Strengthening women’s participation

The work was led by Dina Najjar, Social and Gender Specialist, Social, Economics and Policy Research Theme, Sustainable Intensification and Resilient Production Systems Program (SIRPS), International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Amman, Jordan. (Photo: ICARDA) –


Strengthening African women’s participation in wheat farming

Gender inequality is a recurring feature of many agricultural production systems across the wheat-growing regions of Africa, and women farmers often lack access to credit, land, and other inputs. The result: limited adoption of new innovations, low productivity and income, and a missed opportunity to enhance household food security and prosperity.

In contrast, enhancing women’s involvement in agricultural development generates positive impacts beyond the lives of individual women – with benefits felt across entire communities and nations.

Identifying and challenging obstacles

Challenging the obstacles that rural women face is a key priority of a wheat initiative managed by ICARDA and supported by the African Development Bank and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat.

Action research to integrate women beneficiaries into the SARD-SC project in Sudan, Nigeria, and Ethiopia has helped identify actions and approaches that can be applied more widely to enhance women’s integration within diverse wheat production systems.

The main objectives were: increasing women’s income generation and contributions to food security, while addressing structural inequalities in access to inputs and services such as information, training, and microcredit.

Context-specific interventions

Our project employed context-specific interventions for growing grain, demonstrating technologies, adding value, and facilitating access to microcredit. Women’s involvement (65% in Sudan, 32% in Ethiopia and 12% in Nigeria) was often facilitated by gaining the trust and approval of male kin and support at the institutional levels – for example, recruiting women beneficiaries through the inclusion of female field staff: 4 in Nigeria, 4 in Sudan, and 6 in Ethiopia, all trained on gender integration.

Read the full article: CGIAR

Discriminatory practices against women in many developing countries


Photo credit: SciDevNet

Tackle gender bias in STEM to promote growth in Africa

Speed read

  • Few African women contributes to STEM when compared with men
  • African culture encourages stereotypes that limit the potential of women in STEM
  • An expert calls for African governments to monitor policies on gender issues

Mainstreaming gender equality in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) could be significant for socioeconomic development in Africa, according to experts.

The experts who attended the 2nd International day for Women and Girls in Science meeting in Kenya last month (11 February) noted that discriminatory practices against women limits the ability of many developing countries to grow and to reduce poverty.

The meeting was organised by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) and African Women in Science and Engineering.

“There is a large gap in the contribution of women in STEM compared with the participation of men.”

Caroline Thoruwa, Kenyatta University

Roy Mugiira, director of technical services at NACOSTI, says that engendering STEM policy in African countries will create the enabling environment to promote the educational and professional success of all people irrespective of gender, race or ethnicity.

He explains that policies should be based on the guiding principles such as relevance, inclusiveness, synergy, ethical leadership and good governance.

Read the full article: SciDevNet

Is women’s access to land an indicator for their well-being and empowerment?


Photo credit: CGIAR

After the group discussion on land and gender in Volta Region, Ghana. Photo credit: Isabel Lambrecht, IFPRI

Women’s access to land in Ghana: Are we asking the right questions and are we drawing the right conclusions?



With increased recognition of the importance of gender in development, researchers now often collect data disaggregated at the individual or intra-household level, sometimes with a great amount of detail involved. Yet, once in a while we may need to step back and reflect whether we are asking the right questions and whether we are making the right conclusions. In this blog I advocate for the continued use of qualitative research methods to better understand the local context and to enable researchers to better design quantitative survey instruments and interpret the results from quantitative data analysis.

Starting my research on land tenure and gender in Ghana, I complemented the literature review and data analysis with qualitative field work in order to better understand how smallholder farmers gain access to land and how this differs for men and women.  I initially planned to conduct a modest number of group discussions and stakeholder interviews. Yet, this soon appeared insufficient to grapple the diversity of tenure systems and I finally conducted a total of 56 gender-separated group discussions in 7 different regions of Ghana.

Woman entrepreneur in Upper-West Region, Ghana, selling fried yam to supplement household income. Photo credit: Isabel Lambrecht, IFPRI –×225.jpg

The first aim of the field work was to understand how smallholder farmers access land in Ghana. To say that customary tenure systems are complex and diverse is not an understatement. In the paper published in Land Use Policy I explain key aspects of customary tenure arrangements in Ghana, and how they can differ even among nearby communities.

The second aim was to understand how and why men’s and women’s access to land differs. By definition, gender is a social construct. In my discussions with household members of both sexes, it quickly became clear that men and women often have different roles in their households, families, communities and markets, and to a large extent this offers a rationale for an unequal distribution of productive assets between men and women.  The analysis of the social norms, rules and perceptions that influence men’s and women’s access to land was published in World Development.

Read the full story: CGIAR

How to lead Zimbabwe farmers out of poverty and equip them to face future climate and economic shocks


Photo credit: ICRISAT

Participants at the workshop. Photo: P. Chivenge


Policy makers, researchers and agricultural extension workers came together to learn how to develop future farm scenarios and co-design pathways that will lead Zimbabwe farmers out of poverty and equip them to face future climate and economic shocks. As part of the workshop activity, the group reviewed contrasting pathways that might shape the future of farming in Zimbabwe and came up with Representative Agricultural Pathways and Scenarios (RAPS) (see box).

Need for gender-inclusive policies

The workshop specially focused on gender and nutrition. The impact of national level policies to shape the future of women in farming was among the issues discussed. “Women carry the major burden of farming in Zimbabwe, and there is no sign that this is going to change in the future; it might rather increase as male labor leaves rural areas for wage labor opportunities. Hence, what would it mean if policy evolved to ensure women equal control over resources, production factors and information? What would be the implications for food security and nutrition?” These questions were raised by Dr Amy Sullivan, Bridgewater Consulting, AgMIP stakeholder liaison.

Leveraging uptake of climate-adaptation technologies

The importance of sharing information on technologies was also stressed in one of the sessions. “Informing crop improvement programs is critical, especially for supporting the highly vulnerable smallholder farmers in marginal areas to adapt to climate variability and change,” said
Dr Dumisani Kutywayo, Director Crops Research Division, Department of Research and Specialists Services.

Mr Ben Mache, Head of Crops Agricultural Technical and Extension Services said that such dialogues help to create conditions and mechanisms that can leverage uptake of technologies and cater to shock situations, in preparation for agriculture under future climate scenarios.

In this context, the importance of web-based tools was stressed. Special mention was made of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) tool ‘Impacts Explorer’ to make information available to a broad range of users, and for revision and adjustment processes (

The science behind RAPS

Read the full article: ICRISAT

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

The need for a participatory approach to water management and development interventions that also includes women.


Photo credit: CGIAR

A woman participating to an irrigation project in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant

Publication Review: Gender Dynamics in Water Governance Institutions in Zimbabwe

Submitted by Martina Antonucci

In Zimbabwe, the decentralization of water management in irrigation schemes may be an opportunity for rural communities to actively participate in and contribute to the management of their development process. In this context, the GCIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems emphasises the need for a participatory approach to water management and development interventions that also includes women. The recent study “Gender Dynamics in Water Governance Institutions: The Case of Gwanda’s Guyu-Chelesa Irrigation Scheme in Zimbabwe” gives an example of the challenges encountered by women who are involved in irrigation schemes management.

Through documentary research, interviews, questionnaires and non-obtrusive observation the authors of the article investigated women’s involvement in the water governance intervention of the Guyu-Chelesa Irrigation Scheme in Zimbabwe. Guyu-Chelesa is a farmer-managed irrigation scheme located in the Mzingwane Catchment, which is part of the Limpopo River Basin in Matabeleland South Province. The majority of farmers in this area are women, representing approximately 75% of the labourers. Women are the major users of water, as they not only irrigate the fields, but also perform the maintenance of irrigation infrastructures, investing significant time and efforts into it.

This important participation of women in irrigation farming is reflected in their high involvement in the Water Users Associations. Despite this, gender inequality still strongly exists at the committee level of the institutions where the percentage of women, although high, is still not proportional to the number of women conducting irrigation farming, and their decision-making power is significantly limited.

The authors report that although women participate in meetings more consistently than men, their voice is generally not heard or barely accepted. For example, women’s ideas about management and rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructures are recognized only when the complexity of the issue is minimal. For the rest of the discussions, only men have the power to make binding decisions, while women are only given the possibility to reinforce them.

Read the full article: CGIAR

Rural women are critical to the success of the SDGs


Photo credit: UN NEWS CENTRE

Thoeun harvests corn from her farm in Kampong Cham, Cambodia. Photo: Chhor Sokunthea/World Bank

Rural women’s empowerment critical to UN Sustainable Development Agenda – Ban

Marking the International Day of Rural Women, United NationsSecretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that rural women are critical to the success of almost all of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as they all “have gender equality and women’s empowerment at their core.”

Rurual Women make up 25 per cent of the world’s population and in developing countries they make up 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force that produces much of the world’s food.

It is no wonder, then, that the Secretary-General calls rural women the backbone of rural communities, where, “and in many households they have the key responsibility for food security, education opportunities and healthcare.”

And yet that backbone is under threat, as increasingly, the effects of climate change and environmental degradation are forcing rural women to migrate in search of land where they can produce food and improve their families’ lives. This leads to instability, isolation, and marginalization. Frequently, male family members leave to seek work elsewhere.

Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said in a statement on the Daythat “rural women farmers can be agents of change in transforming food production and consumption so that land and resources are used efficiently and sustainably. They need policies and investments that facilitate their active participation and decision-making and their access to land and climate-resilient agricultural methods.”

Changes are on the way for women farmers

UN Women and the World Food Programme (WFP) have launched a the new programme in Rwanda to help women farmers forecast crop demands and create more secure and profitable supply chains through the use of digital technology.

Read the full article: UN NEWS CENTRE

Rural Women in Drylands (CGIAR)


Photo credit: CGIAR

International Day of Rural Women on 15th October

Development and environmental sustainability in rural drylands of the developing world is – without doubt – underpinned by the critical role that women play in agriculture, food and nutrition security, household incomes, health and wellbeing, education, as well as other cultural and socio-economic aspects of life. Yet, women are often excluded from decision-making processes and denied access to critical resources.

At the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems, we believe rural dryland communities can thrive only when all members are empowered equally to contribute to and benefit from sustainable agricultural livelihoods. To mark the upcoming International Day of Rural Women on 15th October, I am pleased to invite you to explore:

  • Key Gender Research Studies and Highlights from Dryland Systems work over the past year.
  • Two publication reviews of recent gender-responsive studies on Smallholder Goat Production and Marketing: A Gendered Baseline Study in Mozambique, and on Gender Dynamics in Water Governance Institutions in Zimbabwe.
  • An Exposure photo story on Rural Women in Drylands: Their Success – Our Future, showcasing the multifaceted roles and contributions of rural women in dryland communities.
  • A blog story by Dr. Dina Najjar, gender specialist at ICARDA describing her research insights on the wages and working conditions of landless women and men in the agricultural sector in Morocco.
  • An interview with Mrs. Bezaiet Dessalegn, livelihoods and development specialist at ICARDA, who recounts her experience with key challenges to integrating gender in the research process and to achieving gender parity in agriculture and science.

Read the full article: CGIAR

To make agriculture attractive to women and the youth, Africa must invest in education at all levels.



Making Africa’s women and youth drive agriculture

by 4783bb1651e9aa2f9f80e6a9d29b5750

Sam Otieno
in Nairobi, Kenya

That Science, technology and innovation (STI) could help transform Africa’s agriculture is well appreciated by many people who have an interest in the continent’s sustainable development.

I was therefore not surprised that the importance of STI to Africa’s agricultural transformation became prominent this week (5-9 September) during the 6th African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) held in Kenya.

The AGRF forum has made me realise that to make agriculture attractive to women and the youth, Africa must invest in education at all levels.

Sam Otieno

AGRF brings together a range of critical players in the African agriculturelandscape such as African heads of state, ministers, farmers, private agribusiness firms, financial institutions, civil society, scientists and international development partners of Africa to discuss and develop concrete plans for achieving the green revolution in Africa.

But the key message that struck me most at the AGRF meeting was that women and the youth are central to driving African agricultural transformation, and thus they should not be sidelined.

African women constitute close to 70 per cent of the agricultural workforce and contribute greatly to food production and security. Mainstreaming their participation and empowerment in Africa’s agricultural change is therefore critical.

Read the full article: SciDevNet

The life and health of women and children in dryland rural areas


Originally published at:

How to improve the life and health of women and children in dryland rural areas ?

by Prof. dr. Willem Van Cotthem


Here is the text of my talk at the Beijing Conference on “Women and Desertification” in May 2006:


Desertification is one of the most alarming processes of environmental degradation. The General Assembly of the United Nations has underlined its deep concern for the exacerbation of desertification, particularly in Africa, and its far-reaching implications for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was called a key instrument for poverty eradication in dryland rural areas.

Generally, the combat of desertification is seen as a task for international and national organizations. Almost every country has ratified the UNCCD and in most cases the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Development Cooperation are responsible for all aspects of the Convention. Nevertheless, one knows that also non-governmental organizations (NGOs) take a lot of interesting initiatives within the framework of drought and desertification.

The Desertification Convention entered into force in 1995. In the beginning, accredited NGOs were authorized to attend the COPs only as observers. It took quite a time to let them participate in the debates. The Convention text underlines clearly the important role of women in regions affected by drought and desertification. As a large number of NGOs are specifically active in those rural areas and they develop activities in favour of the rural people, it is clear that they can play a very important role in the implementation of the Convention, in particular with actions in the field. Therefore, many NGO actions are now seen as valuable contributions to the work of the UNCCD. More and more, the field expertise of the NGOs is taken into consideration.

It sounds peculiar that many NGOs do not recognize themselves that they are combating desertification. This is the result of the fact that almost never the word “desertification” is used in the description of their projects for sustainable development. Here are some examples:

(i) Projects for improvement of the soil are normally indicated as “agronomy project”. It can be measures to limit soil erosion, to reduce land degradation or to rehabilitate land. These are typical means to combat desertification, but they are not classified as such.
(ii) Projects to improve water use by the rural people. In many cases, this is aiming at provision of drinking water (public health). Sometimes, NGO projects also contribute to efficient use of irrigation water, which would normally be classified under desertification measures.
(iii) Many NGO projects contain actions to enhance the fertility of soils and the economic properties of the soil. This is rather seen as an agronomy activity than as a desertification activity.
(iv) Actions to prevent the loss of natural vegetation and also reforestation projects are rather attached to the Biodiversity Convention (CBD).
(v) Attention for actions to combat desertification, with measures focusing on the alleviation of poverty in the drylands, is rather poor. The direct link between poverty and land degradation is generally not recognized.

Desertification is often seen as a natural phenomenon of advancing deserts, but this is a common misperception. On the contrary, desertification is all about land degradation or losses of fertile land and biological productivity, resulting from various factors, including human activities and climatic variations. It affects one third of the earth’s surface and over a billion people, mostly in dryland areas. It contributes to food insecurity and famine, having also devastating consequences in terms of social, economic and political tensions, sometimes even causing conflicts. The rural poor people in developing countries, at the very heart of the drought problem, are particularly vulnerable, because they have to draw their means of existence from the arid and semi-arid ecosystems. Therefore, the UN General Assembly has declared 2006 the International Year of Deserts and Desertification.

Drylands host some of the most magnificent ecosystems of this world: the deserts, unique natural habitats with very diverse fauna and flora, which also host very old civilizations. The International Year of Deserts and Desertification (IYDD) therefore celebrates the beauty and heritage of the world’s deserts.

All countries and civil society organizations have been encouraged to undertake special initiatives to mark the IYDD. A concerted effort to raise awareness of desertification aims at translating ideas, knowledge and expertise into concrete actions in the field. The best practices have been identified. Success stories in the combat of desertification and the alleviation of poverty have been largely illustrated and documented.

Remark inserted today, March 10th, 2007

In May 2006 I had the honour and pleasure of being the president of a Belgian NGO, called TC-DIALOGUE Foundation, of which I described the objectives and activities for the participants in Beijing.  For personal reasons, not related to the Foundation itself, I resigned in June 2006. The Foundation is now called “Terradialoog” (see coordinates at the end of this posting).

Here is the text of my talk in May 2006:


TC-DIALOGUE Foundation, a Belgian non-profit association, is strongly committed to the combat of desertification and the alleviation of poverty. It is granting a particular attention to humanitarian projects, aiming at reversing the trend of desertification by appropriately applying a combination of traditional agricultural methods with the TerraCottem-technology (TC), developed at the University of Ghent (Belgium). In doing so, TC-DIALOGUE tries to bring true hope for a sustainable solution by organizing relevant actions on the ground, taking into full consideration the local people’s needs and empowering them with real participative responsibility for small scale projects, like community gardens for women and school gardens, combined with afforestation or reforestation initiatives.

Land and water. The world population is expected to increase from the actual 6 to 9 billion in 2050, in particular in developing countries. As a consequence, food production will have to be doubled to meet the food demand of such a fast-growing population. Sustainability of food production depends on the sustainability of two basic resources: land and water. Most of the arable land is already being cultivated. Further expansion of the cultivated area risks to adversely affect the natural environment and to require huge investments in infrastructures, e.g. irrigation systems, to enhance productivity. Therefore, improved management of land and water with cost-effective methods, e.g. the very simple TerraCottem-technology, should become a worldwide priority.

Sustainable use of water is of vital importance for all living organisms on our planet. In many developing countries consumption of fresh water already reached its limits. Water is continuously becoming scarcer and more contaminated with fertilizers and pesticides. Nevertheless, using only optimal methods for watering or irrigation, agriculture should help to solve the problem of fresh water scarcity. At the world’s level, agricultural irrigation uses more than 70% of fresh water. Therefore, improving water use efficiency is one of the most important steps to address our global water needs.

In order to enhance food production with a strict minimum of water in the drylands, TC-DIALOGUE applies a successful method based upon mixing the soil conditioning compound TerraCottem in the upper rootzone (one foot, 20-30 cm) of the soil. This compound is a granular mixture of some 20 different substances: water absorbent polymers, mineral fertilizers, organic substances, root growth activators and volcanic rock or lava. All components act in a synergistic way to improve plant production with a minimum of water and fertilizers. It is already successfully applied in more than 50 countries, where it saves up to 50 % of the normal water and fertilizer consumption. If applied at larger scale, this can be a key tool for poverty eradication in dryland rural areas, not only saving precious resources, but also improving food security, public health and annual revenues.

Moreover, better soil conditioning practices can expand considerably the area of cultivated land. They can also enhance the water retention capacity of the soil, which leads to improved food production with a minimal consumption of water. In the near future, increasing food demand will have to be tackled with a more efficient use of land and water resources. Thus, enhanced food production should not depend upon increased pumping of water from aquifers or ground water tables, but upon higher water use efficiency. It is generally agreed that there is an urgent need to produce more food with less water. TC-DIALOGUE uses an efficient water and soil conditioning system TerraCottem, improving food production with only 50 % of the normal irrigation volume, while sustaining the ecosystems and the environment.

Integrated approaches must take into account not only scientific and technical, but also the socio-economical and environmental aspects. TC-DIALOGUE wants to play an effective role in the world’s efforts to achieve sustainable development and to eradicate poverty.

Three types of small-scale TC-DIALOGUE projects have shown excellent results in the drylands on all continents and in particular in Africa:


In a community garden for women one or more wells are constructed and the garden is treated with the soil conditioner TerraCottem, developed at the University of Ghent, to enhance plant production in dry regions. Each member of the women’s association of the village gets an opportunity to produce vegetables on a certain part of the community garden. 80 % of the yield goes to the woman and her family, 20 % goes to the local association for additional fertilizers and equipment. Thereby, all women of the village are enabled to produce more food for their families, to enhance their annual income and to improve their standards of living. By planting a living hedge or a windscreen with trees, a contribution to reforestation is realized, in order to solve also the problems of firewood and deforestation.


In a school garden, the children learn how to combine traditional agricultural methods with modern technologies, like the TerraCottem-method. Local teachers show them how to produce vegetables and fruits with a minimum of water and fertilizers. Thus, the children contribute to their own meals, rich in vitamins, at school. If some of the crops are sold, the extra income can be used for acquisition of school equipment. A pupil’s council participates in the management of the school garden. Thereby, the children learn actively how to improve agricultural techniques and irrigation.


The local population participates in the nursery production of indigenous tree species. Young trees (saplings) are offered to surrounding villages and schools, and then planted with TerraCottem soil conditioner. This method enables the people in very dry areas to create a considerable enhancement of the vegetation cover, to combat soil degradation and to improve biodiversity. That kind of projects is a significant contribution to the improvement of the standards of living of women and children, and to the combat of desertification.

Sometimes, two types of projects are combined, e.g. when a community garden or a school garden is to be surrounded with a tree belt, which can also consist of fruit trees.


In 1997–99, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), there were 815 million undernourished people in the world: 777 million in the developing countries, 27 million in transition countries and 11 million in the industrialized countries’ (UNFAO, 2001: 2).

“Undernourishment” means a daily caloric intake that is insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements and it does not refer to shortages of micronutrients, critical for health (iron, iodine, vitamin A). Nutritional deficiencies increase vulnerability to a number of diseases. Indeed, malnutrition is the greatest single risk factor contributing to the global burden of disease. In developing countries adequate nutrition is a determinant of health, economic growth and development. It has also been clearly shown that the relationship between education and nutrition is a dynamic one.

Therefore, it is of the highest importance to set up, at the global level and as soon as possible, concerted actions to eradicate undernourishment, hunger and poverty. However, many people, even after decades of research work leading to good practices and new technologies that can be combined with traditional farming methods, are still asking us: “How can we combat desertification and alleviate hunger and poverty”? Our answer is quite simple, but very effective:

Choose a small number of best practices, apply them at a representatively large scale in the drylands of the different continents and compare the results. It will lead to a selection of a smaller number of best methods and technologies, applicable in a cost-effective way in most of the world’s drylands.

From there off, the real combat of desertification can start, because we will not work anymore in trial-and-error conditions, but with a high degree of certitude that our initiatives will be successful. And each success will most certainly lead to new ones, because the most pleasant way to get into action is to know already that our efforts will be fruitful. It suffices to start with application of the already well-known “best practices” or “success stories” to get ignition of a series of initiatives, convincing the media that we are at the right path towards a better future, and to bring new hope for a better future to the poor rural people. Up to now, our message to them was rather sterile: “Yes, we are working at it”! In other words: “We have been talking about possible solutions for the drought and desertification problems”. But words are stilling hunger! Yet, we know how to combat desertification. So, why don’t we apply at the largest scale the good solutions we already have in hand? It seems so difficult to get a clear answer to this question.


TC-Dialogue Foundation aims at setting up projects in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid regions, using the soil conditioner TERRACOTTEM (TC):

  • To improve soil conditions;
  • To improve plant growth;
  • To save water and nutrients;
  • To mitigate drought;
  • To combat desertification;
  • To alleviate poverty;
  • To combine traditional methods with modern technology;
  • To contribute to capacity building of the local people;
  • To improve the standards of living of rural people.

The main application fields of TERRACOTTEM are:

  • Food production in community gardens and school gardens;
  • Afforestation or reforestation;
  • Combat of wind and water erosion;
  • Improvement of soil fertility;
  • Conditioning of dry, mostly sandy soils;
  • Conditioning of acid or alkaline soils;
  • Conditioning of saline soils.

The Foundation is looking for one or more national or local partners in the host country to set up and follow up a humanitarian project, based upon a bottom-up approach. The partners can be governmental or non-governmental organizations. Together with the partner(s), information is collected about the most urgent problems concerning drought and desertification and the best solutions to be applied.



Burkina Faso 1988 –

1997-12-Wood 01 copy
Niou (Prov. Kourweogo, Burkina Faso) – Bois de l’Amitié – Photo WVC 1997-12-Wood 01 copy

Reforestation and creation of community gardens started already in 1988, in cooperation with the Committee Maastricht-Niou (The Netherlands) and sponsored by a number of Belgian companies, amongst which SABENA. A number of woods and gardens have been successfully created in different provinces. This initiative is still extended to other locations.

1997-12-02-General view 02
Jardin Communautaire des Femmes à Niou – Photo WVC 1997-12-02-General view 02

The Committee Maastricht-Niou and TC-Dialogue Foundatian are intensifying their cooperation. Together with another NGO (Sahel Defis), TC-Dialogue will start a new project in the region of Dori (Djomga), where a community garden for women and a school garden will be constructed.

Senegal 2001-2005

With private sponsoring, a community garden for women was created in 2001 in Toubacouta, a village in the delta of the Saloum River north of The Gambia. The garden of 5000 m2 was treated with TerraCottem and totally fenced to keep the cattle out.

In this garden each of 42 women cultivates 100 m2, producing different kinds of vegetables all year long. Yield is going principally to their families. Surplus production is sold to hotels and an army camp. This signifies a considerable improvement of the standards of living. The women’s association pays for the irrigation water and the seeds. Thanks to the TerraCottem soil conditioner only 50 % of the normal irrigation volume is used, thus also reducing labour.

The positive results of this project made an extension of the garden possible and TC-DIALOGUE provided the necessary TerraCottem. Nowadays, a number of improvements are envisaged: some women successfully started growing strawberries and plans are developed to create a special market for the vegetables of the project in a nearby school building.

Togo 2005-

In cooperation with a national NGO (Réveil de la Jeunesse Rurale, RJR), a project has been set up with 20 schools of the Kara region (N. Togo). In each of these schools, a nursery for local trees and a school garden for vegetables and fruits are to be constructed in the next 3 years. Food and fruits will be produced for the children, who in turn will contribute to the reforestation of the eroding hills in the region.

Gambia 2005-

The Belgian NGO “Hands Together” develops community gardens in the region of Bansang (East Gambia) with the support of TC-DIALOGUE. Additional gardens are planned in the Kembuje region (Banjul).

UNDP GAMBIA and TC-Dialogue are applying TerraCottem soil conditioner in 12 gardens around the capital Banjul. It is expected that good results will determine the decision to apply this method at a larger scale for other UNDP-projects.

Algeria 2005-

In cooperation with UNICEF ALGERIA, already existing small family gardens in the refugee camps of the Sahraouis people in the Tindouf area will be treated with TerraCottem and new gardens will be created. The Sahraouis, totally dependent on the food basket delivered by the United Nations Food Program, are living already for 30 years in these camps in the Sahara desert (Southern Algeria) and family gardens are likely to provide more fresh food, the necessary vitamins and oligo-elements, like iron (in relation to anemia). Vegetables and fruit trees, in particular those varieties that can be grown with saline water from the ground water table, will be selected for cultivation in these family gardens. Testing is already going on in a couple of bigger experimental gardens.

A partnership between UNICEF ALGERIA, SOS KINDERDORF (VILLAGE D’ENFANTS) ALGER and TC-DIALOGUE Foundation was leading to the creation of several family gardens (100 m2 each) and a bigger demonstration garden in Draria (Algiers).

Malawi 2006-

The Belgian NGO “KwasaKwasa” and TC-Dialogue are planning the construction of some family gardens and school gardens to improve fresh food production in this drought affected country.


China 1995-1996

In order to obtain the necessary authorization to import the Belgian TC soil conditioner in the P.R. China, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture has set up a number of tests on different vegetables in 11 provinces. All reports come to positive conclusions concerning the water saving and biomass enhancing properties of TC. It was recommended for further application in China.

China 1995-1999

Cooperating with the Bureau of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry of Lanzhou (Gansu Province), a magnificent project was realized, leading to the construction of 82 Chinese greenhouses, in which the TC soil conditioner was applied to limit irrigation and consumption of the scarce fresh water in this high altitude area. With 50 % of the irrigation water, up to 200 % of the normal vegetable production was achieved. Selling these vegetables in wintertime to the hotels and restaurants in the nearby city, annual income of the villagers was significantly enhanced.

China 1997-1999

Cooperating with some Inner-Mongolian authorities, in particular those of the Dalate County and Mrs WANG Guoxiang, Vice-Governor, TC-Dialogue Foundation has set up a large number of tests:

  • Growing fruit trees with TC (peaches, apples)
  • Growing fodder plants and poplars on desert sands.

All trials were extremely positive.

China 2004-2008

Demonstration of restoring the Juniperus sabina vegetation and gaining biodiversity, using TC soil conditioner in Inner Mongolia (P.R.China).

The Project location is Sarula-Gacha, Abaga Banner, Xilingol League of Inner Mongolia (P.R. China). The cooperation agreement was signed in China in November 2004 and the project started in May 2005. It is a cooperation between TC-DIALOGUE Foundation (Belgium), ASED (Association for Sustainable Ecological and Socio-Economic development, P.R. China), the village of Sarula-Gacha, Abaga Banner, Bureau of Forestry and Water Resources of Abaga Banner and the Government of Abaga Banner. The 1st evaluation after 1 year gave significantly better results when rooted cuttings were planted in TC treated soil.

India 2001-2002

A demonstration project for the production of tomatoes with TC was set up in the Himachal Pradesh region. Cooperating with the NGO RUCHI, local farmers produced 2-3 times more tomatoes than before and this with only a limited amount of irrigation water.

Pakistan 2001-2002

A demonstration project, set up with the NGO SCOPE PAKISTAN, was very successful in the Gadap area, close to Karachi. The local Farmer’s Union produced significantly more tomatoes with TC than with their traditional method (along irrigation canals). Adult fruit trees in poor condition, due to drought, revived and started producing after TC treatment of the soil around their roots.

Lebanon 2001-2004

In May 2001, 4 NGOs (the Lebanese MAKHZOUMI Foundation, the Greek associations INARE and KEDE, and our Belgian TC-DIALOGUE Foundation) launched an agroforestry project. It was largely sponsored by the Greek Government. The general objective was to combat desertification and erosion, but also to contribute to the awareness building about the problems of land degradation for the local people. Conferences and training sessions focused on the application of modern techniques for planting and soil conditioning. Schools participated in the project. Students learned about these technologies, but also about the importance of reforestation for people (daily life and economy) and for nature (biodiversity, ecology and combat of soil degradation). Women also were associated with the initiative.

In Akkar (N. Lebanon) 20 tree species were grown in a nursery (fruit trees, indigenous conifers, oaks and the famous Lebanese cedar). In 2002-2004 some 51.000 saplings were distributed over several villages and planted with TerraCottem. Farmers, local authorities and schools of 49 villages in N. and central Lebanon participated in the project. Thanks to our efforts and the well-organized information sessions the survival rate of trees was 80 %. Small village nurseries constitute now a valuable tool for the improvement of standards of living of the poor rural people.

The project was ended in April 2004, but the local partner (Makhzoumi Foundation) wants to continue this success story. TC-DIALOGUE Foundation will have an advising role.


Here are some figures of the costs-benefits analysis of tomato production on one the TC-Dialogue projects:

  • Required irrigation volume: 60%
  • Survival rate of planted saplings: 35%
  • Average production per plant: 60%
  • Average production per hectare: 118%
  • Net income after 1 growing season: 150%


All these different successful projects have made clear that it is quite simple to improve the life and health of women and children within the shortest periods possible. It suffices to apply the soil conditioner TerraCottem (TC) to create a series of remarkable consequences:

  • The soil properties improve.
  • Water retention capacity of the soil enhances.
  • Soil fertility improves gradually over years.
  • Plant production enhances.
  • Provision of vitamins and minerals at a yearly basis grows considerably.
  • Annual income grows.
  • The socio-economic situation of the beneficiaries improves gradually.


This is the text of my talk on May 30th, 2006 in Beijing, China. Since then a number of things have drastically changed. I am now an independent consultant on Desertification and Sustainable Development. The TC-DIALOGUE Foundation changed its name into “Terradialoog”. It is still a non-profit organization and can be contacted for more information at:

Speelmansrei 22 – B8000 BRUGGE – Belgium

Evaluating indicators of gender gaps in control over productive resources



Small changes for big improvements: Criteria for evaluating indicators of gender gaps in control over productive resources

by Smriti Rao

There is an increasing need for indicators that can track the impacts of agricultural policies and technologies upon gender inequalities at the national and international levels. A recent working paper commissioned by the CGIAR Gender and Agricultural Research Network reviews the body of published research that uses such indicators and recommends a set of robust indicators that can help measure these impacts, either using data that already exist, or data that could be collected through relatively simple additions to existing national and international surveys. The goal is not to measure empowerment specifically – that is done in the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index – but to track changes with regard to two specific outcomes: 1) control over key agricultural resources, and 2) decision making about labor, income, and within groups or collective bodies. Since agricultural interventions are often targeted at a particular point in the value chain, the recommended indicators are disaggregated by resource type, such as land, livestock, or common pool resources.

One of the challenges in writing this paper was clarifying criteria for selecting the indicators. Such criteria relate to both conceptual and measurement issues. For example, if we want to measure how a project affected women’s access to land, we first need to answer the question “how do we define access to land?” (conceptual issue) and then we can ask “are data collected from interviewing only heads of household sufficient?” (measurement issue).

Five conceptual and five measurement-related criteria emerge as particularly significant (see Box 1).  Although many of the recommended indicators do not meet all of these criteria, foregrounding the criteria could help us be more aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the indicators we use, as well as help us work on improving them.

Read the full article: CGIAR

Massive inequity between male and female farmers


Photo credit: USAID


Women in agriculture and food security programming: Promoting more meaningful change

Bryan Crawford-Garrett, Oxu Solutions

Women make up approximately half of the world’s farmers, but there is massive inequity between male and female farmers—especially in the developing world.

These inequities are most pronounced in terms of women lacking equal access to and control over productive resources. To address this ‘gender gap’ in agriculture, there are numerous NGOs, multilateral agencies, and donors working to improve women’s engagement in and empowerment through agriculture and food security programming. Certain programming principles promoted by these actors have been well-documented elsewhere, such as the importance of considering women’s time and workload demands and the benefit of including both men and women in training and other project activities. In order to promote more meaningful change, however, programs need to be more precise in their design and more ambitious in their measurement, and implementing staff must have the appropriate support and skills to facilitate lasting impact.

“Traditional agricultural development programs primarily serve men’s interests and often include increases in income and profits…as high-level objectives. Depending on the context, however, female farmers or entrepreneurs may have different preferences.”

How can we strengthen the impact of women in agriculture and food security programs in a development context?

In this post I offer four overarching considerations that are critical to improving the outcomes of women engagement and gender equality programs in agriculture and food security. These recommendations are based on work across numerous organizations and contexts the past few years with colleagues at Oxu Solutions to design, evaluate and learn from initiatives that promote women’s engagement in and empowerment through agriculture and food security programming.

1. Be clear, precise, and realistic about the ultimate desired change for the program and for women within that program

Read the full article: People, Food and Nature

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