Women’s Economic Empowerment in Agriculture: Supporting Women Farmers

Published on November 15, 2012 | Author: Cheryl Doss, Zoe Bockius-Suwyn, Shereen D’Souza

Women play an integral part in agricultural production, as subsistence farmers, cash crop growers, food processors, and livestock owners, among other roles. It follows that empowering women will impact the agricultural markets overall. Recently, many development organizations have begun to integrate gender into their agricultural development projects. While this new generation of projects are too recent to provide evidence on the long-term impacts of targeting women in agriculture, this paper seeks to identify interventions that are having operational success on the ground. For example, these successful projects are recruiting and training female participants. Drawing on a range of experiences from current interventions, this paper seeks to identify strategies that are most effective in targeting women and that have the potential to economically empower women in the agricultural sector.
In our research, we contacted over 100 researchers and practitioners, identifying 34 projects to serve as our case studies. We then interviewed people involved with each project to learn what types of interventions are working. The interventions fell into three types: those targeting food security; those looking to engage women in economic structures and agricultural markets; and those seeking to increase women’s rights as a means of increasing economic power.
The projects targeted women at different points in the agricultural production system and at different levels of integration into the market economy. Some of the targeted women are already marketing their produce, others are among the most marginalized women. Interviewees emphasized the importance of farmers’ groups as sources of social and economic empowerment; women’s financial inclusion via loans, savings, and asset ownership; harvesting, processing, and storage technologies that ease women’s time burdens or work with women’s schedules; and trainings that are accessible to women in location, instructor, time commitment, and delivery.

However, the right tools are just one aspect of a successful project. The most effective interventions used several of these tools to create integrated approaches. For example, projects encouraged savings and loans so that women could buy improved inputs, which the implementing organization then trained the women how to use. Projects were even more successful when they took advantage of local businesses, governments, and community structures to implement the project in a sustainable fashion.
It is most effective to target women as a member of the household and the community. The most successful projects targeted men as well as women, with a focus on women’s partners and male community leaders. Such an approach avoids isolating women or angering men, building a better social environment for women’s success specifically and community success more generally.
Using integrated approaches and targeting women as members of a larger household and community require implementers to clearly see women’s multifaceted role in the agricultural supply chain and in rural society. Organizations working with women must see them as not just farmers, but buyers, sellers, community leaders, wives, mothers, processors, and innovators. Projects that targeted women in more than one of their roles proved the most effective.
Doss, C., Bockius-Suwyn, Z. & D’Souza, S. (2012). Women’s Economic Empowerment in Agriculture: Supporting Women Farmers. Working Paper. Prepared for the UN Foundation.

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