ratified, or acceded to, the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed to submit national reports, at least every four years, on measures taken to comply with their treaty obligations. Entering into force on 3 September 1981, as of March 2004 a total of 176 states are Parties to the Convention.

Despite this increased recognition of gender differences, and implications at the international level, little has been done to implement this knowledge in national policies and programmes for agrobiodiversity management and conservation.

As stated in the Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the main cause of genetic erosion in crops, reported by almost all countries, is the replacement of local varieties by improved or exotic varieties and species. As old varieties in farmers' fields are replaced by the newer, genetic erosion frequently occurs. Genes and gene complexes found in the many farmers' varieties are not contained in the modern variety. In addition, the sheer number of varieties is often reduced when commercial varieties are introduced into traditional farming systems. This is similarly true for the replacement of animal genetic resources. The report acknowledges the negative impacts these processes have on small farmers, especially on women, who depend on genetic diversity for their livelihoods.

Nonetheless, there are still many examples of national policy and development projects that promote commercial production. These focus on a few major cash crops, which threaten existing agrobiodiversity and food security. The more production is managed for commercial purposes, the more high-yielding varieties and breeds are used. In turn traditional risk reduction, the use of a wide diversity of varieties and breeds, becomes less important. Many local varieties and breeds are still categorized as low-performing and inferior by national extension services and research organizations. Therefore, national policies provide incentives for the use of modern varieties and breeds. This may lead to the irreversible loss of genetic diversity or it may impact upon traditional and established gender roles and responsibilities. The following example from Mali highlights the impact on agrobiodiversity use and gender roles (see box 2).

In a Bamana village in Mali, women's subsistence production, which is based on local plant biodiversity, came into increased competition with men's production of exotic crops for the market. During this process, women's production was marginalized or even lost. Women were traditionally responsible for producing or collecting the traditional plant varieties, used to make sauces and relishes that they historically produced in home gardens. However, a market-gardening regime has developed in the community. This is directed towards satisfying a growing urban demand for fresh produce rather than local domestic requirements. Market gardening typically involves non-traditional fruit and vegetable crops. Middle-aged men dominate the garden leadership.
Source: Wooten, 2003

Due to modern technologies and changes in perceptions, women have lost their influence over production they traditionally controlled. Access to resources has been lost to men, who benefit from extension services and can buy seeds, fertilizers and the required technologies. In this way, women lose their status and self-determination; they are not compensated in any way.

The above case study shows that agrobiodiversity is threatened because it is not used, not because it is overused, as is the case with many wildlife or wild plant species. Modern research, development and centralized plant breeding have mostly ignored and undermined the capacities of local farming communities' innovation and improvement of local plant varieties, which has often led to their replacement.

Conventional breeding programmes tend to focus heavily on “broad adaptability”. This is the capacity of a plant to produce a high average yield over a range of growing environments and years. Unfortunately, genetic material that produces very good yields in one growing zone but poor yields in another tends to be quickly eliminated from the breeder's gene pool. Yet, this may be exactly what small farmers in some areas need. The resulting “improved” varieties often require heavy doses of fertilizer and other chemicals, which most poor farmers cannot afford. Moreover, professional breeders often work in relative isolation from farmers. They are sometimes unaware of the multitude of preferences - beyond yield and resistance to diseases and pests - of their target farmers.

A few of the dozens of plant traits of interest to small-scale farmers are ease of harvest, storage, taste, cooking qualities, how fast a crop matures and the suitability of crop residues as livestock feed. Despite this wealth of knowledge, conventional breeding programmes have limited farmers' participation to the evaluation of and comments on a few experimental varieties prior to their official release. Participating in this way leaves few farmers feeling ownership of the research, or that they have contributed their technical expertise. If farmers had been given the chance to assess critically varieties reaching on-farm trials, many would have been eliminated from testing years earlier. Farmers - and in many cases, women farmers - have been the chief engineers of crop and variety development for thousands of years. Today they continue to actively select and breed most crops. These include the so-called minor or underutilized crops that are so important to family nutrition.

However, many encouraging examples exist where farmers are involved in crop improvement and breeding. One alternative approach for developing countries is participatory plant breeding, as it has been recognized that conventional breeding programmes have brought little benefit to agro-ecological and socio-economical marginal environments. Such an approach can potentially contribute to the conservation and sustainable management of plant genetic resources.

The principal aims of participatory plant breeding are to create more relevant technology and equitable access. However, depending on the organizations involved, there are often other objectives. For example, large-scale breeding programmes run by international or national research agencies may wish to cut research costs. Other organizations, such as farmer's groups and NGOs, may wish to affirm local people's rights over genetic resources. They may produce seed, build farmers' technical expertise or develop new products for niche markets, such as organically grown food.

Key points


OBJECTIVE: Fact sheet 3.3 aims to introduce important international policies and legal agreements, which are relevant to agrobiodiversity management and conservation. Furthermore, it presents the impact of policies and institutions on agrobiodiversity management and conservation as well as on gender roles and responsibilities.

LEARNING GOALS: The participants are aware of the existing international legal framework, and reflect upon the influence of policies and institutions on gender responsibilities in agrobiodiversity management.


The session begins with an introduction, by the moderator, of the different legal agreements and policies. In order to involve participants from the beginning they could be invited to name known legal frameworks. During this session, the trainer should emphasis that these legal frameworks are mainly discussed at the policy level. Nevertheless, these need to be communicated to all other levels to inform people of their rights and responsibilities. One important task for the trainer is to identify the ratification status of the different countries represented at the workshop.

  1. If time allows, the trainer could distribute the relevant articles of the different legal agreements and let the participants read through them in small groups. Afterwards, the key points could be presented by the participants. (1 hour)

  2. Processes are more directly relevant and visible at the community level. These can be induced by external organizations or by people themselves. Participants are invited to share experiences from their work background on processes and initiatives that try to empower local people to manage and benefit from their agrobiodiversity. (1 hour including discussion)

  3. The trainer should again encourage the participants to reflect upon gender differences in terms of potential impact of the processes and initiatives identified.

OUTCOMES: The participants are aware of the existence of key international regulations and have identified important issues covered by them. Furthermore, they have reflected upon gender implications of potential processes and initiatives.

TIME ALLOCATION: Minimum 3 hours.

Note: If further information on laws and policies is required, please refer to Bragdon, S., Fowler, C. and Franca, Z. (eds). 2003. Laws and policy of relevance to the management of plant genetic resources. Learning Module. The Hague, The Netherlands, ISNAR.

1 Further information on these aspects can be obtained in Law and policy of relevance to the management of plant genetic resources by S. Bragdon, C. Fowler and Z. Franca (Eds). 2003. Learning Module, ISNAR, The Hague, The Netherlands.

2 See



Anderson. 2003. Sustaining livelihoods through animal genetic resources. In Conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity. Published by CIP-UPWARD in partnership with GTZ, IDRC, IPGRI and SEARICE

Armstrong, S. 1993. The last taboo. WorldAIDS, 29:2.

Bragdon, S., Fowler, C. & Franca, Z. (eds). 2003. Laws and policy of relevance to the management of plant genetic resources. Learning Module. The Hague, The Netherlands, ISNAR.

FAO. June 1996. Global plan of action for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, Leipzig, Germany.

FAO. 2003. HIV/AIDS and agriculture: impacts and responses. Case studies from Namibia, Uganda and Zambia.

FAO. No date. Gender and food security - The feminization of agriculture. Source:

Funtowicz, S.O. & Ravetz, J.R. 1994. The worth of a songbird. Ecological economics as a post-normal science. Ecological economics 10, pp.197–207.

GRAIN. 2004. Good ideas turned bad? A glossary of right-related terminology.

Howard, P.L. 2003. Women and plants, gender relations in biodiversity management and conservation. United Kingdom, ZED Books.

IK Notes, No. 44. May 2002. The contribution of indigenous vegetables to household food security.

Leskien, D. & Flitner, M. 1997. Intellectual property rights and plant genetic resources: Options for a sui generis system. IPGRI, Issues in Genetic Resources No. 6, June 1997.

Moreki. 2001. Village poultry and poverty alleviation. Workshop proceedings of community based management of animal genetic resources, Swaziland 7–11 May 2001.

UNEP. 1992. Convention on Biological Diversity.

White, J. & Robinson, E. 2000. HIV/AIDS and rural livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa. United Kingdom, Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich.

Wooten, S. 2003. Losing ground: Gender relations, commercial horticulture, and threats to local plant diversity in rural Mali. In Howard, P.L. (Ed). 2003. Women and plants, gender relations in biodiversity management and conservation, United Kingdom, ZED Books.

Web sites
FAO Web site on Plant Genetic Resources:
FAO Web site on Agrobiodiversity:
FAO Web site on Gender, Agrobiodiversity and Local Knowledge:
International Undertaking on Plant Genetic resources (IU):
ITPGRFA or International Seed Treaty:
Global Plan of Action, Leipzig, 1996:
Convention on biological Diversity:
Global Strategy for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources:

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