Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

The role of gender in Climate-Smart Agriculture

Enabling Frameworks

Successful gender-responsive communication and extension approaches and climate change mitigation innovations

It has been demonstrated across a wide spectrum of field interventions that effective partnerships and collaboration with local groups and institutions, and participatory community-led development approaches can generate substantial synergies and speed up the adoption rate of climate-smart agriculture practices by women and men. 

In general, group participation is a widely used mechanism for protecting or enhancing assets and encouraging the pooling of risks, particularly for women. Groups and community-based institutions represent a key strategy for climate change adaptation. They serve primarily as a mechanism to facilitate the development of assets through group purchase of large farm appliances (physical capital), group loans (financial capital) or capacity development (human capital). 

Listed below are approaches that have proven to be successful in promoting gender-sensitive group-based extension and communication services.

  • Farmer Field Schools (FFS), originally championed by FAO, can serve as hotbeds for farmer innovation and experimentation. Because women and men participate fully during all stages of cultivation, marketing and decision-making, FFS permit gender inequalities to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. This includes the incorporation of gender considerations in the development of innovative and climate-smart agricultural technologies practices, such as alternative fodder/food for livestock (for example, paddy/grass varieties that tolerate saline soils); new poultry and cattle genotypes; introduction of mulching; wet resources utilization; and homestead plant nurseries.
  • In CARE’s Pathways Program, which has been implemented in Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Malawi, Mali and the United Republic of Tanzania, applies a Farmer Field and Business School model. Through this approach, women farmers have become involved in climate-smart agriculture interventions and have adopted climate-smart practices. Yields have increased, bringing in higher revenue for female farmers and businesses. Working together as a group, women have been able to set prices in the market, ensuring they receive fair prices for their crops. Women have also gained access to land for production. Women and men work together in all project areas and have entered into more equal relationships and decision-making at home. In remote villages in India, the Care Pathways program has also promoted innovative extension methods, such as the network of agri-kiosks.  The agri-kiosks, which help meet the gap in supply and demand of agricultural inputs, are a one-stop shop for all agricultural needs, providing services such as soil testing, seed selection, farm inputs and and rental of the latest agricultural equipment. By investing in the agri-kiosks, development partners can increase their outreach to cover remote and diverse agro-climatic areas and provide more accessible and timely services. The agri-kiosks help redefine the scope of extension to suit the diverse, dynamic and emerging needs of women farmers, and introduce new standards for production and marketing.
  • The Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS), developed by Oxfam Novib (Netherlands) and rolled out in a number of African countries with the support of IFAD, is a methodology for addressing unequal gender and social relations and enhancing ownership of project activities by target groups. GALS can be applied at the household, group, or community level and in many thematic areas, including climate-smart agriculture. This approach has successfully strengthened the capabilities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations to integrate gender-sensitive methodologies into their work, and facilitate gender-equitable collaboration with businesses and local government bodies. GALS helps advocate for community-led empowerment methods to be integrated into policy, programme design and implementation. GALS was successfully implemented in Viet Nam in a programme targeting small-scale farmers in the chicken, pork and shrimp value chains.

Experience from a wide range of development interventions and expertise has highlighted the degree to which women’s and men’s adaptive approaches are intertwined. For climate-smart agricultural interventions to be successful they need to engage with both men and women as interdependent members of a household and community.

Gender-responsive innovations for climate change mitigation and food security

Women and girls in developing countries are usually expected to look after household energy needs, manage waste and collect water. Gender inequalities hinder their ability to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When pursuing practices that contribute to climate change mitigation, it must be acknowledged that women and men are often not in the same position to take up these practices. For example, for people with weaker tenure rights, agroforestry may be less accessible or deliver fewer benefits. If hiring labour is not possible, some soil and water conservation practices may be difficult to implement. However, some technologies and practices, like improved cooking stoves and the use of biomass for energy and biogas, may be more attractive to women because they save time and labour.  Programmes that support women farmers to adopt efficient agricultural production practices, including water management for irrigation and use of bioslurry as fertilizer for crops, should be encouraged. 

Listed below are some examples of gender-responsive agricultural innovations with strong potential to mitigate climate change and strengthen food security.

The FAO-Thiaroye fish processing technique: enhancing food security, reducing post-harvest loss and cutting greenhouse gas emissions

In most tropical developing countries, smoking and drying are common processing and conservation techniques used in small- and medium-scale fisheries. Women make up the majority of labourers in these activities. In some cases, these processes can create problems related to food safety. Food contamination from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons produced by burning wood is a particularly significant concern. Also, post-harvest losses from outdated processing operations, inadequate storage facilities and poorly functioning marketing systems can undermine food productivity. Many of these processes are sources of environmental pollution and emit high levels of greenhouse gases.

The Thiaroye fish smoking technique (also known as FTT-Thiaroye), which was developed in 2008 by FAO and the National Training Centre for Fisheries and Aquaculture Technicians in Senegal (CNFTPA), is widely used in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, Togo and the United Republic of Tanzania. It uses an innovative smoking kiln that produces superior and safe products, and expands the range of species that can be processed.  The process, which cuts post-harvest losses by up to 50 percent compared to natural drying, also reduces drying and smoking times. The technology also lessens the workload of the women and increases their income. Another advantage of this technique is its improved energy efficiency. Less charcoal is consumed, and the use of biomass (i.e. plant and organic residues and manure) is optimized, which lowers greenhouse gas emissions  (Source: World Bank, FAO and IFAD 2015). 

Flexi biogas systems

Since 2012, IFAD has promoted the installation of Flexi biogas systems in a number of countries (e.g. Kenya, Rwanda, India, Sao Tome and Principe, Mali and Viet Nam). The systems uses cow dung to produce methane gas, which is harnessed to provide energy for cooking in farming households. Flexi biogas systems deliver a number of environmental, economic and social benefits.

  • Women spend 2 to 3 hours less per day gathering fuelwood, which allows them to dedicate more time to income-generating activities.
  • Environmental benefits include the improved management of livestock manure, which reduces methane emissions, and the decreased need for fuelwood, which reduces deforestation and land degradation.
  • Crop productivity is enhanced when the bioslurry produced as a waste product is applied to fields as an organic fertilizer. This improves soil health and can increase yields by 6 to 10 percent. In households that raise chickens, the biogas stoves are also used to keep the temperature suitable for chicks, which decreases poultry mortality, reduces women’s labour and increases farm income.
  • The ability to use biogas stoves inside the house, instead of cooking on fires outside their homes, allows women to engage more with family members and increases their status within the family. The ease of using biogas compared to open fires makes men more willing to assume responsibility for cooking.
  • Women, girls, and other household members suffer less from the chronic respiratory diseases and eye infections caused by cooking over wood or charcoal fires. 

More recently a farmer-driven process, which has been supported by IFAD and Biogas International, has contributed to an incremental improvement of the Flexi biogas systems. Low-cost enhancements have improved the reliability of the systems. Different sizes have also been developed to respond to the needs of the entire household throughout the year (Sovacool et al., 2015).

Genetic diversity as a risk-mitigating strategy for climate-smart agriculture

Genetic resources for food and agriculture are key resources for building the resilience of agricultural ecosystems. They provide the crop varieties and breeding stocks that are needed to adapt production to changing climatic conditions. Their conservation and sustainable use are a prerequisite for coping with climate change.

The out-migration of men from rural areas has put an excessive burdening on women and redefined gender-specific roles and eroded knowledge regarding biodiversity management. This situation has led to a loss of agricultural biodiversity.

The FAO project, From Machupicchu to Lake Titicaca, uses a gender-sensitive approach to help conserve 177 varieties of potatoes and quinoa. This initiative, which has benefited 3 500 families in 18 rural communities in Peru, is part of a GEF-funded FAO-led Global Partnership Initiative on the conservation and adaptive management of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS). The project in Peru has followed an integrated approach to addressing the impact of climate change, which has strengthened the food and nutrition security of local families. Local institutions and community participation, especially the engagement of women farmers, is helping raise awareness about the tremendous value of these ingenious agricultural technologies and guarantee their conservation. Fostering the participation of local institutions, communities and men and women farmers in climate-smart agricultural activities contributes to establishing the conditions for sustainable development in the Andes.