Young women in Senegal
Young women in Senegal

Day 6: Gender Equality: It’s smart and it’s right

16 December, 2012 | Future of Agriculture: Online Discussion

While farming is increasingly reliant on women’s labour, women’s lack of secure land tenure severely limits their influence over farming decisions. Closing the gender gap in land rights would increase productivity and total output. And it would help women exercise their rights as citizens.

By Madiodio Niasse, Secretariat Director, International Land Coalition (ILC) 

Women provide a significant share of agricultural labour in developing countries: FAO says 43 per cent, UNIFEM says 60–80 per cent. These figures, although sometimes debated, are a plausible illustration of reality and are part of a trend towards the increasing feminisation of farm labour. 

This trend is likely to continue and even accelerate as a result of a higher proportion of male outmigration, coupled with the high incidence of diseases such as HIV/AIDS. An increasing number of widows and female orphans will become heads of farm households and the main providers of family farm labour. 

Women’s increasingly central role in agricultural production is at odds with their still limited access to secure tenure rights over the land they farm. FAO and UNIFEM estimate that fewer than five per cent of women in the developing world have access to secure land rights, with significant differences from country to country. Where women enjoy secure tenure rights, farm sizes tend to be much smaller than is the case for farmland controlled by men. 

“Women’s increasingly central role in agricultural production is at odds with their still limited access to secure tenure rights over the land they farm.”

In Burkina Faso and Benin, a World Bank study found that the average sizes of women’s land holdings were just 12.5 per cent and 50 per cent, respectively, of men’s holdings.

If tenure security is achieved when community or individual rights over land are publicly recognised and rights holders are protected against arbitrary deprivation and enjoy the economic benefits attached to their land rights, then tenure security is a social construct whose meaning varies depending on socio-cultural contexts. 

Therefore, the effectiveness of means (legal and otherwise) for guaranteeing tenure security depends on the context. Land ownership can be a means of achieving tenure security, but it is rarely a sufficient condition or the only way of securing land rights.

While the agriculture sector is increasingly reliant on women’s labour, women’s influence over farming decisions is limited due to their lack of land tenure security. This is why closing the gender gap in access to secure land rights makes good sense from an economic standpoint, as well as from the perspectives of social justice and human rights.

Increased productivity and total output of the agricultural sector would be one of the more direct and tangible results of closing this gender gap, as equitable access to land is strongly associated with improved efficiency in the farming sector. Security of tenure contributes significantly to creating the incentives needed for increased agricultural investments, which leads in turn to higher productivity.  

The 2011 Foresight report gives an example from Burkina Faso, where the productivity of female-managed plots was 30 per cent lower than that of male-managed plots, primarily because labour and fertiliser were more intensively applied on men’s plots. 

Women’s lack of control over land is compounded by the obstacles they face in the various segments of the agricultural value chain – access to input services, extension services, processing, markets, etc. 

FAO argues that closing the gender gap in agriculture would increase average crop yields some 20–30 per cent on women’s lands, equivalent to a 2.5-4 per cent increase in domestic food production, and a 10–20 per cent decrease in the number of undernourished people worldwide (100–150 million out of 950 million people). 

Evidence from around the world shows that when women have more influence over economic decisions (as is the case when they have secure land rights), their families allocate more of their incomes to food, health, education, children’s clothing, and children’s nutrition.

“Achieving gender equality in land ownership would empower women and give them greater influence over the way that land is used.”

Addressing the gender disparities in land access would also help improve rural women’s social inclusion and identity. Having a land title often means having a physical address and thus access to birth certificates, identity cards, and voting documents, all of which are indispensable if women are to exercise their citizens’ rights and take part in debates on issues of common interest. 

Achieving gender equality in land ownership would empower women and give them greater influence over the way that land is used (what, when, and how to produce) and how farm products are used or disposed of. 

The current inequities in land access also raise a human rights issue. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the right to property for all. This includes the right to land, which is the most important physical asset in poor agrarian economies. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) calls for equal rights of both spouses in terms of the ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment, and disposition of household property (Article 16).

In addition to international norms calling for fairer gender allocation of resources–examples include the already cited CEDAW but also the recently adopted Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests–many governments have adopted land-related laws which often have progressive provisions for addressing gender inequities. According to the World Bank, 115 out of 124 countries studied specifically recognise women’s and men’s property rights on equal terms.

“Many governments have adopted land-related laws which often have progressive provisions for addressing gender inequities.”

Why then are we not seeing broad-based rapid progress? Part of the answer lies in the fact that the cultural, religious, and social norms and beliefs that confine women to secondary decision-making roles are among what Roland calls “slow-moving institutions” that contain and delay social change. Gender disparities in other key areas such as education and reproductive health also prevent women from fully benefiting from the opportunities created by progressive land policies, where these are adopted. 

Even in contexts where there are well-intentioned policy-makers, the number of practical, low-cost, and culturally acceptable means of addressing gender inequities in the allocation of key productive assets such as land is limited. 

A number of promising innovations for improving women’s access to land are being tested. For example, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Colombia, Peru, and Nicaragua have introduced joint land titling for spouses. In Nepal, a tax emption (of 10 per cent in 2008, subsequently increased to 25–40 per cent) helped raise the number of households reporting women’s access to land ownership from 11 per cent in 2001 to 35 per cent in 2009. 

These measures are, however, more relevant in contexts of state-led redistributive land reform processes than in contexts of market-led reforms. Where an open land market exists, the risk of widening gender inequalities in land access can be reduced by establishing land funds or land banks (as in Colombia or Nicaragua), which provide financial support to women to purchase land or to pay land title registration fees. 

“Addressing gender inequalities is also an obligation in pursuing the fulfilment of fundamental civil and political rights”

These measures are seldom envisaged without strong pressure for change, starting with efforts to raise the awareness of decision-makers and the general public on the rationale for, and benefits of, achieving gender justice in land access. Targeted land literacy (focusing on the land-related laws and institutions) can help women better understand their land rights. 

Support for women’s land claims, strengthened women’s roles in land rights movements, and keeping land issues high on the agenda of the most influential global women’s organisations are all areas where organisations like mine, the International Land Coalition, have a key role to play in the future.

Addressing gender inequalities in access to secure land rights is justified from an economic point of view–the 2012 World Development Report refers to this need as “smart economics”. It is also an obligation in pursuing the fulfilment of fundamental civil and political rights, as well as social and economic rights. 

A better understanding of intra-household resource allocation and governance, as well as documentation of good practices, could help serve as the basis for more relevant, better targeted, and more easily implementable policies and laws. Academic institutions, development agencies, and civil society advocacy organisations all have a key role to play.


Risk, Aspirations and the Goodness of Agriculture

It was most appropriate to begin this exploration of the future of agriculture with a four letter word: RISK.  An element of risk – more precisely, the need for risk management – lurked somewhere in each of the essays, and it looms large in the lives of all farmers, particularly smallholder farmers.

In my reporting, I have seen how smallholder farmers, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, have been left to bear 100% of the risk of this inherently risky business.  And in these essays we’ve read about the risk connections to climate, markets, prices, politics, soil health, youth, sustainability and energy.

Risk management is vital if smallholder farmers are to confidently improve their livelihoods and adopt new practices.  Access to financing and insurance, better storage facilities, more efficient markets, reliable infrastructure, stress-tolerant seeds, information sharing are all essential elements in reducing risk and giving farmers incentive to produce surplus harvests and diversify their crops to better their nutrition, income and resilience.  This confidence and incentive fosters a willingness to invest in their farms, to commit to sustainable practices, to embrace land ownership, to raise their voices.

It is the foundation of a fundamental shift, moving from farming to live to farming to make a living.  This is a transition that so many young people in rural areas are looking for, Susan Godwin’s daughter among them.  Instead of just seeing the images of desperate struggle -- their mothers bending over in the fields working the soil, the deprivation of the hunger season – the youth want to see that farming gives them a reasonable future, that farming, as one essayist put it, can be an aspirational occupation.

While reading these essays, I’ve been thinking back to the smallholder families I met while reporting my new book, The Last Hunger Season.  One young man, Gideon, told me when we first met that he wanted to be a lawyer.  But at the end of the year, as he saw his mother’s efforts to produce a surplus pay off, he began thinking that studying agriculture and becoming a farm advisor and innovator would be the best way to help his community.  “I want to make sure no one suffers from hunger and poverty,” he said.  “I will make known to them the goodness of agriculture.”

Food sovereignty, business and land rights

 After a full first week with dense essays and critical comments on fossil fuels, agriculture, technology and innovation, the debate continues. Comments on all essays of the first week are still possible and very welcome.

The authors of today spend considerable portions of their essays on the importance of clear property rights and secure access to land by small-scale farmers and indigenous peoples Niasse argues that increasing better and more secure access to land by women could increase productivity from twenty to thirty percent. But will this alone sufficiently assist in creating the markets, infrastructure, and technological support for small-scale agriculture? Poelma recognizes the need for clearly defined land tenure rules, as well as for increased education, and modern farming techniques. But does he take sufficient reconnaissance of the incremental steps necessary in the future to move toward these goals, or the niche that agricultural diversification can serve for nutrition, risk management, and soil health within smaller agrarian communities? Rivera proposes a future for Peruvian indigenous peoples that she aligns with the concept of food sovereignty, based on indigenous knowledge, and gives control to indigenous peoples to produce and market. What do you think?


Gender Equality in agriculture: It’s smart and it’s right

It was not and is not uncommon to see women working in agricutural fields in India. There were and are two models women working in their own fields and the cross working in the field of others in lieu of work done by others in their fields. After the paper economy and Government's interventions this system is almost getting eroded. Mostly because agriculture is  not seen as a profession and who do not know any other profession are still voting for this. Women are no exceptions to this. While the younger generation prefers to work in good environments and middle and old generation are still slogging in agricultural fields. This species will die soon. With this  the agriculture will face a serious manpower cruch which has started showing its face now. First we must consider the other males also to start accepting agriculture as a profession and consider that as a propsective one to do it as as family. 

Land rights in the post-2015 development framework

Dr. Madiodio Niasse’s essay rightly points out that achieving gender equality in land ownership would empower women and give them greater influence over the way that land is used.  To help alleviate poverty, it is critical that households that depend on agriculture for their livelihoods have land tenure security.  As our recent issue brief on women and land notes, who within a household has secure land tenure also matters tremendously as that individual achieves greater status and influence over household decisions.  Policies and programs that support women’s land tenure security are necessary for enhancing the status of women, addressing gender inequality and advancing women’s social and economic empowerment worldwide.  They can also lead to women’s increased decision-making power at the household level, greater autonomy, and greater participation in the community.  When women have greater influence over economic decisions through having secure land rights, their households typically allocate a greater proportion of income to food, nutrition, health, and education. 

To help women enjoy land tenure security, several policy changes are needed:

·         States should design and revise laws to ensure that women are accorded full and equal land and property rights with men, and should undertake administrative reforms and other measures to give women and men the same access to inputs, credit, capital, appropriate technologies, markets and information.

·         States should also support the positive adaptation of customs and traditions that deny women secure land rights.

·         States should take proactive measures to ensure women’s meaningful participation in developing and implementing policies which seek to improve land tenure security and enhance economic and social development.

Because of the cross-cutting nature of land tenure security, particularly for women, in helping achieve other development goals, a specific target related to secure land tenure, especially for women, should be included in the post-2015 development framework.  This explicit recognition of the importance of secure land rights for men – and women – would help galvanize development efforts focused on land tenure security at global, national, and community levels.  

Differences related to gender

Differences related to gender


The need to give women farmers a bigger say in agricultural development cannot enough been stressed. I combined the UN gender development index with FAO agricultural production data. I choose maize as crop, being produced worldwide. The 10 countries having the largest social differences between women and man show an average maize yield of 1.1 t/ha/season; those 10 countries having an average difference 3.3 t/ha; the 10 countries with the lowest differences related to gender yield 7.4 t/ha.


Henk Breman   

Full control over the resources

Some resources such as land are not fully controlled by smallholder farmers. They are controlled by various powerful individuals and institutions. Institutions having control over land in some African countries include the central and local governments. This is for example the case in Tanzania where land is basically centrally controlled and indeed under the President of the country.  In Ghana, local chiefs appear to have extremely huge control over land. There are various cases where they are reported to have just given land to investors thereby displacing farmers. Such cases include cases of local chiefs giving huge tracts of land to foreign investors for jatropha farming at the expense of the local farmers. If  farmers had full control of land resources, their security of tenure would be ensured. They would have motivation to cultivate more and invest more in the land because of greater control over decision-making over the land.  Their production levels and productivity would substantially increase because they would be more willing and able to invest in the land that is theirs. They would avoid the unnecessary costs of having to pay for leased land.

Outside households, it is mainly the market and the government that may have  control over agricultural outputs. Whereas the market may determine prices through the free interplay of market forces of supply and demand, the government may determine whether to export or not to export outputs and whether to sale such crops as maize when green or dry. It is the middlemen and other buyers who make decisions on the price to offer to farmers’ outputs. If farmers were united they could make decisions on which price to accept for their produce instead of letting middle men manipulate prices . If farmers had control and voice, they would make decisions on various aspects regarding agricultural outputs. They would plan better, produce more, sell to better paying markets and make use of the generated profits to improve their social-economic situation.