Food Production Techniques, Emerging Technologies Support Rural Women’s Gains

Almost lost in the buzz around World Food Day – October 16 – is the global observation of International Day for Rural Women on October 15.

The observance, whose origins you can read about here, is rooted in the fact that rural women comprise more than 25 percent of the total world population. In developing countries, rural women represent nearly half of the agricultural labor force.

When you consider that over three-quarters of the world’s extreme poor live in rural areas, overlapping themes of poverty, food production and security and gender roles in agriculture emerge and cross-cut with one another.

We asked International Potato Center’s (CIP) Netsayi Mudege to comment on the significance of a day to mark the myriad roles of women in rural areas.

“Women, especially in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa are dependent on agriculture-based livelihoods,” noted Mudege, a gender research coordinator based in Nairobi. “They

Dr. Netsayi Noris Mudege is helping to mainstream gender in programming. Photo: Sara Quinn/CIP

also form a large proportion of those engaged in the agricultural labor force as paid labor on farms, unpaid labor in the home and in working on their own plots.”

Recognition of International Day for Rural Women also matters because “it means not only we celebrate achievements of rural women, but also take the opportunity to reflect whether development processes are more inclusive of the rural poor, particularly women,” she added.

For example, while women represent a large proportion of the agricultural labor force in rural areas, they often lack access to extension services, credit facilities, land, off-farm rural employment opportunities, and more – all of which could potentially help them to produce more to feed their families and foster more sustainable agriculture-based livelihoods.

Division of labor by gender is a useful area to consider when mulling how to address these issues and to solve problems and constraints most typically experienced by female or male farmers, she explained.

“In Kenya, CIP researchers discovered that the strategy to promote access to orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) by targeting women was not having the desired effect – because men were left out of the discussion,” she noted. Male farmers are usually responsible for allocating land for agricultural production.

As CIP studied the disparities between men and women’s traditional roles, the approach was revised to better target men with communication and promotion messages.

asante%20potatoes%203[1]Another project designed to be sensitive to reflecting gender differences and capturing data around them is RTB-ENDURE, a three-year project examining expanding utilization of roots, tubers and bananas and reducing postharvest losses. The project aims to improve food availability and income generation through better postharvest management and expanded use of RTB, based on postharvest and processing technologies, value chain development and capacity development.

As researchers realized that the pace of adoption of these technologies contained gender dimensions – that men and women were coping with different constraints to full engagement in the project and comprehensive access to its benefits – a strategy to ensure that gender concerns were addressed was woven throughout.  For example, RTB-ENDURE has worked with both men and women farmers to build their business skills and acumen, which has resulted in more women expressing interest or taking up business opportunities such as making sweetpotato silage.

For centuries “women [have worked] hard to improve the lives of their families and communities through agriculture,” Mudege said. “They need access to markets and access to knowledge and finance to establish viable small-scale rural enterprises to create employment for themselves, as well as generate incomes. As a result, it is not what women can do but what can be done to add value to the efforts that women are already making.”