Agri View: Women and Modern Agriculture

Dan Agri View, General

Portrait of women with agriculture toolsEverett Griner talks about the role of women in today’s agriculture in today’s Agri View.

Women and Modern Agriculture

From: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Men and women in agriculture

Are women farmers just as efficient as men?

Many studies have attempted to assess whether female farmers are as productive as male farmers, and have shown that women typically achieve lower yields than men do. But this is not because women are worse farmers than men. The most thorough studies also attempt to assess whether these differences are caused by difference in input use, such as improved seeds, fertilizers and tools, or other factors such as access to extension services and education. And the vast majority of this literature confirms that women are just as efficient as men. They simply do not have access to the same inputs, productive resources and services. Some studies compare labour productivity rather than yields, but the results are consistent with the finding that yield differences are caused by differences in input use.

Are women involved in agriculture and farming?

On average, women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries; this figure ranges from around 20 percent in Latin America to 50 percent in parts of Africa and Asia, and exceeds 60 percent in a few countries.1 In most developing country regions, women who are employed are just as likely, or even more likely, than men to be in agriculture. Almost 70 percent of employed women in Southern Asia and more than 60 percent of employed women in sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture.

Women work in agriculture as farmers on their own account, as unpaid workers on family farms and as paid or unpaid labourers on other farms and agricultural enterprises. They are involved in both crop and livestock production at subsistence and commercial levels. They produce food and cash crops and manage mixed agricultural operations often involving crops, livestock and fish farming.

Some researchers note that agricultural labour-force statistics may actually underestimate the amount of work that women do: women are less likely than men to define their activities as work, they are less likely to report themselves as being engaged in agriculture and they work, on average, longer hours than men. So even if fewer women are involved they may contribute more total time to the sector.

Are women involved in livestock?

Women are heavily engaged in this sector: an estimated two thirds of poor livestock keepers, totalling approximately 400 million people, are women.2 They share responsibility with men and children for the care of animals, and particular species and types of activity are more associated with women than men. For example, women often have a prominent role in managing poultry3 and dairy animals4 and in caring for other animals that are housed and fed within the homestead. The influence of women is strong in the use of eggs, milk and poultry meat for home consumption and they often have control over marketing these products and the income derived from them. In some countries, small-scale pig production is also dominated by women.

Female-headed households are as successful as male-headed households in generating income from their animals, although they tend to own smaller numbers of animals, probably because of labour constraints.

Do women work in fisheries and aquaculture?

While comprehensive data are not available on a sex-disaggregated basis, case studies suggest that women may comprise up to 30 percent of the total employment in fisheries, including primary and secondary activities. Information provided to FAO from 86 countries indicates that in 2008, 5.4 million women worked as fishers and fish farmers in the primary sector. This represents 12 percent of the total. In two major producing countries, China and India, women represented a share of 21 percent and 24 percent, respectively, of all fishers and fish farmers.

In aquaculture as well, though macro-level sex-disaggregated data is almost non-existent, studies indicate that the contribution of women in labour is often greater than men’s, especially in Asia where aquaculture has a long tradition: women are reported to constitute 33 percent of the rural aquaculture workforce in China, 42 percent in Indonesia and 80 percent in Viet Nam.5

Women have rarely engaged in commercial offshore and long-distance capture fisheries because of the vigorous work involved but also because of their domestic responsibilities and/or social norms. Instead, they are more commonly occupied in subsistence and commercial fishing from small boats and canoes in coastal or inland waters. They also contribute as entrepreneurs and provide labour before, during and after the catch.

The most significant role played by women in both artisanal and industrial fisheries is at the processing and marketing stages, where they are very active in all regions. In fact, most fish processing is performed by women, either in their own household-level industries or as wage labourers in the large-scale processing industry. In some countries, women have become significant entrepreneurs in fish processing. For example, in West Africa, the so called “Fish Mamas” play a major role: they usually own capital and are directly and vigorously involved in the coordination of the fisheries chain, from production to the sale of fish.