What will it take for women farmers to break away from the hearth–and into the marketplace?

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A three-day international workshop opens tomorrow (Monday 31 January 2011) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, focusing on women’s place in market-oriented agriculture in developing countries.

The workshop is being convened by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on behalf of a project of the Ethiopian Government implemented by ILRI called ‘Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers’ (IPMS). It is being held at ILRI’s principal, Ethiopian, campus.

The workshop organizers hope to identify the most useful products of gender research for the commercialization of smallholder agriculture—and to get these into wider practice.

Most development experts agree that gender is arguably the biggest ‘missing link’ holding back agricultural development in poor countries. But as Madeleine Bunting argued recently in the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog:

‘It’s odd. There is now a powerful consensus about the central role of women in development. They are the key agents of change given their impact on the health and education of the next generation. Everyone is agreed that women’s empowerment is vital, and it crops up in countless speeches by politicians all over the world. And yet change is achingly slow—embarrassingly so. . . . Women’s rights are in danger of becoming a wordfest.’

The participants at this week’s workshop in Addis Ababa are aware of the danger of saying too much and doing too little. The workshop participants include scientists, development experts, donor representatives and policymakers already working in Africa and other regions to give women greater access to markets and agricultural ‘value chains’.

They will present and discuss research-based evidence on promising strategies for addressing this missing link and hope to begin work to develop a new paradigm for market-oriented research and funding that directly serves women’s interests.

The workshop will draw heavily on experiences of the IPMS project, which started six years ago with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency.

IPMS published a full report of its gender research in a working paper that appeared in December 2010, ‘Opportunities for promoting gender equality in rural Ethiopia through the commercialization of agriculture’, and yesterday released a 13-page brief for the general public, ‘Empowering women through value chain development’, that highlights findings and lessons the project learned, and the good practices it supported, in its four years of implementing projects in ten pilot learning woredas (districts) in four regions of the country. In this work, an IPMS gender research team set out to ‘mainstream’ best gender practices, specifically by increasing access by rural Ethiopian women to market-oriented agricultural resources, technologies and knowledge.

The IPMS gender working paper adds significantly to the literature available on women and agricultural development, which despite demonstrable need, remains thin. Few studies have ever been conducted on women’s role in Ethiopian agriculture, for example. This is despite the fact that 85% of Ethiopian women live in rural areas where virtually all households are engaged in small-scale farming of one kind or another, and despite the fact that most Ethiopian women continue to have far fewer opportunities than men for personal growth, education and employment.

The unequal power relations in Ethiopia, as elsewhere, are maintained by policies, programs and information systems that reman directed primarily at men. A recent paper published by Agnes Quisumbing and Lauren Pandolfelli, researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), demonstrates how dysfunctional it is to ignore or marginalize women in development interventions: reviewing 271 World Bank projects, the authors found that by addressing the needs of both men and women, projects increased by 16% the long-lasting value of the benefits the projects generated.

Across four major regions and ten pilot learning communities, the IPMS gender researchers worked with Ethiopian research and development officers to strengthen women’s leadership and negotiating skills not only in farmer groups and local associations but also in their own households. The specific aim was to increase the women’s participation in market-oriented agricultural production. The project and government staff encouraged women to organize themselves into producer groups for various agricultural commodities and into marketing groups that could collectively demand and get higher market prices than individuals could get.

Women throughout the developing world suffer from unequal access to agricultural training and other resources, despite recent World Bank estimates that they carry out 40–60% of all agricultural labour in the world. The lead author of the IPMS working paper, Ethiopian scientist Lemlem Aregu, says: ‘Having only second-hand information passed on by their husbands and other men greatly reduces women’s ability to innovate and fulfil their productive potential. And this, of course, holds back commercial agriculture in these countries.’

Ranjitha Puskur, an Indian scientist who has led a gender research team in the IPMS project and now leads an Innovations and Livestock Systems project in ILRI’s Markets Theme, says that one way to start to change this situation is to scale up women’s work in agricultural commodities that have traditionally been the province of women.

‘Women posses animal-raising skills honed by years of living in rural areas,’ Puskur says. ‘A good entry point for helping them to better market those skills is to focus on poultry raising and other agricultural work that is often left to women to oversee. These enterprises then become sources of self-reliance, providing women with the means of generating a daily small income, with which they can meet their household expenses. With this experience, women are encouraged to move further up the ‘livestock ladder’ and to begin participating in other, traditionally male-dominated, kinds of livestock production.’

Follow discussions at this workshop on this main ILRI News Blog, on ILRI’s Gender and Agriculture Blog, or by searching for ‘AgriGender2011’ on social media websites such as Twitter (quotable quotes), Facebook (blog posts), SlideShare (slide presentations), Flickr (conference and other photographs) and Blip.tv (filmed interviews).

Read the full 68-page research report: Opportunities for promoting gender equality in rural Ethiopia through the commercialization of agriculture, IPMS Working Paper 18, ILRI 2010.

Read the 13-page general brief: Empowering women through value chain development: Good practices and lessons from IPMS experiences, January 2011.

Read more of what Madeleine Bunting has to say on the Guardian’s Poverty Matters Blog: Women’s rights are in danger of becoming a wordfest, 27 January 2011.

Empowering women in agriculture means sharing benefits with men–ILRI TEDx Talk

Jemimah Njuki gives a TEDx Washington Circle talk

ILRI's Jemimah Njuki gives a TEDxWashingtonCircle talk in December 2010 on gender and agricultural development (photo credit: IFPRI).

On 14 December 2010, Jemimah Njuki, a Kenyan sociologist and gender specialist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), gave a TEDxWashingtonCircle talk in Washington, DC, organized independently of TED events by the International Food Policy Research Institute. Njuki joined IFPRI's Agnes Quisumbing and Ruth Meinzen-Dick in a conversation, 'Igniting change: The gender match', arguing that gender remains the 'missing ingredient' in many development policies and programs.

In her talk, Njuki agrees that gender is still the missing link in agricultural development. But while gender mainstreaming has become 'a standard discourse' in agricultural development, she says, we have moved from gender-blind approaches to focusing exclusively on women. 'We have forgotten,' says Njuki, 'that women are situated in societies, that women live with men in their households, that women have to get power from those that are holding power within these communities.'

Focusing exclusively on women to advance their development is a mistake, says Njuki. A mistake for women. A mistake for men. A mistake for families. A mistake for their communities. A mistake for development projects aiming to empower women.

'Men have to be part of the solution', says Njuki. If we're going to put money in the pockets of women, she says, we have to put money also in the pockets of men. We won't elevate women without elevating whole households and communities.

Njuki provides a cautionary tale from Malawi, where a project to empower women through better marketing of their bean crops was soon taken over by men, disempowering women's involvement in, and benefits from, this traditionally female crop. She describes taking home that lesson in a subsequent project in Africa 'to change the face of women in agriculture' that made its starting point not problems (there were too many of them) but rather with opportunities—opportunities for both women and men. The project managed to improve food security and women's empowerment, but not at the expense of men.

Leadership and assertiveness training for women? Check. Training for women in group organization skills? Check. Gender training for households and villages? Check. But also—training in gender equality rather than 'women's empowerment'.

Watch this 19-minute TEDxTalk by ILRI's Jemimah Njiuki.

If pigs could fly: Reducing the ‘gender asset gap’ in agricultural development–the beginnings of a ‘transformative gender’ paradigm shift?

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RED CARPET WELCOME: His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, President of the Republic of Kenya, generously allowed his presidential red carpet to be briefly used for a photograph of a group of pro-women agricultural scientists this month at the International Livestock Research Institute (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).

Unusually, and, if truth be said, thrillingly, the Nairobi headquarters of the International Livestock Research Institute and BecA—a Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub that ILRI hosts and manages—have, within the space of 12 months, been visited by two very seriously important persons: Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in early December 2009; and Mwai Kibaki, president of the Republic of Kenya, early this month (November 2010).

Biotech men
Both VIPs expressed excitement in, and support for, BecA’s recently launched state-of-the-art biosciences facilities, which they happily toured, donning crisp white lab coats to inspect BecA’s ultra-modern, super-molecular laboratories, including a half-million-dollar ‘454’ DNA sequencer, a space-agey-looking biosafety containment facility and a shiny brand-new greenhouse.
 

Bill Gates visits the BecA Hub at ILRI in December 2009

BILL GATES, Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and former CEO of Microsoft, toured the ultra-modern laboratories of BecA at ILRI last December (2009) (photo credit: ILRI/Ouma).
 

BecA official opening, 5 November 2010

HIS EXCELLENCY Kenya President Mwai Kibaki on a tour of the same labs this November (2010), led by BecA Hub Director Segenet Kelemu (third from left) (photo credit: ILRI/Masi).
 
The feminization of biotech
While the entourages of both Gates (who was on a private visit) and Kibaki (on a State visit) were mostly male, BecA’s director, Ethiopian Segenet Kelemu; as well as a key initiator and supporter of BecA, Australian Gabrielle Persley; and some half the students and African scientists the VIPs met and interviewed while they toured the labs, were female. On both visits, our male VIPs appeared impressed by the high 'girl power' in these high-tech labs. And so they should have been, both VIPs coming of age (Gates is 55 this year, Kibaki, 79) when such visible expression of the closing of the gender gap was rare.

BecA official opening, 5 November 2010

POLITICIANS AND SCIENTISTS: Segenet Kelemu, director of the BecA Hub at ILRI, explains to President Kibaki the significance of a metal and glass sculpture of a DNA helix unveiled by the president at the official opening of the Hub earlier this month (5 November 2010) (photo credit: ILRI/Njuguna).
 
Closing the gender gap
Fortuitously and aptly, then, on the morning of President Kibaki’s visit to ILRI on 5 November 2010 to officially open the BecA Hub, another meeting, arranged by research groups much earlier than the State visit was arranged, was starting in another venue on the same ILRI campus, far from the imposing presidential dais, marching band, schoolgirl choir and guest and refreshment tents erected and assembled down the hill, in front of ILRI’s Mara House office building.
 
Back up the hill, then, in a meeting room adjacent to a quiet quad and out of the fray, a group of (mostly) women experts on gender and agriculture in developing countries opened an ‘inception’ workshop for a new scientific project aiming to reduce inequalities between men and women (and boys and girls) in agricultural development.
 
We know that Bill Gates supports this work, because his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the project. And we suspect that President Kibaki would also be supportive. (Upon learning that a schoolgirl choir, standing near the presidential dais, had awaited his arrival from the labs for several hours to sing for him, Kibaki admonished his staff that the girls ought to be in school, this being a Friday, and instructed them to have all the schoolgirls immediately seated under the tents.)
 

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GIRL POWER: A schoolgirl choir walks past one of several red carpets laid out in honour of a visit to BecA and ILRI by President Mwai Kibaki (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).
 
Historic beginnings for closing the gender gap in agricultural projects
The gender research project being quietly kicked off in ILRI’s N’Dama Lounge was, in its way, as much an historic beginning as the advanced labs being opened further down the hill. Scientists at ILRI and elsewhere have known for years that more—much, much, much more—should be done to address women’s issues in agricultural development. And they have struggled for years to incorporate women’s issues into their research programs. With little success.
 
Women continue to have fewer assets than men
If small-scale agriculture remains the backbone of most developing-country economies, women remain the stuff that makes up that backbone. Across nationalities, cultures and religions, women more than men tend to invest their time and energy and income in the stuff that matters most to most of us, with the greatest benefits provided to the greatest numbers of poor. Yet women have fewer assets than men—whether we look at land, natural resources and other tangible assets or less tangible ones like human capital. This gap between men’s and women’s assets not only reduces agricultural productivity, but also restricts women’s decison-making power, which affects such vital matters as sustainable food production, children’s nutrition and education, and economic development. 
 
That’s what we know. Not what we do. And the disconnect between what we know to do in ‘gender’ issues in agricultural development and what we do do has been getting bigger and more glaring every year.
 
When pigs fly, we used to say, not so long ago, we will all be working to help women help the rest of us in development—just because that’s what women tend to do, regardless of their material circumstances. The disjunct between what women do for agriculture and what we in agricultural research and development do for them, we said, was a disgrace. And then we would sigh and crawl back into a ‘what to do?’ cynicism. What our staff lacked, we said, was the training and technical assistance needed first to identify and then to address disparities in agricultural development and in assets. That’s now changing. At ILRI the change is due to the institute’s recent hiring of people who know what to do—and are ready to do it.
 
These new staff and positions include some of the best scientists in the world who are champions of gender research in agricultural development. These relatively new ILRI staff include Jemimah Njuki, a Kenyan leading sociologist in gender and agriculture studies; Nancy Johnson, an American agricultural economist and poverty analyst; and Canadian Patti Kristjanson, a long-term ILRI economist who just two years ago launched a 'Women and Livestock Challenge Dialogue'. (In January of this year, Kristjanson moved to the World Agroforestry Centre, across town from ILRI, to lead a research team that is part of a new global climate change initiative involving all 15 centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, to which ILRI belongs.) These three women formed a Gender, Poverty and Impacts research team which, despite starting only one-and-a-half years ago, has already created the momentum across ILRI for re-focusing on gender and agriculture.
 

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ILRI PUTS WOMEN'S ISSUES FRONT AND CENTRE: Jemimah Njuki, a Kenyan expert in gender and agriculture and impact analysis working for ILRI, waits with ILRI's deputy director general-research John McDermott, a Canadian veterinary researcher, beside the red carpet laid down at ILRI's entrance for the presidential visit happening at the same time, in front of an office building down below (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).
 
Can a few women make a difference?
Can a few committed women and some supportive men make a big difference in gender research for development? With institutional support, we're betting on it. ILRI’s seriousness about, and new serious expertise in, empowering women farmers and marketers got the attention of other groups working toward the same goal. The ILRI group has joined forces with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) team of Ruth Meinzen-Dick and Agnes Quisumbing, long-time researchers on gender and agriculture.
 
This inception workshop for the ‘Gender, Agriculture and Assets Project,’ held from 5–7 November 2010, is a 3-year initiative of IFPRI and ILRI funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The overall aim of the initiative is to improve rural livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia by helping agricultural development programs significantly reduce inequalities, including disparities in assets, between men and women.
 
The workshop brought together research and development partners from different organizations. In addition to IFPRI and ILRI, these included BRAC, CARE Bangladesh, East Africa Dairy Development project, Fintrac Inc, Grameen Foundation, Helen Keller International, International Rice Research Institute, Kickstart International, Land O’Lakes, Rural Development Institute, Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility initiative at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, and the World Vegetable Centre (AVDRC), as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the United States Agency for International Development.
 
As part of the initiative, the team will evaluate some 10 agricultural research and development projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, and others to identify the impacts of these projects on women’s assets and to clarify which strategies have been successful in reducing gaps between men and women in access to, and control of, assets.
 

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THINKING BIG: IFPRI's Ruth Meinzen-Dick gives an overview of the ambitious aims of the Gender Assets Gaps project (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).
 
The project is based on several premises: (1) that control over, and ownership of, assets is a critical component of well-being, (2) that increasing control or ownership of assets does more to help create pathways out of poverty than increasing incomes or consumption alone and (3) that the different kinds of assets addressed by a project—whether tangible or intangible, for example, or whether defined as natural, physical, financial, human, social or political ‘capital’—matter. Project staff are investigating the control of assets because who controls assets in households matters a lot. Household members typically do not pool all resources or agree on what their scarce resources should be used for. The benefits of policy changes in any given household or community are determined largely by who in the household or community is the main beneficiary of the new resources. And we now have evidence from many countries that increasing the resources under the control of women not only improves the nutrition and health of children, but also increases agricultural productivity and household incomes.
 
Astonishingly, although women make a significant contribution to agriculture in developing countries and are much more likely than men to use their (scarce) resources to improve the nutrition, welfare and well-being of their families, they are still neglected in most agricultural research and development programs. At a Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development, held in Montpellier, France, last March (2010), IFPRI’s Ruth Meinzen-Dick argued that accounting for gender in our research and development work is not an option but a necessity if we are going to reduce world poverty and feed the world’s growing populations (which are expected to peak at mid-century, falling after that): ‘Changing agricultural research and development from male-dominated to gender-equitable is not merely an issue of political correctness or ideology; it is a matter of development effectiveness that can benefit everyone.’
 
Although getting reliable, accurate and timely statistics disaggregated by gender remains a formidable challenge for most countries (in 2010, the United Nations found that no census had been carried out in the last three decades in 41 per cent of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa), what we know is probably enough to be getting on with. The following should give a flavour of the depth and scope of the issues.
 
More women than men:
  • own no land
  • are poor and hungry
  • are illiterate
  • are refugees
  • are living with HIV (in Africa)
  • are caring for those living with HIV/AIDS.
Most women:
  • work longer hours than men
  • work in jobs with lower pay, status, power and authority than men
  • get paid less than men for doing the same work
  • provide most of the family labour and are unpaid for that labour
  • bear double responsibility for household and farm work
  • receive a fraction of the agricultural extension and support services provided to men
  • have half the education levels of men
  • have less access to health care services than men
  • have fewer legal rights than men.
Flying pigs?
Fortunately, as detailed and dissected in this inception workshop, projects from South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Nepal) and sub-Saharan Africa (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, DR Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Zimbabwe) have potential to address such asset disparities.
 
These projects are working across the spectrum of women’s rural livelihoods and concerns in these regions, from animal husbandry to vegetable genetics, from nutrition and sociology to agricultural economics and development management. An enumeration of some of the more obvious specific topics tackled in the projects presented at this workshop gives some idea of the broad disciplinary expertise demanded by those working to help women use agriculture to better their lives. These include dairy development, land transfer to girls, vegetable production, development and dissemination of nutrient-rich foods such as orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, value addition and processing, market information systems, high-value horticulture, crop management and irrigation.
 
Some of the opportunities described in overviews of these projects include the following.
  • Fully 94 per cent of the vendors in vegetable markets in sub-Saharan Africa are women.
  • Twice as many women as men in Uganda cultivate sweet potatoes, most sweet potato traders in towns as well as villages are women, and women tend to be less risk-averse in crop choice than men.
  • Contrary to previous reports, information tips delivered by mobile phone delivery of market and other agricultural information in Uganda show female farmers are very interested in receiving, and acting on, timely market information.
  • Legumes, once considered a 'woman's crop in much of Africa, can directly benefit the nutrition of poor households.
  • With increasing migration of men from rural to urban areas in South Asia, the roles of women are shifting from unpaid farm labourers to de facto farm managers.
  • Seedling nurseries are an opportunity for women because they require relatively little labour and can be established close to homesteads.
  • East African women dairy producers have most control of the milk they sell informally in the evening.
According to this group of scientists, the gender research areas in greatest need of addressing are:
  • Training in methods to integrate gender and asset-based approaches in agriculture development programs.
  • Evaluating agriculture development programs to understand what works and what does not work in building women’s assets and scaling out those strategies that work.
  • Collecting gender-disaggregated data. 
  • Initiating, and training in, gender-sensitive monitoring and evaluation work. 
  • Expanding measurements of income and consumption to include evaluations of how projects build assets.
 

Village food seller in Nigeria

THE TARGET, THE BENEFICIARY, THE HOPE: A young girl sells food to villagers outside Kano, Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).
 
The gender and agricultural assets initiative wants to learn from the most promising successes in these projects so as to help redress imbalances in power. The project leaders are dreaming and thinking big. They aim no less than pushing a ‘paradigm shift’ in agricultural development programming from ‘gender exploitive’ to ‘gender accommodating’ to ‘gender transformative’. This will of necessity mean taking on a lot, including ‘challenging the ideological, socio-cultural, economic, political and institutional frameworks and structures that create and recreate gender inequalities’. The project leaders are well aware of the danger that such targeting, if not done well, can lead to a backlash that further marginalizes rather than supports poor women. And they recognize the role of men in achieving gender equality.
 
This project will train teams of experts in how to use tools to assess the assets held by men, women and households as a whole and in how to integrate and measure the effectiveness of strategies for increasing the assets of women. To this end, IFPRI’s Ruth Meinzen-Dick proposed a conceptual framework for analyzing assets while ILRI’s Jemimah Njuki presented different strategies for addressing gender in agricultural programs, explaining why and how to complement quantitative tools in monitoring and evaluation with qualitative tools. IFPRI’s Dan Gilligan described methods for evaluating quantitative impacts and ILRI’s Nancy Johnson and IFPRI’s Agnes Quisumbing discussed different types of assets, data needs and data collection instruments. Project implementers and evaluators in this initiative are expected to work hand in hand over the life of the selected projects, using both qualitative and quantitative methods  to assess and document changes from baselines in levels of control and ownerships of assets.
 
And pigs, then, will perhaps have a chance to start to fly.
 
For more information, visit, the following:
The Gender Assets Gap project’s blog:
 
ILRI’s Gender & Agriculture blog:
http://agrigender.wordpress.com/
 
All slide presentations given at the workshop:
http://www.slideshare.net/genderassets/slideshows
 
Pictures of the workshop:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilri/sets/72157625322903538/
 
News of a forthcoming ILRI-organized workshop on ‘Gender and Market-Oriented Agriculture’, 31 Jan to 2 Feb 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:
http://agrigender.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/workshop-on-gender-and-market-oriented-agriculture-revised-dates/
 
Announcement of a forthcoming TEDx event at IFPRI, on 14 Devember 2010, in Washington, DC, with talks by ILRI’s Jemimah Njuki and IFPRI’s Agnes Quisumbing and Ruth Meinzen-Dick on gender as the ‘missing ingredient’ in many development policies and programs:
http://genderassets.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/upcoming-tedx-event-on-gender/
 
A filmed presentation by ILRI’s Jemimah Njiki making the case that animal agriculture can be used to help redress skewed resources available to rural women worldwide (in societies where women are unable to own anything else, farm animals provide women with incomes; and when those women’s incomes rise, the health, nutrition and education of their whole families also rise, with everybody winning):
http://ilri.blip.tv/file/3418393/