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Agriculture and Rural Development: Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook
2009
The World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)


Agriculture is central to the livelihoods of the rural poor and in the attainment of the Millennium Devel op ment Goals (MDGs). Agriculture can be the engine of growth and is necessary for reducing poverty and food insecurity, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (IFAD 2001; World Bank 2007a). Understanding the dynamic processes of change is crucial to better position the sector for faster growth and sustained development, which is vital for food and livelihoods security for millions of men and women worldwide.

The rapid changes occurring in the agriculture sector present opportunities and challenges for the sector ís central role in poverty reduction and food security. Markets and the demand for agricultural commodities are changing rapidly, especially for higher-value products. These changes may create opportunities for greater market participation for both women and men; however, for women in particular, to date, equal access to these markets is still limited. Advances in agricultural knowledge and technology that accompany the changes in the sector are creating an array of new choices for producers, altering what is produced, where it is produced, and how it is produced. Factors outside of the sector, such as widespread environmental change, are also altering agricultural potential throughout the world. In particular, climate change is now affecting water supply and weather conditions and consequently is impacting agricultural production.

The composition of rural households is changing considerably as a consequence of HIV and AIDS, with deaths of young adults and farm households left in the hands of children and grandparents with subsequent impacts on agriculture. Migration, arising mainly from poverty or prompted by natural disasters or violent conflict, now forms a dynamic force, changing the landscape of the rural population. Remittances sent back home by migrants form substantial sources of funds supporting household consumption and productive investments in rural areas. Migration shows stark gendered differences. In some regions, men more than women are likely to abandon agricultural work at home and migrate first to seek income in other sectors. Women are being left to carry the full burdens of agricultural production, but often with no legal protection or rights to property ownership.

Although the changes in agriculture create new sources of opportunities for livelihoods and food security, they also pose significant uncertainties. Equity concerns are being raised. Poor and small producers, often women, may be excluded from the lucrative high-value markets because they may not be able to compete in terms of costs and prices with larger producers. Globalization and trade liberalization have opened more market opportunities internationally and have induced greater innovations and efficiencies in many cases. But, at the same time, globalization has led to painful transition periods for some economies and has favored the producers who have more resources and the information, education, and capacity to cope with increasingly stringent market demands. Thus, these changes may increase the vulnerability of individuals with few resources, especially poor women, who have traditionally had limited access to crucial services and opportunities because of persistent cultural, social, and political biases.

Within the development community, a renewed interest has been expressed in support of agriculture. The World Development Report of 2008: Agriculture for Development has helped spearhead renewed thinking about the sector, calling for more and better investments in agriculture. Increased investment in the sector is also flowing from the private foundations (such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). In light of such renewed interest and resources, this is an opportune time to rethink agriculture strategies for better development outcomes. Concerted efforts are required to use fully the strengths and diversity among the rural people and their institutions, to manage innovatively the risks and challenges associated with rapid changes in the sector, and to ensure that growth reaches poor women and men. For instance, women play a major role in agriculture, but these roles are often unrecognized. The design of many development policies and projects continues to assume wrongly that farmers and rural workers are mainly men (World Bank 2007b). Failure to recognize the roles, differences, and inequalities poses a serious threat to the effectiveness of the agricultural development agenda.

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