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The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11
Women in agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Agriculture is underperforming in many developing countries for a number of reasons. Among these is the fact that women lack the resources and opportunities they need to make the most productive use of their time. Women are farmers, workers and entrepreneurs, but almost everywhere they face more severe constraints than men in accessing productive resources, markets and services. This “gender gap” hinders their productivity and reduces their contributions to the agriculture sector and to the achievement of broader economic and social development goals. Closing the gender gap in agriculture would produce significant gains for society by increasing agricultural productivity, reducing poverty and hunger and promoting economic growth.

Governments, donors and development practitioners now recognize that agriculture is central to economic growth and food security – particularly in countries where a significant share of the population depends on the sector – but their commitment to gender equality in agriculture is less robust. Gender issues are now mentioned in most national and regional agricultural and food-security policy plans, but they are usually relegated to separate chapters on women rather than treated as an integral part of policy and programming. Many agricultural policy and project documents still fail to consider basic questions about the differences in the resources available to men and women, their roles and the constraints they face – and how these differences might be relevant to the proposed intervention. As a result, it is often assumed that interventions in areas such as technology, infrastructure and market access have the same impacts on men and women, when in fact they may not.

At the same time, building a gender perspective into agricultural policies and projects has been made to seem more difficult and complex than it need be. Clarification of what is meant by gender is a good place to start.

The last sentence in Box 1 also gives room for hope: gender roles can change. It is the goal of this report that it will contribute to improving understanding so that appropriate policies can help foster gender equality, even as agriculture itself is changing. The agriculture sector is becoming more technologically sophisticated, commercially oriented and globally integrated; at the same time, migration patterns and climate variability are changing the rural landscape across the developing world. These forces pose challenges and present opportunities for all agricultural producers, but women face additional legal and social barriers that limit their ability to adapt to and benefit from change. Governments and donors have made major commitments aimed at revitalizing agriculture in developing regions, but their efforts in agriculture will yield better results more quickly if they maximize the productive potential of women by promoting gender equality.

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