Front Cover
 Table of Contents
 Household food security in rural...
 Access to resources: Commonalities...
 The impact of policy reforms on...
 FAO activities to improve the economic...
 Summary and recommendations
 Back Cover

Group Title: Women in agricultural development
Title: Gender issues in rural food security in developing countries
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00085457/00001
 Material Information
Title: Gender issues in rural food security in developing countries
Series Title: Women in agricultural development
Translated Title: Mujer en el desarrollo agricola ( Spanish )
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Publisher: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Human Resources, Institutions, and Agrarian Reform Division. Women in Agricultural Production and Rural Development Service.
Publication Date: 1990
Subject: Farming   ( lcsh )
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00085457
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
    Table of Contents
        Table of Contents
        Page 1
    Household food security in rural areas: The gender dimension
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
    Access to resources: Commonalities and constraints related to gender
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
    The impact of policy reforms on the economic and social roles of women and household food security
        Page 12
        Page 13
    FAO activities to improve the economic and social role of women
        Page 14
    Summary and recommendations
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
    Back Cover
        Page 23
Full Text


Gender Issues in Rural Food Security
In Developing Countries

Within the framework of the FAO Plan of Action for the
Integration of Women in Development, and in response
to Resolution 1/94 of the Ninety-fourth Session of the
FAO Council, 15-26 November 1988, which "requests that
FAO's main Committees include on the agenda of the next
sessions an examination of the issues arising from the
participation of women in the sectors for which these
Committees are responsible ..." this document has been
prepared for the Fifteenth Session of the Commmittee
on World Food Security, Rome, 26-30 March 1990.
It aims at analysing gender issues in food security in
developing countries and is being republished in view
of the interest of the issue and in order to give it
a wider circulation.





2.1 Contribution of Women to Household Food Supply
and Income
2.1.1 Agriculture and Food Production 7 11
2.1.2 Secondary Food Crops and Food Gathering 12 13
2.1.3 Wage Income 14 16
2.1.4 Other Income Earning Activities 17
2.1.5 Nature of Women's Work 18 20
2.2 Intra-Household Income and Food Consumption 21 24
2.3 The Case of Female-Headed Households 25 28


3.1 Access to Land 30
3.2 Access to Agricultural Services
3.2.1 Credit 31 32
3.2.2 Cooperatives 33 34
3.2.3 Agricultural Inputs and Appropriate Technology 35 39
3.2.4 Training and Extension 40 42
3.2.5 Marketing Services 43
3.3 Inadequate Policy Support 44 48


4.1 Impact of Agrarian Reforms and Settlement Policies 49 51
4.2 Impact of Stabilization and Structural Adjustment 52 58
4.3 Impact of Environment Policy 59 61



64 66


1. The crucial importance of women's contribution to food security in
developing countries is widely recognized. In most developing countries,
rural women are the mainstay of small-scale agriculture, farm labour force
and day-to-day family subsistence. Yet rural women are faced with a number
of constraints. They have more difficulties than men in gaining access to
land, credit and extension services. Development interventions to improve
the economic roles of women also so far had limited success. Up until
recently, the overriding concern of such interventions for rural women
remained one of welfare and home economics programmes, mainly through
women-specific projects or women's components in multi-purpose projects.
In many cases, however, development projects did not take adequate account
of women's responsibilities, participation and priorities in their specific
local conditions, constraining in the achievement of the objectives of the
programmes or leading to negative effects on women and families.

2. In recent years there has been an increasing recognition of the
need to integrate women into mainstream development efforts. The economic
rationale behind this approach is that the full productive potential of
human resources male and female cannot be realized if women, who make
substantial contributions to food output and provisioning, do not have
adequate access to resources, productivity enhancing inputs and services.
This approach focuses on gender differences (i.e. socially and culturally
determined differences between men and women) primarily in division of
labour in production or income earning activities, and their access to and
control over resources and assets. The concept of gender also involves
the disaggregation of women's roles and responsibilities by socio-economic
class, agro-ecological environment and farming system, culture and ethnic
group, and for each of these categories, by age and marital status. This
shift to a gender approach has been primarily due to the overriding
attention of governments to the need for socio-economic policies to take
into account the role of and the impact on women. Many governments are
increasingly recognizing for instance that policies such as price
incentives cannot be fully successful in stimulating agricultural
production so long as institutional arrangements prevent women producers
from getting the benefits. The gender approach to integrate women into
mainstream development has also been stimulated in part by the impetus and
new directions given at the Nairobi World Conference to review and appraise
the achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women. The Nairobi
Conference has culminated in the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (NFLS)
which is a framework for action at national, regional and international
levels to promote, in all spheres, greater equality and opportunity for
women. The NFLS are commitments by governments to take concrete steps by
the year 2000 to eliminate all political, economic, social and cultural
forms of sex-based discrimination.

3. With a view to cooperating with other UN bodies in the
implementation of the NFLS, and the System-wide Medium Term Plan for Women
in Development (SWMTP), FAO has drawn up a Plan of Action for the
Integration of Women in Development for the period 1990-1995. The Plan is
an adaptation and amplification of the objectives and strategies in FAO's
specific areas of responsibility. It is an application of the NFLS
principles to the sector of agriculture, food and rural development as it


concerns FAO. In endorsing the Plan, the Council requested (Resolution
1/94) FAO's main committees to include on their agendas an examination of
the issues arising from the participation of women in the sectors for which
these committees are responsible, with a view to making specific
recommendations for action. It will be recalled that the Director-General
informed the Committee at its Fourteenth Session of the Council Resolution,
and the Committee agreed that in fulfilment of the Council Resolution, the
study on the role of women in food security be carried out for its
consideration at this session.

4. This document, which has been prepared in response to the Council
Resolution, analyses gender issues in food security in developing
countries. While the Secretariat recognizes that the role of women in
urban areas in relation to food security is also important, and poses
special problems, the predominance of the rural sector and the prevalence
of widespread poverty and food insecurity in the rural sector in most of
the developing countries, was considered to demand priority assessment.
Section II of the paper therefore deals with the gender dimension of
household food security in rural areas the nature and degree of
contribution of individual members of a family to ensure their welfare and
day-to-day sustenance. In this connection also, the analysis focuses on
poor households and not on those which prima facia have adequate access to
food. Section III of the paper identifies the constraints that affect
women as distinct from those that are generic to the rural sector and
discusses the policy implications. Section IV of the paper assesses the
impact of specific policy reforms on women, again with special reference to
rural areas. Section V deals with the role of FAO activities to improve
the economic and social role of women. A summary and recommendations for
the consideration of the Committee are given in Section VI.


2.1 Contribution of Rural Women to Household Food Supply and Income

5. In most developing countries the rural sector constitutes the
largest sector of the economy in terms of employment and accounts for a
substantial percentage of the GDP. However in many developing countries the
rural sector is often characterized by the prevalence of poverty and food
insecurity. National poverty in many of these countries is thus a
reflection of rural poverty.

6. Usually, no single member of a rural household can normally
provide a sufficient economic base to provide the food supply for the
entire family. This is particularly true of small landholders and landless
households. Members of these households men, women and children have
to work in various activities formingg, trading, artisan work, wage labour,
etc.) and combine their efforts to generate income/food supply for their
survival. Many studies show that in the efforts to generate household
food supply and income, a substantial burden falls on women. Almost
everywhere, women are responsible for processing, storing and preparing
family food. Rural women also fetch water and firewood for the family.
Above all, women are engaged as family labour in agriculture as well as in
wage labour and other income earning activities, and generate a substantial
proportion and sometimes even all of the basic daily food for the family.
They are usually responsible for small livestock, often for small ruminants
and sometimes for large animals that are not on free range. In many
countries women play an important role in fishing in shallow waters and in
coastal lagoons. Gathering of foods such as vegetables which grow wild,
and are an important source of food especially for the poor, also falls
under the responsibility of women.


2.1.1 Agriculture and food production

7. Many studies show that although there is a wide diversity in
household production patterns, women in all regions play a predominant role
in household food security through agricultural and food production. In
Africa, it is estimated that women contribute 30 to 80 percent of the
agricultural labour depending on area and economic class. In most parts of
this region, women have been traditionally responsible for food crops and
men for non-food cash crops. This division of labour between food crops
and cash crops, however, is never clear cut. Often women help their
menfolk in cash crop production. There are also cases where men have been
more involved than women in staple food production, and others where women
produce some cash crops.

8. In Asia, in nearly all rice growing areas men traditionally
perform such activities as preparation, ploughing, irrigation and levelling
of the fields. However, sowing, transplanting and weeding are usually
women's work. Harvesting and threshing and transporting of grain from
fields to home is done by both men and women, while drying, cleaning and
processing of the rice are done by women. A number of studies show that
the contribution of women to agricultural production in terms of number of
operations performed and number of hours worked is in most cases greater
than that of men.

9. Women in Latin America also are heavily engaged in food production
but to a lesser degree than in Africa and Asia. Surveys in parts of
Colombia and Peru show that female participation rates in agricultural
field tasks range from 25 percent to 45 percent. Some studies show that
while in the more commercialized regions almost all households have at
least one woman who participates in field work, female participation in the
regions characterized by traditional agriculture, is more in processing
activities than in direct field work. Women in these Andean regions have
however a high participation rate in animal husbandry, which in some areas
contributes as much as 30 percent of the household income.

10. The contribution of women to agricultural production and household
food security in the Near East varies widely from country to country, but
in many of the countries their contribution is substantial. Where
permanent drought has forced men to migrate, women's participation in
agricultural tasks that were traditionally done by men has increased. In
some countries women perform laborious tasks year round whereas men work
during ploughing and threshing periods only. In several other countries,
irrigation, pest control and to a large extent fertilizer application are
the exclusive tasks of men, while threshing and marketing are the exclusive
tasks of women. In the region as a whole women are heavily involved in
livestock, particularly small animal and dairy, production.

11. In almost all regions and countries women who are most involved in
agricultural field work both as family workers and labourers are women from
the poorer strata of the society i.e. smallholder and landless households.
Among the poor and low income social groups, not only more women
participate in agriculture, but their relative contribution to household
income and food security is more significant.

2.1.2 Secondary Food Crops and Food Gathering

12. Women play a predominant role in the production of secondary crops
and in food gathering. Women often grow such secondary crops in kitchen
gardens, in small fields, near major farm areas or intercrop them with


staple foods or cash crops. Secondary crops which constitute a variety of
indigenous vegetables, legumes, spices and minor crops are useful as food
supplements as well as main sources of food in the pre-harvest season when,
in most rural areas, staple food supplies are scarce or only available at
high prices. Often in drought and crisis situations, women use less
utilized and less known plant species. Moreover, women are also
responsible for the provision of sauces and condiments needed in preparing
food for the household.

13. Women also play an important role in the gathering of wild
vegetables and plants and other forest products for both domestic use and
sale. In many countries, gathering of food and fuelwood constitutes an
important source of livelihood, especially for the landless and near
landless rural poor. However, a number of studies show that with
increasing privatization of land and expanding agriculture, the access of
the poor to forest based sources of food and income is becoming
increasingly difficult.

2.1.3. Wage income

14. Rural households with inadequate access to land to produce enough
food and other basic necessities largely depend on wage incomes from farm
and non-farm employment. Many village-level studies show that in such poor
households women's wage incomes are essential for the survival and
maintenance of the family. However agriculture-based employment in most
countries offers men and women only limited opportunities to earn adequate
income. In many countries the emergence of large-scale modern commercial
farms leads to an increasing number of men and women joining the rural
labour force. However, the agricultural technologies adopted by
large-scale commercial farms do not generate adequate new farm employment
opportunities. While the expansion of large-scale production of certain
crops such as tea and coffee, has provided women with preferential access
to seasonal wage employment, often the scale of the employment is not
sufficient to absorb the large number of women seeking work. Moreover,
women are disproportionately concentrated in tasks which offer low wages.

15. Women are also given preference in employment in food processing
and other agro-industrial enterprises. However, pay in such industries is
usually low and they often do not guarantee regular income. For instance,
in many countries women who work in sorting and packing fruit and
vegetables often obtain work only on a casual and piece work basis. In
other processing industries also, women occupy low paying jobs which
require few skills and have little potential for progress. In some food
processing activities, women are losing their employment and income
opportunities altogether with the introduction of modern technology (see
section 3.2.3).

16. With landlessness and near-landlessness increasing in many
developing countries, wage employment and income opportunities are
indispensable for poor peasant households. Since the food security of these
households is usually curcially dependent on women's contributions to the
total household earnings, low paying jobs and lack of regular employment
for women often mean inadequate food security and low nutritional levels,
especially in rural areas where employment opportunities are frequently
seasonal or casual in nature. It is therefore important that rural
poverty-alleviation programmes should focus on generating regular
employment opportunities and on improving the wage incomes particularly of
women. Improving technical skills of women through better educational and
training opportunities is also necessary in order to improve women's access
to better paying jobs.


2.1.4 Other income earning activities

17. Rural women are also engaged in a variety of other income earning
activities to supplement household income and many depend on such
activities for their survival. In many countries rural women are engaged in
home based vegetable oil processing, smoking of fish, selling of cooked
foods and beverages, producing and selling handicraft goods, and in petty
trading. Petty trading is an important activity for many women especially
in Africa and Latin Amercia and the Caribbean. Activities such as making
and selling of crafts are performed in many countries using traditional
inputs and production techniques; however the marketing of these items
often remains problematic in terms of generating a sustainable income. The
introduction of new technologies could enhance the productivity of women in
making such crafts and improve their competitive and income earning status
in the market place.

2.1.5 Nature of Women's Work

18. Rural women's tasks, whether they work as family members or as
wage labourers, are almost always labour intensive and time consuming.
Generally, few, if any, modern tools or implements are available for such
tasks as transplanting and weeding. Harvests are transported from fields to
home in head loads; grain is ground by hand and water and firewood is
fetched and carried often over long distances. Time allocation studies show
that in all such activities, women work longer hours than men.

19. In most rural areas, the two most time-consuming activities of
women are fetching water and firewood. Widespread deforestation and
desertification mean that these tasks are becoming more burdensome and are
preventing rural women from devoting more time to their productive and
income generating tasks. In some cases, women also pass part of the burden
of these activities to their children, usually female children. Relieving
women from such drudgery as fetching water and firewood and food processing
would allow them to have more time for productive work and could enable
their children to attend schools.

20. Thus development interventions to reduce women's drudgery can
significantly enhance their contribution to household food security. The
provision of water supplies; the introduction of light transport facilities
for the carrying of firewood, farm produce and other loads; the
introduction of labour saving agricultural tools; the introduction of
grinding mills and other crop processing equipment are crucial means of
freeing women's time. Such technologies not only create possibilities for
women to enter into more income generating activities, but also help in
reducing their stress and in improving the health and nutrition of women
and children.

2.2 Intra-household income and food consumption

21. Very often, it is only if all members of a poor rural household
are able to work, and if they pool their income, that the household can
have adequate access to food and other basic necessities. The pooling of
incomes of men and women members of the household is often a precondition
for their survival because in poor households neither men nor women receive
adequate income to support the whole family. The relative shares of income
that female and male members of households contribute to particular items
of essential expenditure are often a function of societal traditions.
However, a number of studies show that the direct responsibility for


household food provision largely falls on women. In general, available
studies show that the improvement of household food security and
nutritional levels is associated with women's access to income and their
role in household decisions on expenditure. It is also generally recognized
that women in landless households have a strong voice in the way wages are
spent, largely because they make a visible contribution to household
income. Some studies further indicate that women's decision-making role in
the household is higher when they contribute cash income from off-farm
employment than if they do not earn income.

22. In situations where men and women have different responsibilities
for the production of crops as is the case in many African countries,
decision- making in the allocation of scarce land and labour resources
between cash and food crop production is crucial for household food
security. In most African countries, decision-making power in the
allocation of land and labour rests with the male household head and there
are instances where cash crop production is favoured at the cost of lower
food production. However, there is also evidence that households with
greater incomes from cash crops enjoy better access to food and nutritional

23. Another issue in household food consumption is the possibility
that female members get less food than male members of households, both in
absolute terms and in terms of nutritional requirements. Although studies
on Bangladesh and Brazil confirm this view, in many other instances, the
view is often based on observations that women and children especially
girls eat after the male household head and other male members of the
household have been served and on the assumption that in situations of
extreme poverty and scarcity of food at the household level, little food
may be left for female members of the household after adult men and male
children have taken their shares. In such circumstances women and female
children are likely to be more undernourished and to be affected negatively
in terms of health. However, an ILO study in Andhra Pradesh in India found
that women in poor households ate their food first before they gave food to
the men while in upper caste households women invariably served food to the
men first. More detailed studies of food and calorie intake of men and
women, and male and female children are necessary to determine the
differential nutritional status of different family members.

24. Although cultural and traditional factors may be partly
responsible for the unequal distribution of food and for the relatively low
nutritional status of women and female children, the problem is mainly one
of poverty and lack of adequate access to food by poor households. In
situations of adequate food supplies for all, the question of "who eats
first" becomes a secondary issue. The long-term solution to the uneven
distribution of food disfavouring females thus lies in improving the income
and economic status of households through measures to increase the
ownership of productive assets and income generating employment
opportunities for the poor households. In the short-term, programmes
specifically targeted to women, especially pregnant and lactating women,
and children are needed to improve the nutritional status of these groups
in poor households. At the same time social customs and traditions
inhibiting equal distribution of food among household members need to be
tackled through proper education.

2.3 The Case of Female-Headed Households

25. With growing migration of rural men, which in many cases has been
brought about by the inability of the rural sector to generate adequate
employment opportunities and family income, the number of female-headed


households in many developing countries is increasing significantly in
rural areas. In Sub-Saharan Africa female-headed households are estimated
to represent, for instance, 30 percent in Malawi, and 40 percent in Sierra
Leone. The proportion of such households is even higher in southern African
countries where fiscal and investment policies have drawn men into the
mines and plantations. In Latin America and the Caribbean, in Honduras 22
percent, in Peru 23 percent and in Jamaica 34 percent of the households are
reported to be female-headed. In Asia data for Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri
Lanka show that female-headed households account for about 20 percent of
households. Among countries in the Near East, in Morocco female-headed
households account for 15 percent and in Syria 14 percent of households.

26. In almost all countries female-headed households are concentrated
among the poorer strata of society and often have lower income than
male-headed households. There are, however, different types of
female-headed households: those where a male adult may be totally absent
as may be the case with widowed, divorced, separated or deserted women;
those where the male adult is unable to provide for the family due to
extended unemployment or physical disability and those where the male adult
has migrated in search of employment and income opportunities. The most
vulnerable are the female- headed households where a male adult is totally
absent. In India and in Kenya, for instance, the income of such households
is estimated to be 50 percent less than that of male-headed households.
Married women whose husbands migrate often get remittances and in this case
are in a better position than other female-headed households.

27. The problems faced by female-headed households as men migrate vary
according to their degree of access to productive resources. Studies in
some countries in Africa show that the loss of male labour can lead to
shifts in production toward less nutritious crops or to declines in yields
and output. In Ghana for instance, a lack of male labour for clearing thick
bush and women's inability to do this with existing simple hand-tools, led
to longer-cropping rotations on land that should be fallowed after one to
three years. As a result land fertility and yields declined and soil
erosion increased.

28. The absence of male labour also increases women's reliance on
child labour which, in many countries, is already high, especially among
the poor households. If school schedules in rural areas are not in harmony
with labour needs, rural women have either to forgo production in the
interest of the children's education or use their children's labour to
produce food. Households which are too poor to hire labour resort to the
latter and often withdraw their children from school. The inability of such
households to send their children to school deprives many countries of
potential trained human capital, and perpetuates the poverty of the family.


29. Despite their substantial role in food and agricultural
production, most rural women do not have adequate access to land and
productivity-raising services such as credit, cooperatives, agricultural
inputs, training and extension as well as appropriate technology. Indeed in
most developing countries, access to such resources and services is a
common problem affecting small farmers, both men and women. However,
women's access to them is even more limited owing to cultural, traditional
and sociological factors.


3.1 Access to Land

30. The lack of access to land remains a major problem facing the
rural poor. In many countries there is persistence of large inequalities
of land ownership and an increase in landlessness. Land reform programmes
as well as the tendency towards the break-up of communal land holdings -
especially in areas of tribal and customary tenures have led to the
transfer of exclusive land rights to males as heads of households. The
"head of family" concept, which is used as the basis for land
redistribution, has historically ignored both the existence of
female-headed households and the rights of married women's to a joint share
(see section 4.1).

Access to agricultural services

3.2.1 Credit

31. The availability of credit is indispensable to small farmers to
improve their agricultural productivity and to enhance their household
income and food supplies. They need short-term credit to purchase
agricultural inputs such as improved seeds, fertilizers, insecticides and
herbicides. They also need medium and long-term credit to purchase labour-
saving tools and implements, or to establish small-scale dairy or poultry
enterprises. However, in most developing countries small farmers do not
have an adequate access to credit. For women farmers the situation is
particularly acute. Available information indicates that women receive
only a minor share of the total agricultural credit even in countries where
women play a predominant role in food production. For instance, an
analysis of credit schemes in Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Zambia and
Zimbabwe found that, by and large, women received less than 10 percent of
the credit directed to smallholders and merely one percent of the total
credit to agriculture.

32. Most often, the limited access of women to credit is because they
do not have the collateral (land title and cattle) required for
agricultural loans, or because they are excluded or discouraged from
becoming members of cooperatives through which credit is often channeled to
provide a collective guarantee for individual borrowers. In some cases, it
is also a result of attitudes and beliefs which underestimate women's
potential agricultural productivity and women's ability to repay loans. In
other cases, the minimum size of loans, the purposes for which such loans
are available and the repayment terms are frequently ill-adapted to the
enterprises in which women are engaged. Moreover, even when agricultural
credit projects are aimed at small farmers, women are often not informed,
since they are outside the communication network of the male-oriented
extension services.

3.2.2 Cooperatives

33. Agricultural cooperatives are useful to women farmers for two main
reasons: (i) they help farmers sell their produce and are often channels
through which agricultural extension services, agricultural inputs and
credit are directed; (ii) they may serve as a platform for making the
voice of farming women heard more effectively in matters that concern them.
Thus by helping women farmers overcome some of their constraints,
agricultural cooperatives can contribute to improving women's agricultural
production and household food security. However, in many countries, women
have limited adcess to cooperatives. While there may not be any law which
prohibits women from becoming members, they are generally excluded because
membership is based on land ownership or a head-of-household criterion.


34. Even in some countries where cooperative membership is open to
all, t has been found that women do not benefit to the same extent as men
nor are they able to participate in decision-making and policy directions
on an equal footing. Some countries are taking measures to encourage
sex-segregated cooperatives or associations for rural women in order to
enable them to participate in and benefit from mainstream development
efforts. There is evidence that associations organized at grass-roots level
are more effective in the provision of services and in the mobilization of
resources than those created for a particular project. Women's groups at
both the grass-roots and national levels have been effective in promoting
the integration of gender issues into mainstream development activities and
the participation of women in decision-making. However women's groups, at
all levels, are faced with problems of inadequate training and skills and
insufficient financial resources.

3.2.3 Agricultural Inputs and Appropriate Technology

35. The objective of increasing food production to meet the rising
demands of a growing population in developing countries requires increased
use of improved seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and other technological
inputs. In general, where there are inadequate incentives in the form of
remunerative prices for food crops relative to cash crops, or deficiencies
in input delivery systems, the ability of small-scale food producers to
purchase inputs is limited. In particular, women, who play a crucial role
in food production in developing countries have limited access to such
technological inputs partly because they are not reached by extension
services or because they are not members of cooperatives, which often
distribute government subsidized inputs to small farmers.

36. The production potential and the possibility of improving
household food security and nutritional levels of subsistence women farmers
can only be realized with the use of agricultural inputs. Yet they often
lack cash income to purchase inputs, even if the latter are subsidized.
Providing short-term credit for such farmers to purchase inputs is thus a
prerequisite for enhancing their production.

37. A major consideration relating to introduction of modern
technology in situations where there are inequalities in land and resource
ownership, concerns the impact of labour-saving technologies on
smallholders and the landless poor who depend for their livelihood on wage
labour. Studies undertaken in Asia with respect to the impact of the two
types of modern technologies namely: (1) a high-yielding variety (HYV) and
irrigation package, and (ii) labour-saving mechanization (such as use of
tractors, weeders, combine harvesters, rice hullers and modern rice mills)
show that the effects of such technologies varied by type of technology and
according to income classes and gender. In some cases the introduction of
HYV-irrigation packages has led to an increase in employment of landless
men and women agricultural labourers in sowing/transplanting, weeding and
harvesting operations, with a greater rise in employment for female than
for male workers. However, some studies show that with the introduction of
technologies such as irrigation schemes, the women's workload sometimes
significantly increased without a concurrent increase in incomes.

38. The impact of mechanization on employment and income of
resource-poor and landless households has generally been negative, with the
effects differing as between men and women. While tractorization has
affected male labour by displacing them from ploughing, a male-specific
operation, the mechanization of crop cultivation and post-harvest
operations, has displaced female labour from such traditional tasks as
weeding, winnowing, threshing and hand pounding.

- 10 -

39. Thus the various country and regional experiences show that
agricultural technologies aimed at rural development and alleviating
poverty, unless carefully planned, may have a tendency to increase the
labour intensity of work of women without necessarily increasing their
income; or it may even displace them from work altogether. Moreover, in
many cases technologies developed with a view to increasing food production
and to improving food security have been introduced without adequate
knowledge of local conditions due to lack of prior consultation with
farmers, including women farmers. Many of such technologies have turned out
to be inappropriate for the community for which they were developed and
have not been successful in attaining their objectives. It is, therefore,
necessary that if technologies aimed at alleviating rural poverty are to
attain the objectives they are set, their introduction should be preceded
by thorough studies to determine their socio-economic and gender
implications with participation by affected communities.

3.2.4 Training and Extension

40. Training and extension services are the major vehicles through
which rural farmers are encouraged to adopt new crops and more productive
practices. Despite women's indispensable role in production, most training
and extension programmes have not been planned to reach women producers
adequately. In most cases, training in food and nutrition, health, child
care, and home management is given to women and girls, while training and
extension services to improve farming practices are offered to men. Seldom
is there an opportunity for both males and females to have access to
training in all these areas. Yet in the daily life of a rural household,
farming is of concern to all members of the family and, therefore, related
extension programmes should reach both genders in order to be fully

41. Some countries have taken measures to recruit women extension
agents in order to reach female farmers. Women extension agents may be
particularly useful where contact with unrelated males is culturally
unacceptable. However, studies in Botswana, the Caribbean, Thailand, Kenya
and Nepal have shown that hiring women extension agents does not
necessarily mean that female farmers' needs will be addressed unless
existing structural problems are solved. In some of the above countries,
for instance, both female and male extension agents continued to focus on
male farmers as the prevailing emphasis was on commercial farming and cash
crops. Extension workers had few incentives to spend time with subsistence
farmers who often were women, or did not reach village women because family
responsibilities made it more difficult for the women to travel to
extension centres.

42. Efforts at making extension services available to women farmers
thus need to take account of the specific local conditions. It would be
necessary to undertake baseline studies to determine the nature of the
gender division of labour, the pattern of production, special constraints
facing women as well as other relevant factors so that it would be possible
to devise appropriate training and extension programmes to enable women to
participate more effectively.

3.2.5 Marketing Services

43. In many cases the main obstacle to increasing surplus production
above the subsistence level could be a lack of marketing outlets. Unless
there are infrastructural facilities, such as feeder roads, that link rural

- 11 -

areas to markets, farmers, including women farmers, would have no incentive
to produce surpluses. Provision of market information and forecasting
services, storage facilities and the equal participation of women in
production and marketing cooperatives could also play a significant role in
encouraging women to produce surpluses for markets. Women also need
training in marketing, accounting and management skills. In particular,
different studies have shown that market opportunities and transport
linkages can stimulate women farmers to produce food surpluses and thus
augment household income.

3.3 Inadequate Policy Support

44. Despite the growing awareness by governments of the role of women
in food production and food security, agricultural development policies and
programmes of most countries have not adequately addressed the needs of
small farmers and particularly those of women. In most countries,
agricultural development activities directed at rural women have taken the
form of small projects such as dairying, poultry raising and vegetable
gardening. Often these projects suffered from lack of infrastructural
facilities, inadequate funding, isolation from mainstream development
efforts, and inadequate policy support. Some of the projects geared to
assist women also took the form of small components linked to, but not
necessarily integrated into, larger agricultural and rural development
projects. In many cases, projects or project components for women have also
focused on non-agricultural activities such as tailoring, embroidery,
knitting and other handicrafts, which do not address women's needs for
assistance in their primary agricultural responsibilities.

45. In order to promote women's interests, many countries have
established government bodies, including full-fledged ministries or
under-secretaries of state for women's affairs, or units located in or
affiliated with ministries dealing with labour and social affairs. Their
major accomplishments in the area of agriculture and rural development have
been to promote awareness of women's issues at a national policy level; to
stimulate research and data collection on rural women's agricultural and
other roles and needs for policy-making and planning; to act as a
clearing-house for disseminating information on rural women; and to promote
new legislation for women or to serve as a watchdog on land rights and
inheritance, employment conditions and wage rates.

46. Attempts by most national women's organizations to implement food
and agricultural development programmes and projects have had limited
success. The main reasons are the insufficient human and financial
resources and the lack of a country-wide network of regional or local
branches. Thus programming and implementation of agricultural projects are
most effectively carried out by ministries of agriculture assisted and
monitored by special women's units or focal points.

47. In almost all developing countries, a major impediment to incorpo-
rating gender issues into food and agricultural development policies and
strategies has been the lack of comprehensive data on the nature and role
of women's contributions to food and agricultural production. The major
reason for under-estimation of women workers in national statistical data
is widely thought to be an inadequate coverage of women's unpaid labour on
family holdings. Women's labour is usually enumerated only if women work
for wages. In some countries and regions, such problems have led to the
definition of women as non-farmers, resulting in their virtual exclusion
from agricultural services and resources.

- 12 -

48. Data and statistics by gender and activity at the village level
are indispensable in framing measures aimed at integrating women in
national development. A number of initiatives have been taken at the
international level, to assist developing countries to improve the
availability of reliable statistics on women. A sub-programme of the United
Nations System-wide Medium-Term Plan for Women in Development has as its
objective to develop reliable and comprehensive statistics and
socio-economic indicators on the situation of women. Within this framework,
FAO, in its Plan of Action for Integration of Women in Development, gives
attention to increased data collection regarding women in agriculture.


4.1 Impact of Agrarian Reforms and Settlement Policies

49. The WCARRD Programme of Action and the Convention on the
Elimination of Discrimination Against Women call for measures to improve
women's legal status in land and agrarian reform. In general, however,
women have not been subjects of the agrarian reforms and the majority of
agrarian reforms have not resulted in significant numbers of female
beneficiaries. Where land reform entails the division of land into separate
family holdings, only heads of households have been the direct
beneficiaries. In almost all cases, ownership of the land is bestowed on
the male head of household regardless of the inheritance rights of men and
women. Thus the male-household head, as landowner, has ultimate legal
authority over land use and its utilization as collateral for credit, even
when absent from the household.

50. In many countries, land settlement schemes continue to be more
prominent than agrarian reform programmes. These schemes have also
generally been effected in the name of the male head of the household, with
the result that many women have-lost control over resources and income. In
Asia many women have lost out in.terms of land ownership in new settlement
schemes. In some countries in Africa the amount of land allocated to the
household plot in the resettlement areas was smaller than women's
traditional food fields that allowed them to sell small surpluses or women
even lost the personal use of the field produce. There is also evidence
that when land is improved by partial or complete water control, women tend
to lose traditional use rights to land, which may result in less
diversified diets. It is also often reported that with new settlement or
land development schemes such as irrigation, the women's workload increases
disproportionately at the expense of their customary personal agricultural
and non-farm income earning activities.

51. Although overall, benefits for women from land reform have not
been entirely satisfactory, there have been some cases where women have
made real gains in terms of improved access to land. In some cases,
agrarian reforms have replaced the feudal system where women traditionally
had a subordinate role in family production. In some situations (as in
China, Cuba, Malaysia, Nicaragua and Thailand), women's organizations have
helped to overcome existing barriers or to protect women's rights regarding
access to and inheritance of land. In India the Sixth Five-Year Plan
provided for joint land titles in all development activities involving the
transfer of assets. In some countries, women by their own efforts have
improved their access to land, for instance by pooling their resources to
buy land or farms collectively.

- 13 -

4.2 Impact of Stabilization and Structural Adjustment Programmes

52. It has been increasingly recognized that the impact of
stabilization and structural adjustment programmes on the food security of
various economic classes and of men and women has been different. Several
studies show that devaluation of currencies, the elimination of subsidies,
cuts in social services, the rise of consumer prices, higher priced
imports, especially of agricultural inputs, the reduction of public sector
employment opportunities, the freezing of wages and salaries all led to the
deterioration in the welfare of the poorest socio-economic groups in most
developing countries. Many studies also show that women as important
providers of household food security, especially among the poorest
socio-economic groups, have been more seriously affected than men in many
respects. FAO is currently undertaking a more extensive study of the
effects of structural adjustment programmes on women, entitled "Economic
Adjustment: women's role in the management of family resources for
household food security and nutrition."

53. One major area where the position of women has been affected
concerns changes in employment opportunities. There are cases where better
employment opportunities have been created for women. For example, the
export processing sector has created a large number of new jobs in several
countries which adopted export promotion policies. Similarly, adjustment
policies may have played a role in expanding the service sectors with a
consequence of an increase in employment opportunities for women. However,
for both men and women the severe contraction of the domestic economy has
often meant that job insecurity is high; lay-offs of workers are common;
wages, fringe benefits and promotion are cut back severely, and the legal
obligations of employers towards their workers have not been enforced.

54. These changes have affected women in various ways. In many
countries, greater unemployment and downward pressure on wages for men has
meant that the burden of supporting the household fell increasingly on
women, and that they had to work in the informal sector, where wages and
work conditions are far below those of the formal, government-regulated

55. Several studies have noted that in the rural areas the number of
female-headed households have been growing rapidly under recession and
structural adjustment, as migration of males has accelerated. While male
migration may offer women an increased access to decision-making in
household allocation of resources, as noted above, this does not
automatically improve their access to credit and other inputs essential for
raising their productivity and improving their household welfare.

56. The economic pressure on poor families is also exacerbated by the
reduction or elimination of food subsidies, cuts in health and education
services, or the imposition of cost recovery programmes for various social
services. Rural women who usually carry a heavy burden in providing food
for the family and in caring for the health and education of children, have
been affected by these cuts. It is reported that reduced social services
in many countries have placed women in a difficult situation of having to
forego time in the home caring for children in order to increase incomes to
meet pressing health and educational expenses. There have also been cases
where girls have been withdrawn from school to replace their working
mothers in the home. Some studies indicate that, in efforts to cope with
such problems, there has been increasing resort to traditional home health
practices and to collaborative forms of child care in many countries,
especially in Latin America.

- 14 -

57. A major area of policy concern is that adjustment programmes by
affecting employment and income opportunities coupled with reduced
government subsidy programmes have resulted in both qualitatively poorer
and quantitatively less food consumption. Some studies suggest that as the
household food supply deteriorates, the nutritional and health situation of
female members of the family is more affected than that of male members of
the family.

58. A major initiative to assess more precisely the impact of
structural adjustment on the poor is the World Bank, UNDP and the African
Development Bank study on the Social Dimensions of Adjustment in
Sub-Saharan Africa.

4.3 Impact of Environment Policy

59. In many developing countries environmental degradation and
natural disasters have pushed great numbers of families into marginal
environments. Rural women in their roles as food producers and providers of
water, firewood and other household necessities have been particularly
affected, especially in situations of male migration. Women work longer
hours to produce food and income to support their families as well as to
collect the fuel and water needed for their household.

60. As a result of the growing recognition of the crucial links
between the environment and rural women in their role in ensuring household
food security, there is an increasing trend for policy measures, especially
in the area of forestry and energy supply to enhance the participation of
women. One major policy approach that aims to promote participation of
women is "agro-forestry" which integrates the husbandry of trees with that
of crops and livestock, especially in fragile situations such as upland
watersheds where shifting cultivation is destroying forest cover and arid
areas in danger of desertification. Another policy approach is "social or
community forestry". These policy approaches fully take into account gender
issues as important for their success.

61. Attention to women's requirements for energy resources has
frequently been narrowly focused on fuel saving. For instance, until very
recently improved cooking stoves received widespread attention as one way
of reducing energy demand and the stress on forest resources. It is now
being increasingly recognized that women's roles and needs in relation to
energy must be seen in a broader context and must be integrated into rural
development programmes. Such approaches also have laid emphasis on the need
for training extension workers in promoting and disseminating information
on household energy conservation and the need for educational institutions
to develop awareness among students.


62. FAO's activities to improve the economic and social role of women
have been stepped up since the Declaration of Principles and Programme of
Action of the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development
(WCARRD) in 1979. The WCARRD Programme of Action recognized that women
should participate in rural development on an equal basis with men and
share fully in improved conditions of life in rural areas. It also
recognized that the integration of women was a prerequisite for successful
rural development planning and programme implementation. To promote women's
integration, the WCARRD recommended equality in legal status, access to
rural resources and services, organization and support of women's groups,

- 15 -

equal opportunity for education and employment and data collection in
women's activities in the rural economy. Since 1979, FAO has been
continuing to make efforts to assist countries to translate WCARRD
principles into concrete programmes.

63. Objectives that need to be achieved and the main areas of action
in the above broad activities have been further articulated in the FAO Plan
of Action for the Integration of Women in Development. The Plan aims at
ensuring that women are accorded equal rights and opportunities and that
their potential contribution is put to use by their societies, through
action in the civil or legal, the economic, the social and the
decision-making spheres. The Plan endorses a two-pronged approach to deal
with women's concerns. It suggests the integration of women's issues and of
women as beneficiaries and participants in mainstream projects and
programmes. At the same time it envisages the possibility of some
demonstration projects for women to test and improve mechanisms and
methodologies of technical assistance to rural women. The Plan also
identifies specific programme priorities for the biennium 1990-91, which,
inter alia, have a strong bearing on food security concerns. Such
priorities include policy advice to member governments; project development
and monitoring; re-orientation of home economics and agricultural
curricula; preparation and promotion of guidelines and manuals on Women in
Development (WID); data collection, research studies, communication and
public information; and population education and WID.


64. Rural households try to obtain their food and other basic needs
through efforts to grow food or to earn income. In their efforts to
generate household food supply/income, a substantial responsibility
devolves on women. Women are engaged as family labour in agriculture as
well as in wage labour and other income earning activities and generate a
substantial proportion and sometimes even all the basic daily food for the
family. Village-level time allocation studies show that in most cases,
women work longer hours than men. A number of studies also show that while
men devote a relatively small part of their income to household food
expenditure, women devote a substantial part or all of their income for
household food and other basic needs. Improvement of household food
security and nutritional levels is thus closely linked with women's access
to income and participation in decision-making on the use of income.

65. It is increasingly recognized that efforts to alleviate rural
poverty and to improve food security through measures to enhance food
production and employment opportunities cannot be successful without taking
into account the issues relating to women as producers and providers of
food in developing countries. The major issues which call for specific
policy attention include:

(i) Women do not have equitable access to land and agricultural
services such as credit, agricultural inputs, training and
extension, and marketing services. Agrarian reforms and land
settlement policies in most countries have done little to improve
women's access to land, and have often widened the inequality in
ownership and access to agricultural services.

(ii) Landless and near landless households depend on wage income to
ensure their food security and, particularly among poorer
households, women's wages play a crucial role in this endeavour.

- 16 -

Yet, most of the agriculture-based wage work for women is
seasonal, even casual and does not offer a regular income.
Further, women are employed in low paying jobs. In both cases, the
result is inadequate food security and low nutritional levels for
many rural households.

(iii) Few, if any, modern tools or implements are available to poor
rural households, and rural women's activities in particular are
almost always labour-intensive and time consuming. Rural women
thus have a pressing need for appropriate labour-saving
technology, both in order to reduce their stress and to give them
more time for productive activities. However, in some
circumstances, the introduction of technologies that have not
taken into account women's needs has increased their burden of
work; in other cases, women have been displaced from work and have
lost income earning opportunities following technological change.

(iv) Women's contribution to household food security and their possibi-
lity of being involved in productivity and income raising develop-
mental activiites is especially adversely affected by the long
hours spent in fetching water and fuelwood for the household.

(v) In many developing countries with a growing migration of rural
men, the number of female-headed households is increasing
significantly. In most of these -countries, given women's
inadequate access to resources and employment opportunities, these
households are particularly prone to poverty and food insecurity.

(vi) Agricultural development policies and programmes in most countries
have not adequately addressed the needs of small farmers and among
them the needs of women. An important impediment to incorporating
gender issues into food and agricultural development policies and
strategies has been the lack of comprehensive data on the nature
and role of women's contributions to food and agricultural

(vii) The impact of structural adjustment programmes has also been
generally negative on women. Women as the main providers of
household food security, especially among the poorest
socio-economic groups, have been in many respects more seriously
affected than men by such policies as elimination of subsidies,
cuts in social services, increases in consumer prices, higher
priced imports, especially agricultural inputs, the reduction of
public sector employment opportunities, and frozen or lower wages
and salaries. Where customs and traditions give priority to men
in the distribution of household food consumption, adjustment
programmes may have resulted in greater deterioration in the
nutritional status of females than of males.

66. There is need to enhance the contribution of women to household
food security and to ensure their full participation in efforts to achieve
agricultural growth, alleviate rural poverty and improve food consumption
and nutritional well being. A number of specific policy measures are
essential to deal with the above issues. In formulating and implementing
such measures, the special case of female-headed households needs to be
taken into account. The Committee may, therefore, wish to consider the
following recommendations to overcome the impediments facing women:

- 17 -

Access to land women should have equal opportunities with men to
own land. It is important to ensure that women are also
beneficiaries of land reform policies, settlement schemes and
irrigation projects. Joint titles of ownership or tenancy need to
be promoted instead of the common practice of bestowing land to
the male head of the household.

Access to agricultural services women's access to agricultural
services not only needs to be facilitated but such services also
have to be geared to the specific needs of women. The credits to
be provided and repayment terms have to be adapted to the type of
enterprises that women undertake in a particular locality.
Similarly, for women to be adequately helped by agricultural
extension, the training and extension activities must be made more
relevant to their needs, relevant to the crops they produce, the
livestock they raise, and the farming systems and time constraints
within which they work. Assistance in improving marketing services
also needs to be geared to the specific products that women
produce and sell.

Incentives to encourage production of food crops An important
measure to improve household food security and nutritional levels
remains the increasing of food production by the household. The
provision of remunerative prices and other economic incentives in
the form of inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizers, and
research which takes into account women's role in the production
of food crops, are essential in the efforts to increase
production. In addition, transportation and marketing facilities
are essential in order to encourage rural households, including
women, to produce surpluses above subsistence needs.

Adoption of appropriate inputs and technology A major area that
calls for appropriate measures is the time spent by rural women in
fetching water and firewood. Thus provision of water supplies,
alternative fuels for cooking and food processing technology, with
a view to freeing up women's time for income-producing activities
and for reducing their stress, should form essential components of
rural development programmes. As regards agricultural production,
access by women to modern inputs, implements and irrigation
facilities needs to be enhanced. In order to avoid undesirable
consequences of certain types of technologies It is important that
such projects be formulated in consultation with the targeted
women beneficiaries.

Improving the nutritional status of women While the ultimate
solution to the lack of adequate access to food of rural
households, and particularly women, lies in eradicating poverty
through increase i food production and improved incomes, steps need
to be taken to improve the nutritional status of women and
children over the short-term. Traditional and cultural factors
which give priority to men need to be tackled through proper
education. Secondly, access to food by women especially pregnant
and lactating mothers and children needs to be enhanced through
such schemes as special feeding programmes.

- 18 -

Better employment and income earning opportunities Employment
policies should ensure that women get the same pay as men for the
same work. Training and educational opportunities should also be
provided to them to improve their access to skilled and better
paying jobs.

Promoting women's organization Women's participation in the
implementation of measures and programmes to promote food security
and to alleviate poverty could be significantly enhanced if they
were members of organizations such as producer, marketing or
service cooperatives. Efforts need to be made to encourage women
not only to be members of cooperatives but also to hold managerial
positions in such organizations. Measures need also to be taken to
encourage women to undertake, on a cooperative basis,
income-producing enterprises that may normally not be viable on an
individual basis.

Re-orienting government policies Government policies also need
to be reviewed and where necessary re-oriented to ensure that the
problems that constrain the role of women in food security (i.e.
access to resources, essential services and institutions, and
employment opportunities on an equitable footing with men) are
fully addressed. An important step in this direction will be to
improve the statistical data base of the role of women in food and
agricultural production, in income-earning activities, including
wage labour and activities in the informal sector. Design of
policy interventions for women should take into account the
economic role of men and women in the various activities and
provide information on resource endowments, activity patterns,
income sources, cropping patterns and husbandry practices of
households in different socio-economic groups in the target area.
In line with the Plan of Action for Integration of Women in
Development, FAO will make all efforts to assist interested member
countries in this important work.

- 19 -


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