Gender focused research – the tools and the strategies

Cross-posted from Consortium News

Women farmers gathering during morning milk collection session in Bangladesh

Greater attention to gender in agricultural research is expected to contribute to the achievement of all four of the system-level outcomes – reducing rural poverty and improving food security, nutrition, health and sustainable management of natural resources.

Women farmers are crucial to agricultural production, especially in the small-scale sector. Figures show that they make up to half of the agricultural workforce in some developing countries, but often face unequal access to resources, such as land and technologies.

Yet although the issue of the skewed gender bias in agriculture has been widely reported, the picture might not be quite as simple as it seems – a factor that has major implications for designing effective strategies.

“While gender issues are well-recognized, how to address them is not well understood,” said Karen Brooks, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM).

Scarcity of gender-focused research has emerged as a common challenge for most CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) and work is under way in many of them to develop new tools and strategies, so that scientists can understand and cater to the different implications of CGIAR innovations for the welfare of rural women and men.

By considering the role of gender in the design, implementation, and evaluation of agricultural innovations, we can deliver concrete benefits to poor rural women and men, girls and boys. Greater attention to gender in agricultural research is expected to contribute to the achievement of all four of the system-level outcomes – reducing rural poverty and improving food security, nutrition, health and sustainable management of natural resources, according to Brooks. Beyond the positive effect on women themselves, there is evidence that removing barriers to women’s contributions will increase productivity, that increasing women’s status improves outcomes for their children and that increasing women’s agency reduces stress on natural resources.

Specifically, eliminating barriers to women’s labor participation in some sectors would reduce the gender productivity gap by one-third to one-half. Equalizing access to agricultural resources could increase yields by 20-30% and reduce the world’s hungry by 12-17%.

Opportunities to make real impact

A common finding across the CGIAR system is that in order to design inclusive and gender-responsive agricultural technologies, institutions and policies, it is crucial to drill down below commonplace assumptions regarding women and agriculture. And before rolling out interventions, it is essential to – understand how expected results will be affected by the broad structural causes of women’s disempowerment as well as by specific situations and contexts, including geographical variations and detailed social dynamics. Failure to do so may mean missing opportunities to make real impact.

One example is the Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) program, being implemented in a number of African and Asian countries to reduce vitamin A deficiency by offering OFSP seeds and cuttings to pregnant and lactating women, amongst others. Together with partners, the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB)* is showing how growing OFSP can boost women’s contribution to food security and nutrition and their own social position. Social and gender analysis of the OFSP initiative demonstrates how gender affects decisions on land use and adoption, that have proved pivotal in the design of really effective research strategies. Crucially, the probability of adoption of OFSP technology is highest on plots where women take the lead in deciding which crops are grown and that are jointly controlled by men and women.

“Research on the adoption of orange fleshed sweet potatoes demonstrated how focusing on gender relations can accelerate the uptake and improve the outcomes of innovations,” said Brooks.

At PIM’s lead Center the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI – a member of the CGIAR Consortium), a new PIM-funded discussion paper: Gender inequalities in ownership and control of land in Africa: Myths versus reality, seeks to bring clarity to the complex issue of women’s access to land, and the relative inequalities in land ownership between women and men in African countries. It also critiques the inaccurate generalizations often made regarding the percentage of land owned by women. The idea is that offering a deeper understanding of statistics on gender and land will make it easier to collect this data and draw up a clear policy response to the potential inequalities faced by women and men.

Partnerships are key to developing and using gender sensitive data collection tools and processes. Working with partners that include the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), the Young Professionals Platform for Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD) and Africa Harvest, the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems launched a Gender & Youth Strategy in November 2013. A series of meetings held in each of the CRP’s five target areas led to teams of scientists mainstreaming gender issues into all research activities. A rich program of awareness and training activities is planned to ensure that gender continues to be a core focus. One specific area of intervention is work by Dryland Systems researchers integrate women and the indigenous knowledge they possess into all initiatives for land and water management.

The CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals is collecting and using gender disaggregated data in its flagship projects so as to understand the differing roles, constraints, needs and preferences of men and women, and guide the CRP’s research priorities accordingly. It is also developing technology with the aim of opening up higher income earning opportunities for women and reducing the burden of tasks such as harvesting, hand-milling, cooking and other postharvest operations.

Tangible success stories

Such interventions can be used to guide the CRP’s research agenda, leading to tangible impacts. One notable success involves an initiative to link up women’s groups in Nigeria with sorghum and millet producer organizations. The contact has resulted in increased income for 25 women processors. Processing has increased from 50-100 kg of millet per day to 150-250 kg per day, while monthly sales income has doubled from $1,800-2,600 to $4,00-$6,000.

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is adopting an innovative approach to scaling up gender tools for climate change, working with partners to produce a farm reality TV show informing East African viewers – especially women – about climate change technologies. It is also developing mobile phone-based irrigation advisory services and climate and agricultural information services mainly aimed at women, as well as farmer-led videos on adaptation strategies. New large-scale approaches are being tested, including crowdsourcing.

Among the main challenges identified by PIM are gender discrimination in value chains, gender bias in access to technology and key goods and services, and disempowerment of women in control of resources. Women and girls also face heightened risk and vulnerability.

But in order to address these problems effectively, there needs to be more clear information. Specific challenges being tackled by PIM researchers include the scarcity of good sex disaggregated data sets. Modelling teams are working to add gender impacts to criteria for assessing the benefits of new technologies.

CGIAR Research Programs are ‘elevating the game’ by aiming to improve women’s control over assets, inputs and benefits,” said Jacqueline Ashby, CGIAR’s Senior Advisor on gender and research.

“But before researchers can design innovations that really make a difference; they need to analyze how their interventions will perform in the face of different capacities of men and women to take advantage of new opportunities in agriculture and natural resource management. This is why CGIAR is now increasing very significantly, its investment in gender research across the CRPs. “

More information Gender was one of the main themes explored at the CGIAR knowledge day.  An event held late 2013, looked at “How gender can enhance achievement of System-Level Outcomes, and gender research in the CGIAR research programs — results, gaps, plans” and showcased a number of CRP initiatives designed to improve gender focus and outcomes.

Gender research in Policies, Institutions, and Markets 

Gender research in Dryland Systems

Gender research in Dryland Cereals

Gender Mainstreaming in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)

Gender and a food secure future: What do we need to know? What do we need to do?

New IFPRI Discussion Paper: Gender Inequalities in Ownership and Control of Land in Africa: Myths versus Reality

Scaling Up Orange-fleshed Sweetpotato in Africa and Asia The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011: Women in Agriculture — Closing the gender gap for development (FAO, 2011)

World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development

Photo credit: Akram Ali/CARE Bangladesh