Assessing the Role of Gender


Women play a crucial role in agriculture in developing countries. According to the FAO, two-thirds of the female labor force in developing countries is engaged in agricultural work, as independent food producers or agricultural workers. Rural women produce half of the world’s food and, in developing countries, between 60% and 80% of food crops. Yet, despite this, less than 2% of agricultural land is owned by women. This is due to the considerable obstacles to equality faced by women, often underpinned by layers of interconnected social, economic and cultural factors that force women into subordinate roles. National legislation and customary law severely limits women’s access to land, water rights, livestock and access to credit. Women also find barriers to membership in rural organizations and cooperatives, agricultural inputs and technology, and training and marketing services:  

  • Land and labor: In Uganda, women account for approximately three out of four agricultural laborers and nine out of ten food-producing laborers, yet they own only a fraction of the land. Women in Cameroon provide more than 75% of agricultural labor yet own just 10% of the land.
  • Fertilizer, tools and other inputs: In Gambia, less than 1% of women owned seeder, weeder, or multipurpose cultivation instruments, compared to 27%, 12% and 18% respectively of men.
  • Formal finance and extension services: A study of credit schemes in Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe found that women received less than 1% of total credit to agriculture.

(International Center for Research on Women, 2008)

Economic theory has grown in recent times to acknowledge the importance of women in contributing to agricultural production, both as subsistence and commercial farmers. Research over the past four decades has shown that women achieve much higher values of output per hectare than men, on much smaller plots. However, the development community has been slow in designing programs that acknowledge the unique and prominent role of women as farmers, and agents of economic change. 

The challenge is how tailor this agricultural development to enable small-scale women farmers’ access to growing markets for food and agricultural products. USAID recommends ten interventions:

  • Include women as well as men in the design of agriculture and nutrition programs.
  • Encourage property, divorce and inheritance laws that allow women to hold title to land provide a mechanism for enforcing the laws.
  • Provide women and girls with access to primary education as well as training on agricultural production, resource management and conservation.
  • Ensure agricultural extension agents understand and consider the needs of women farmers; and recruit more female extension workers.
  • Facilitate lending to women entrepreneurs working in agriculture; make financial services more accessible to rural women.
  • Ensure that agricultural programs consider the needs and preferences of both men and women when developing and introducing new varieties and technologies.
  • Provide rural women with greater mobility and market information by facilitating access to roads, transportation, water and technology services.
  •  Include gender specific monitoring and evaluation indicators in food security programs.
  • Provide training for agriculture and nutrition specialists on how to apply gender methodologies to the design and implementation of programs.
  • Build local leadership and leverage relationships with government ministries and other institutions to create responsible food security policies that prevent crisis, integrating gender considerations into policies using evidence-based advocacy.

The EAT project is committed to increasing agricultural productivity and development through gender support for USAID and field missions. In particular, its AgCLIR analysis can use in-depth analysis to identify key issues and recommend concrete and practical actions that can be implement to better prepare the agriculture sector for climate change shocks.


Case Studies

AgCLIR Tanzania – Women in Tanzanian Society

In Tanzania, notwithstanding a generally favorable legal framework that affirms equality between men and women (with certain critical exceptions), along with public policies that prioritize gender equity within the work of state institutions, conditions for Tanzanian women working in agriculture remain enormously difficult. Although certain cultural norms are gradually changing, the backdrop against which most Tanzanian women live consists of low expectations, stagnant economic opportunities, unhealthy living and work environs, and rampant abuses of their property and employment rights. Poverty runs deep among both women and men in Tanzania, but deeply ingrained cultural forces continue to render women less literate and less likely to meet their families’ needs through paid work and entrepreneurship than men. AgCLIR Tanzania highlighted a number of recommendations:

  • Revisit and establish a plan for implementation of the major recommendations set forth in the IFC Gender Assessment.
  • Amend the Law on Marriage to provide for gender equality in the age of marriage.
  • Offer more women-targeted business development services.


AgCLIR Uganda – Women in Ugandan Society

While Ugandan women play a critical role in the economy and in particular agriculture, this fact does not yield economic empowerment for the majority of women. Approximately 70 percent of all smallholder farmers are women, and women are responsible for 70 percent of the overall agricultural GDP. Women are estimated to produce 90 percent of Uganda’s total food production and 50 percent of total cash crop production. Although there is cross-cutting awareness of gender as an economic issue, Uganda lacks the requisite data to identify the gaps, issues, and problems that are not addressed. Moreover, when resources are targeted at the farmer, and that ends up being the head of household, the farmer has not in fact been targeted: in Uganda, the woman is truly the farmer. Sex-disaggregated data and gender mainstreaming are also critical issues with this demographic. AgCLIR Uganda highlighted a number of recommendations:

  • Improve educations attainment of women.
  • Improve education and farm extension services for women.
  • Strengthen the organizational capacity of key women’s business associations and incorporate a sector on agriculture.
  • Strengthen Legislative Drafting to Ensure Gender Equity in the Laws.
  •  Increase support to post-start-up, growth-oriented women business owners.



FAO Focus: Women and Food Security

Insightful portal that covers gender issues surrounding access to resources, biodiversity, land tenure and water resources.

Eldis Food Security Portal

A gateway to global development information on international development issues. Contains useful papers on food security, food policy, statistics, IPRs and Gender.



USAID Fact Sheet on ‘Food Security and Gender’

Brief paper that summaries the obstacles women face in food security and advocates a number of suitable interventions

‘Women, food security and agriculture in a global marketplace’

This International Center for Research on Women paper reviews current thinking and practice on increasing agricultural productivity, both subsistence and commercial agriculture, and examines what is known about women’s roles in both sectors. The paper argues that despite evidence that gender-informed approaches are needed to bolster women’s roles and productivity, they are not yet a mainstay of development and agricultural programmes. This gap persists largely because decision makers continue to regard women as home producers or “assistants” in farm households, and not as farmers and economic agents in their own right.

‘Agriculture, trade negotiations and gender’

This paper discusses some relevant gender-related issues regarding the implications that the agricultural trade expansion and liberalization have on aspects linked to gender inequalities that exist in the agricultural and rural sector.

‘Women and food crises: how US food aid policies can better support their struggles. A discussion paper’

This discussion paper lays out some of the key issues in modern food crises, with particular reference to Kenya and Malawi, and explores some opportunities for engaging women more actively in the quest for more effective answers. The author argues that while short-term emergency food aid is often essential, it must be balanced with longer-term assistance and more comprehensive programmes for agricultural development that are designed to support women’s crucial contributions to agricultural production and their commitment to feed their families

‘IFAD Gender in agriculture sourcebook’

This sourcebook combines descriptive accounts of national and international experience in investing in agriculture with practical operational guidance on to how to design agriculture-for-development strategies that capitalize effectively on the unique properties of agricultural growth and rural development involving women and men as a high-impact source of poverty reduction.