Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

The role of gender in Climate-Smart Agriculture

Enabling Frameworks

Enabling policies and institutions for gender-responsive climate-smart agriculture

In climate-smart agriculture, the focus is often placed on technical issues. However, institutional and policy aspects are also vital for the successful implementation of climate-smart interventions intended to deliver sustainable benefits to both men and women. This section looks at issues that must be considered when implementing an integrated approach that can ensure coherence and convergence across the complex gender-climate-agriculture nexus. 

To translate policies into tangible benefits on the ground, policy-makers must address a host of challenges simultaneously, which may involve making some trade-offs.  

The capacity of a community to mitigate and adapt to climate change depend on its institutional capacity. This relates to the degree of social capital within the community; the ability of community members to work collectively; and their ability to access resources and information from higher-level institutions, such as government agencies and NGOs. To identify technologies that are affordable and easy to adopt, particularly for women smallholder agricultural producers, government advisory services and climate information need to be tailored to local agro-ecological conditions (Warburton et al., 2011). Also, beneficial are multistakeholder processes in which local people can evaluate and make their own decisions about the value of the proposed technologies (Newsham and Thomas, 2011).

There are some successful strategies for integrating gender into climate-smart agriculture, such as the national Climate Change Gender Action Plans, which the Global Gender Office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has facilitated in a number of countries. One of the earliest examples of these action plans was Mozambique's Gender, Environment and Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan. The plan, which was formulated in 2010, identifies the linkages, trade-offs and risks, as well as synergies that need to be taken into account when addressing climate change in an environmentally sustainable and gender-responsive way. The Bangladesh Climate Change Gender Action Plan, delineates, for the full range of government agencies, development partners, NGOs, research institutions and the private sector, the policies and initiatives that should be put in place to address climate change in a gender-responsive manner.

A transformative and integrated approach to climate-smart agriculture requires greater attention to gender relations. This involves more than simply using information on gender differences to maximize rates of adoption of climate-smart technologies.

Figure C6.5  An integrated framework on gender and climate change

IFPRI, 2014

This consolidated framework, developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), illustrates the pathwaysvi  through which climate change affects individual, household and community well-being. It can be used to promote a better understanding of the differential impacts of climate change on men and women, and their differential responses. This framework emphasizes the value of information, livelihood resilience, institutions, and asset accumulation when addressing issues related to vulnerability to climate change and the process of adaptation. 

The policy goal is to ensure a gender-equitable distribution of assets and gender-equitable decision-making in situations where gender asymmetries are the underlying cause of women’s vulnerability to climate change. Policies must also strengthen national and local institutions, and foster coherence between financing and public investments related to climate change and agriculture. 

Financial, physical, human, and natural capital, as well as social networks, institutions and adequate legal and policy frameworks are critical, as they can help ensure gender equity regarding entitlements to assets, resources and social capital (Kasperson et al., 1995; Adger, 2003).

There is a need for a more holistic, integrated approach to gender and climate change in agriculture that involves all institutional stakeholders. In this respect, institutions can be grouped into four main categories:

  • public sector institutions, including local governance institutions;
  • collective action institutions, including farmers‘ unions, cooperatives, local groups and civil society organizations;
  • research institutions; and
  • the private sector (industrial and financial). 

The following section focuses on the key functions of these four groups of institutions in relation to climate-smart agriculture and gender.

The primary roles of institutions related to climate-smart agriculture and their gendered implications

Without appropriate and supportive institutional structures in place, acquiring the knowledge and technical innovations required to implement climate-smart agriculture may be overwhelming for women and men smallholder agricultural producers. In this process, stakeholders include not only markets interests and state institutions, but also informal and customary institutions at the local level.  All of these stakeholders have the potential to influence and facilitate the adoption of climate-smart agriculture approaches. 

This chapter, which complements module C1 on system-wide capacity development for climate-smart agriculture, provides an overview of gender considerations concerning the four key functions of institutions dealing with climate-smart agriculture: information, investment, innovation and insurance. It provides examples of successful gender-responsive interventions from around the world. Module C1 provides more operational guidance on how to conduct joint stakeholder institutional assessments.


Key function of institutions: to facilitate access to climate-smart agriculture-related information and knowledge to beneficiaries, particularly women, through the most suitable technologies and information channels.

Making a transition to climate-smart agriculture is a knowledge-intensive process. To support the development and uptake of good practices, it is necessary to strengthen the institutions that can deliver this knowledge to both women and men. Baseline studies conducted by the CARE Pathways Program in India revealed that less than 25 percent of women farmers reported access to agricultural extension services in the previous 12 months; less than 40 percent reported having to agricultural inputs; and less than 15 percent reported having access to markets for their products. Over 43 percent of women farmers indicated they had not received any market information (CARE International, 2013).

Recent research by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) in Kenya has also demonstrated that traditional channels of information in agricultural development programmes (i.e. extension services, farmer organizations, and agri-service providers) do not consistently have a strong positive effect on women's awareness of climate-smart agriculture (FAO, World Bank, IFAD, 2017). To channel information on climate-smart agriculture so that it reaches women and other vulnerable groups, institutions need to make special efforts to target their services to these beneficiaries. A variety of media can be used, including mobile phones, radio and television, and delivering messages in places where small-scale agricultural producers gather (e.g. markets, places of worship). 

Complex institutional arrangements govern how climate-related knowledge can become an action resource. Effective use of climate information requires developing the management skills of women smallholder agricultural producers so that they can use these new services and information products (Hansen et al., 2011). To achieve sustainable results, the enhancement of individual skills needs to be anchored in effective learning approaches and linked with organizational development. 

One approach to enhancing management skills and increasing adaptive capacity is through Participatory Scenario Planning. This approach, which was pioneered by CARE International, brings together national meteorological and hydrological services, local forecasters, community representatives, government departments, research institutions, NGOs and community-based organizations. Collectively, stakeholders discuss and integrate scientific and local forecasts into a downscaled forecast that responds to local decisions related to livelihood, disaster risk management, sustainable development and climate change adaptation. For example, where women’s priorities may focus on family nutrition, their use of climate and market information will be different from men. Making equality of access to this information is a critical area for attention. Participatory Scenario Planning multiplies the impact of climate change information by institutionalizing climate communication at a local scale, while giving a voice to vulnerable people and supporting their efforts to adapt to climate change.

Impact assessments of this kind have shown positive results in Ghana, Kenya and Niger. Farmers have adjusted planting times, diversified their seed and crop choices, and moved livestock and assets away from flood prone areas. They are now actively listening for and gaining trust in climate information (CARE International, 2012).


Key function of institutions: provide investments for improving physical infrastructure, increasing access to markets and developing farmers’ capacity to work together in a coordinated fashion to manage land, forest and water resources across landscapes using equitable land tenure systems, natural resource-user groups, farmer’s organizations; provide credit for investing in sustainable land, forest and water management and timely access to different types and amounts of inputs (e.g seeds) for enhancing the contribution agricultural production systems make to food and nutrition security. 

The investment requirements for climate-smart agriculture are one of the most common factors that restrict smallholders, especially poor farmers and women, from being able to adopt promising practices. 

Many women small-scale producers lack access to the cash or the financial services that would enable them to invest in improving production. Millions of smallholder producers, often working in isolation, have little power and influence, and tend to be disconnected from support systems. Many live and work in remote areas where the demand for their produce is extremely low. Consequently, they have relatively low need for credit. 

As the climate changes, there is a need to shift from a traditional approach to financing, based on borrowers’ credit capacity and traditional loan guarantees, to one that manages risks and leverages innovative sources of finance. This involves moving towards financing schemes based on the borrower’s performance capacity, and credit based on future profits. 

There have already been many innovations made in financing for agriculture. Examples include financing models that use moveable assets, such as harvested commodities in warehouses, as collateral, or rely on buyers as the repayment sources. Innovative funding mechanisms may be needed to establish 'aggregation points' in the value chain where funders can deal with women farmers as a group. This would reduce the risks and transaction costs of working with individual smallholder producers and others working in the agricultural value chain. 

Distribution models that use mobile banking, branchless banking and mobile phone payment systems can be particularly effective when aggregation is not possible. These distribution models make it possible to finance smallholder producers directly in rural areas, reduce transaction costs, and improve efficiency and inclusiveness. 

Credit can help ease cash constraints for climate-smart agricultural investments, but even formal credit institutions may not be available in rural areas, or they may be unwilling to lend to women smallholder agricultural producers. Microfinance institutions, rotating savings and credit groups can provide a viable alternative when access to formal credit is unavailable. 

The potential of these alternatives is evident from the CARE Pathways Program in India where women farmers reported their own savings and their self-help groups as a source of agricultural finance in over 89 percent of cases.  Formal agricultural co-operatives met the financial requirements of just 2.5 percent of women farmers (Njuki et al, 2013). However, larger loan requirements for agricultural investments remain unmet as women do not own assets (e.g. land) and cannot take out bank loans or provide collateral to lenders. 

Another successful model of agricultural finance are the Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) pioneered by CARE International. These associations, which are complementary to micro-finance institutions, serve women and men living in remote places, whose income is low and irregular and who need to save small amounts of cash. Significant benefits can accrue from linking VSLAs to climate-smart agriculture programming. 

The transition to climate-smart agriculture has particular implications for the timing of the required financing. Often there can be a considerable period of time between the implementation of a climate-smart agriculture intervention and the realization of its benefits. For example, some practices (e.g. the construction of stone bunds or terraces to improve soil and water management) require significant upfront investments, but their impact in terms of reducing vulnerability to climate variability only becomes apparent after a number of years (World Bank, FAO, IFAD, 2015; and FAO, 2011b). This creates a need for targeted income support and financing over extended periods.  

Given the fact that financing for climate change adaptation, mitigation, and agricultural development must span a range of sectors to meet climate-smart agriculture’s inter-related objectives, funds deployed by public sector institutions or development partners will need to be used in an efficient and mutually supportive manner. 

The decision to implement climate-smart agriculture opens up the possibility of accessing climate finance for adaptation and mitigation. However, local communities, and women in particular, are not well connected to these sources of financing. Creating conditions that can ensure equality in access to climate financing is crucial. Where critical assets are required for investment, some form of external assistance by the state or development partners may be necessary to enable women to engage in climate-smart agriculture. Financial resources can be directed toward obtaining productive inputs, such as technical expertise and technologies, and providing incentives to adopt more integrated approaches. There is also a continued need to use tailored safety nets to increase smallholder agricultural producers' access to financing, and different local and national investment schemes to support gender-responsive climate-smart agriculture. These safety nets need to be developed in parallel with initiatives to develop institutional capacities.

Private firms become increasingly involved in crops, livestock, and agroforestry production when there are profits to be made, for example, through sale of improved seeds, machinery, or inputs. Markets tend to favour large farms over smallholder agricultural producers. Also, farmers who live closer to markets can take advantage of market opportunities more easily than those who live in remote areas. Changing agronomic management practices requires an initial capital investment to make the transition to climate-smart practices. Institutions that can provide equitable access to microfinance loans to smallholder women farmers can be an effective  entry point for overcoming the financial barriers these women face in adopting climate-smart agriculture practices.


Key function of institutions: facilitate agricultural innovation and farming systems that promote agricultural development (see module C1); develop, disseminate and share new practices and technologies; and select the most appropriate gender-responsive innovations for the local institutional and technical context. 

The strength of local institutions and infrastructure often directly shape farmers’ access to new technologies. In many cases, the most binding constraints occur at the initial adoption stage. Several factors can impede the adoption of new technologies by impoverished women and men small-scale farmers. Gender-responsive technologies are defined as:

  • technologies based on needs and interest of both female and male farmers;
  • technologies that reduce time and labour for women farmers, and
  • technologies that are accessible and affordable to both women and men.

Knowledge services, and research and development are widely understood to be critical for expanding climate-smart agriculture. Empirical evidence shows that access to knowledge increases women farmers’ propensity to adopt innovations intended to address climate change (Twyman et al., 2014). Participatory, inclusive approaches aimed at building adaptive capacity, such as farmer-to-farmer extension services or farmer-led innovation, can help develop climate-smart practices with greater potential for scaling up. However, innovations that have been by developed by individual farmers, including innovations that are particularly attractive to women, are more difficult to scale up, as they are suited to highly specific environments and social contexts. Another lesson that has been learned from climate change adaptation projects is that it is valuable to recognize that, because of their knowledge of local production systems and skills, women can make an active and important contribution to climate adaptation. It is limiting and simplistic to view them as passive victims of climate change (Otzelberger, 2011).

Particularly at the local level, women’s knowledge is a valuable resource and should be used to inform climate-smart agriculture adaptation and innovation measures. Women often have in-depth knowledge of the local crops, trees, herbs and wild edible plants that thrive in local climates. They are also knowledgeable about local farming practices related to sowing seasons, multicropping, seed selection and storage, and the preparation and application of organic fertilizers and pesticides. Women also have expertise in post-harvest activities and the processes that add value to farm production (UNDP, 2013a; Lane and McNaught, 2009).

Many training and technology-promotion programmes are designed to engage with community groups or cooperatives. They often require or encourage a level of cooperation between individuals and groups, as well as with government programmes and market agents. In some cases, however, female and male farmers have different technology needs. National Agricultural Research Services are critical for promoting information and technologies that can improve smallholder farmers livelihoods and practices. Universities and research institutions can also provide tailor-made pre-training and in-service training for extension workers (Swanson and Rajalahti, 2010).


Key function of institutions: enable farmers to cope with risks caused by climate shocks and stresses and adopt of new practices that support effective risk management on farms through coordinated actions, which may include insurance, safety nets, income diversification and improved storage.

Several innovative models exist for managing risk, including weather and disaster index-based insurance. These indexed insurance schemes compensate farmers on the basis of a pre-determined indicator (e.g. rainfall level) for loss of assets and investments resulting from extreme weather events and disasters. The role of informal insurance systems, such as social and familial networks, in cushioning against shocks have been widely documented (see Quisumbing et al., 2012 for example from the Philippines).

Shocks are considered 'idiosyncratic' when they are restricted to a single household. These shocks commonly result from poor crop yields associated with adverse microclimatic conditions, local wildlife damage, pest infestations, illness (especially chronic rather than infectious), and one-off events, such as property losses due to fire or theft. Idiosyncratic shocks can, in principle, be managed at the local level through traditional social institutions 

Covariate shocks, on the other hand, affect virtually everyone in a community. These shocks, which are commonly the result of natural disasters, war, price instability and financial crises, are difficult to insure locally and require some coordinated external response. It is expected that increases in complex, covariate shocks resulting from climate change will undermine traditional insurance systems. Consequently, hybrid models and innovative institutional arrangements to provide financing and insurance will likely become important. Experimental models, for example in Ethiopia, are attempting to link the provision of insurance with the provision of credit (Shukri et al., 2017). The state is playing an active role in encouraging private sector involvement. In the future, it seems likely that such hybrid institutions will be needed to deliver the necessary financing and insurance products that can cater to the specific needs of women smallholder farmers. 

It is evident that institutions have significant influence on how climate risks and impacts are distributed among different social groups and populations. Institutions affect the rules governing the access to and control over the resources and assets that are necessary for climate change adaptation and mitigation (Meinzen-Dick et al., 2013). Taking into consideration gender aspects is important to ensure that men and women benefit equally from the services provided by these institutions.


vi Figure 1 captures the key drivers of adaptive change. Exposure to climate change is represented by the climate signal, that includes long-term, average changes in temperature and rainfall, as well as changes in the frequency of extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods. Adaptive capacity from the IPCC framework is represented by the ‘vulnerability context’, made up of user characteristics, information and technology, biophysical characteristics of the context in  which adaptation decisions are made (e.g. characteristics of the soils, rainfall patterns, etc.), and the institutional context. Biophysical characteristics influence exposure and sensitivity to climate risks as well as adaptive capacity. The institutional context and user characteristics impact sensitivity to climate risks and adaptive capacity; and access to information and technology affect adaptive capacity. While the biophysical and institutional context may be the same for men and women in a household, they may affect men and women differently. These factors combine to influence the range of response options that are available for individuals, households, and groups to adopt in the adaptation arena. The adaptation arena is where actors use resources and their own decision-making authority to respond to perceived climate changes or future climate risks. Given their higher vulnerability to climate change and limited adaptive capacity, certain individuals or groups may experience greater difficulty in coping with climate changes and in increasing their resilience over the long term.