Women, agriculture and climate


Photo credit: CGIAR

Women farming near a mosque in Tajikistan.
Neil Palmer/IWMI

Women changing agriculture for a changing climate

Three important UN-designated days just occurred in October: the15th was International Day of Rural Women; the 16th was World Food Day—this year’s theme was “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too”—and the 17th was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The connection between these three thematic days may not be immediately obvious. However, the argument could be made that, by giving smallholder farmers more access to sustainable ways to increase agricultural production, it would be possible to increase food security in a climate-smart way while simultaneously working towards the reduction of poverty. While making this argument, it is crucial to remember that an increasing number of smallholder farmers are women; in fact, in order to achieve some of the lofty targets encompassed by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), rural women are a crucial and often overlooked social, economic, and agricultural driver.

Smallholder farmers are both men and women—and increasingly, in many regions they are predominantly women. Women make up just under half (43%) of the global agricultural labour force, but in Oceania, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture is the largest sector of employment for women. This role is increasing as a result of migration out of rural areas by men and young people in search of employment. Despite this, the contribution of women smallholder farmers often goes unrecognized: their productive activities such as vegetable gardening tend to be considered part of their household and family responsibilities, and are not integrated into the paid economy. They also tend to have less access to decision making processes in the household and community, further weakening their visibility. For example, in four countries in West Africa – Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Mauritania – between 23 and 38% of women felt confident to speak in public, compared to 71 – 78% of men. Men made the decisions in over 60% of households, while in only about 20% of households did men and women make decisions jointly. In 10% or less, women made decisions.

As a result of these trends, women farmers have less access to land, labour, credit, information, technology and extension, so that they experience differing vulnerabilities and capacities to deal with the impact of climate change.


Read the full article: CGIAR

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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