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How to support women’s empowerment in agroforestry projects

Published on March 8, 2019 | Author: Linus Karlsson
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Today is the International Women’s Day, a day to raise awareness on gender equality and create momentum for women’s empowerment. With the current trajectory, the Sustainable Development Goals for gender equality will not be reached by 2030. The slow progress is holding back rural development and results in food insecurity and poverty.

According to FAO, women provide 43% of the agricultural labour force in lower income countries, but are just representing 13% of the landowners. In general, female farmers are disproportionally affected by climate change, as they have less access to credit, agricultural inputs, and extension services. FAO has estimated that women could increase the productivity at their farms with around 20 – 30% if they had access to the same resources as men.

Agroforestry for gender equality

Agroforestry can provide many opportunities for women’s empowerment. First of all, agroforestry requires less input than conventional agriculture and can therefore be accessible for female farmers with limited resources and credit. Secondly, agroforestry provides many products that can empower women by freeing up their time. In many regions, women and girls are tasked with time-consuming activities as collecting firewood and fodder for animals. When these products become available at the farm more time can be spent on income-generating activities or education. Collecting firewood, animal fodder and fruits are also important coping mechanisms for women during years with low yields. Not surprisingly, studies show that  that women in general choose to plant trees that increase availability of these products, while men tend to focus on fast growing timber producing trees species.

Gender roles affect agroforestry designs

Gender roles are reflected in ownership of trees and associated products. In sub-Saharan Africa, women tend to benefit from tree products with a lower commercial value than men. Tree products with higher commercial value are often linked to the value chains of the forest industry. The composition and design of an agroforestry system will therefore affect opportunities for women’s empowerment. To favour gender equality it is essential that rural development project and policies are formulated with a gender perspective and based on local gender roles.

Addressing gender roles in value chains

When farmers plant trees, profitability of certain products increases. Depending on gender roles in the value chains, increased profitability of a product can improve gender equality. For example, dairy production at agroforestry farms increase when the agroforestry tree Callindra is planted and its leaves are used as fodder. In Uganda and Tanzania, women tend to control more of the informal milk market while men profit from the formal value chains. If these gender roles are not addressed in a project favouring formal markets, opportunities for women’s empowerment could be lost. When profitability increases for a product it is also likely that the value chain will formalize. Agroforestry projects should therefore always address gender roles in value chains to secure opportunities for women’s empowerment.

In Agroforestry Network’s publication: Scaling up Agroforestry, we describe more barriers that result in gender inequalities. Some effective ways to address these in agroforestry projects are to:

  • Acknowledge of the role of women in food production when implementing agroforestry extension services.
  • Implement credit systems that address current gender roles and market information systems based on both women’s and men’s access to information.
  • Expand domestication of indigenous tree species for production of firewood, fodder and fruits. If only exotic fast growing trees are planted for timber production, benefits for women are in general limited.

Read more about how gender inequalities can be addressed in agroforestry projects: