and food security
In the rural areas where most of the world’s hungry people live, women
K E Y FAC T S produce most of the food consumed locally. Their contribution could be
much greater if they had equal access to essential resources and services,
G In developing countries, women such as land, credit and training. Eliminating the obstacles that hamper
tend to work far longer hours than women could be the key to achieving the goals of the World Food Summit.
men. In Asia and Africa, studies have But that can only be done if policies are shaped by better information about
shown that women work as much as the difficulties experienced by women, and their aspirations, as well as by
13 hours more per week.
the participation of rural women themselves.
G On average, rural women and girls
spend almost an hour each day gath- WOMEN HOLD KEY TO FOOD PRODUCTION
ering fuel and carrying water needed In developing countries, most women’s most of the work involved in sowing,
to prepare meals. In some communi- work is devoted to agriculture. Women are weeding, fertilizing and harvesting the
ties, these activities may take up to involved in every stage of food production. staple crops – such as rice, wheat and
four hours a day. Although men usually plough the fields maize – which allows for more than 90 per-
and drive draught animals, women do cent of the rural poor’s diet.
G A study in Africa found that, over
Women's contribution to secondary
the course of a year, women carried Percentage of economically active crops, such as legumes and vegetables, is
more than 80 tonnes of fuel, water and women working in agriculture, 1980-1997 even greater. Most of these crops are grown
farm produce for a distance of 1 km. 1980 in home gardens, tended almost exclusively
Men carried only one-eighth as much, 1990
by women.These gardens are often remark-
an average of 10 tonnes for 1 km each 60
ably productive and critically important to
year. 40 nutritional and economic well-being. A
study in eastern Nigeria, for example, found
G Studies have shown that women 20
that home gardens occupying only 2 per-
use almost all they earn from market- 0 cent of a household's farmland accounted
ing agricultural products and handi- World Developing LIFDCs
countries for half the farm's total production.
crafts to meet household needs. Men Similarly, home gardens in Indonesia are
Although the proportion of women working in
use at least 25 percent of their earn-
agriculture is declining in all regions, almost estimated to provide more than 20 percent
ings for other purposes. 70 percent of women work in agriculture in of household income and 40 percent of
low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs).
domestic food supplies.
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70
OBSTACLES BLIGHT WOMEN’S HARVESTS AND HOPES
Women's contributions to food production – or invest in irrigation and land improve-
and food security would be far greater if they ments. In Jamaica, for example, women typi-
enjoyed equal access to essential resources cally receive only 5 percent of loans granted
Namibia and services. In many societies, tradition and by the Agricultural Credit Bank.
Sudan laws bar women from owning land. In South Because their role in food production is
Tunisia and Southeast Asia more than 60 percent of rarely recognized,women rarely benefit from
the female labour force is engaged in food extension and training services that would
Tanzania production but, in India, Nepal and Thailand teach them about new crop varieties and
for example, less than 10 percent of women technologies. A recent FAO survey found
Agricultural work carried out by women farmers own land. that female farmers receive only 5 percent of
Female extension staff
Without land to serve as collateral, women all agricultural extension services worldwide.
Percentage of agricultural work carried out by are also cut off from access to credit. And In Egypt, where women make up more than
women compared with the percentage of female without credit, they often cannot buy essen- half the agricultural labour force, only 1 per-
extension staff in selected African countries.
tial inputs – such as seeds, tools and fertilizer cent of extension officers are women.
A day in the life of an Indonesian woman farmer
2:00 4:00 6:00 8:00 10:00 12:00 14:00 16:00 18:00 20:00
Walk to Collect Cut Go to the river,
Rest in latex, Go home, pray, Go home, Go back to wood for bathe, wash
rubber process cook, eat breakfast, Go to field pray, cook, field, work cooking, clothes, pray,
garden wash dishes, clean and weed crops eat, clean up, some more carry it cook, eat,
and start into
house, rest rest home clean up
LACK OF GENDER-SPECIFIC INFORMATION TAPPING WOMEN’S
Percentage of farm holdings KNOWLEDGE TO
Information is critical in developing effec- headed by women
tive policies to help women. But out of a 25
sample of 93 national agricultural censuses 20 Developing improved agricultural poli-
conducted worldwide from 1989 to 1999, 15 cies requires detailed information not
only 53 contained information on female- 10 only about what rural men and women
headed holdings. 5
do on a national scale, but about varia-
The census data that are available sug- tions from village to village and about
gest that in most regions of the world one Africa Asia/Pacific Europe Americas how rural people perceive the prob-
out of five farms is headed by a woman. Limited available data show that about lems they face and strategies for elimi-
Even this figure probably underestimates one-fifth of farms are headed by women. nating them.
significantly the proportion of female Information of this sort can only be
owners and agricultural managers. Often period, the rural female population obtained by involving rural women
the legally recognized male “head of declined only 5.4 percent. and men themselves in analysis and
household” is assumed to be the “head of Not all female-headed households are planning, using techniques such as
holding” as well, even when women are poor. But the proportion of households participatory rural appraisal (PRA).
responsible for the day-to-day work and headed by women is far higher among the PRA draws on the knowledge and
decisions of running the farm. poor. A recent study in a village in experience of women and men at the
In areas where men migrate to cities to Indonesia classified households into four village level, using tools such as season-
look for work, the proportion of female- socio-economic groups. Not one of the al calendars, daily activity profiles and
headed farms and households is growing most prosperous households was headed household and village resource maps.
rapidly. This is contributing to what has by a woman, but almost one-quarter of the Experience shows that PRA can shed
been described as both “the feminization poorest households were. light not only on where the problems lie
of agriculture” and “the feminization of To obtain more and better statistics on but also on how to solve them:
poverty” . women’s roles and needs, steps must be G After learning that women worked
In Malawi, for example, the male popula- taken to reanalyse existing data and to two to three times as many hours as
tion in rural areas dropped by 21.8 percent clarify key concepts such as “agricultural men, an extension training project in
between 1970 and 1990. Over the same holding” to remove the gender bias. Ethiopia decided to hold training ses-
sions in the villages to accommodate
women’s busy schedules. Priority rank-
CASE STUDY INCLUDING WOMEN IN AN AGENDA ing helped extension agents identify
FOR ERITREA topics that women would be eager to
Too little water. Too little food. Too much Women reported that they commonly learn about.
work. In arid Eritrea, the numbers and work up to 15 hours a day during the crop- G In India, PRA revealed that increasing
analyses gathered through participatory ping season. Whatever the season, women poultry production, which is controlled
rural appraisal (PRA) paint a stark picture of work far longer hours than men – up to 30 by women, improved both household
the burdens women bear and the obsta- additional hours per week. nutrition levels and cash savings.
cles they face. Women ranked shortages of water and Increasing goat herds, on the other
food at the top of the list of problems they hand, set back efforts to expand
face, followed closely by lack of access to women's education, because girls were
health care and their crushing and tedious pulled out of school to tend the larger
workload. herds. Based on this information, pro-
But the PRA did not only highlight prob- ject planners shifted their emphasis to
lems. It also yielded a blueprint for action, a poultry production.
list of effective, socially acceptable ways to
reduce women’s burdens and improve the
food security of their families and commu- which women frequently devote up to four
nities simultaneously. hours every day.
Constructing wells and boreholes, for Removing the obstacles faced by
example, would help alleviate chronic women yields a double harvest – improv-
water shortages. Wells plus grinding mills ing their lives and allowing them to put
A woman near Asmara, Eritrea, benefits from would significantly reduce the heavy work their labour, knowledge and creativity to
piped water in her village. of fetching water and grinding grain, to work more productively.
C O N TA C T S For further information, contact:
Women in Development Media inquiries Food and Agriculture Organization
Service Tel. +39 06 570 53625 of the United Nations
Tel. +39 06 570 53932 Fax +39 06 570 53729 Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
Fax +39 06 570 52004 firstname.lastname@example.org 00100 Rome, Italy