In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the role of women in agriculture. It has long been recognised that women perform a substantial part of the labour on family farms, particularly on food crops. Greater levels of livelihood diversification, driven by a decline in returns to agriculture, have tended to further intensify the involvement of women, particularly in countries with high levels of male migration.
Male deaths from epidemics (particularly HIV/AIDS) and violent conflict have deepened this trend in regions like Sub Saharan Africa. Women also make up a large portion of the ‘new’ labour on larger scale commercial farms growing non traditional crops. Collectively these developments have been referred to as the feminisation of agriculture.
The drivers and implications of women’s increased participation in agriculture depend largely on social and cultural norms and gender relations. In most rural African contexts men own the majority of land and have control over income from household agricultural production, while women are constrained in their access to productive resources (land, labour, capital) and agricultural inputs and services. Even though women may perform the majority of labour on their household’s cash crops, their productivity levels may be low as a result of the constraints they face. Furthermore, in male headed households they do not necessarily have control over the income generated.
This limits the potential for women’s increased economic activity to contribute to processes of women’s empowerment. At the same time, women still have primary responsibility for domestic activities, and therefore experience an increased burden of work. While waged labour is more likely to increase women’s status and control over income than unpaid work on the family farm, such work tends to be low paid and insecure and can also lead to an increase in intra-household conflict and violence.
Aspirations and expectations of girls and young women
The feminisation of agriculture has undoubtedly affected the aspirations of girls and young women in rural Africa. FAC’s Future Farmers programme aims to investigate these effects, with research framed around questions like:
- What kinds of agriculture, if any, do girls and young women aspire to be part of, and how does this vary between different contexts of gender relations?
- Are some kinds of agriculture more conducive to processes of empowerment and to what extent does this influence the aspirations of young women?
- Do aspirations translate into actions and outcomes, and what does this mean for the future of women and girls in African agriculture?
- What kinds of policies and programmes are needed to ensure that the next generation of women not only contribute to, but also benefit from, a revitalised agriculture sector?
S. Lastarria-Cornhiel. 2006. Feminisation of Agriculture: Trends and Driving Forces. Background paper for the 2008 World Development Report. Rimisp-Latin American Center for Rural Development. University of Wisconsin-Madison. http://www.rimisp.org/getdoc.php?docid=6489.