by Patrick Bell
In yesterday’s blog post, I talked about how this International Women’s Day coincides with the start of LWR’s Learning for Gender Integration (LGI) initiative, where we hope to learn how to create equal opportunities for men and women to benefit from our work in communities around the world.
Today I’d like to talk a bit about why a gender-integrated approach is better and what we’ve learned so far.
Talking to Men & Women Farmers
In the design stage of our three model projects — located in India, Uganda and Nicaragua — we spoke to men and women farmers separately to learn how their experiences as farmers are different and to identify the gaps that exist between them in terms of the ability to benefit from farming. In many instances we found that women face more barriers than men to reaping the rewards of agricultural activity.
Here are some of the findings from our discussions, reflecting some key constraints we are seeking to address through our model projects:
- Husbands and wives typically farm separate plots. Most of what women grow is used for family consumption, whereas the men sell their produce and therefore have access to cash.
- Women maize (corn) farmers lack access to fertilizers and improved seeds because they do not have cash at their disposal. This means they cannot produce enough maize to have a surplus to sell.
- Since heads of households are usually men, they are the landowners and therefore possess the collateral that allows them to access credit. Unlike their wives, they can use the credit to buy agricultural inputs, like seeds and fertilizer.
By ensuring that women have the same access as men to improved seeds and fertilizers, our project will also help women produce better yields and have an opportunity to make an income from selling part of their produce. This will raise the income of the family as a whole.
The farmers we are working with here are members of a new cooperative. However, as a new cooperative it hasn’t taken necessary measures to respond to the limitations women face in benefiting from its services. For example:
- While both women and men are members of the cooperative, women have much less access to credit services.
- 90% of landowners are men.
By helping the cooperative develop more inclusive and equitable policies, through our project women members will enjoy the same benefits as men, which will allow them to increase their production levels and incomes.
- Men have to leave home for several months every year to find jobs that supplement their incomes because they are not able to produce enough food on their plots at home.
- Women have to get up before daylight and travel to forests to collect wood to sell. They need the money to buy food because they are unable to grow enough to meet their needs. After collecting wood, they have to take care of domestic duties as well as tend the family plots of land.
- The tasks assigned to women in family farming are often more time-consuming than men’s tasks.
By working with these families to help them integrate improved farming techniques, supporting them with seeds and fertilizers, and by introducing irrigation systems which allow them to grow new kinds of crops, LWR will help them to produce enough food so that the men do not have to leave home for months at a time, and the women do not have to spend extra hours gathering wood to sell. Furthermore, negotiations between men and women around gender roles in agriculture can lead to more equal use of time.
These are just a few of the issues being actively addressed through our model projects.
However, there are other issues which are common to all three communities in the three countries, and which require a more gradual approach in the search for a solution. These are questions of decision-making at the household level. In this case, each project in its own way is providing a space in which husbands and wives are encouraged to discuss new strategies for the use of household resources, including income and time, which are fairer and benefit the whole family.
Join us today on International Women’s Day as we celebrate these new model projects which signal a fairer approach to agricultural programming and greater rewards for women farmers.