New evidence on gender and agriculture productivity


By Jemimah Njuki

It is now a known and accepted fact that gender issues and specifically women’s low access to productive resources is a major cause of differences in productivity between male and female managed farms. There have been many discussions on measurements of these productivity gaps, their causes and possible solutions. The State of Food and Agriculture 2011 focusing on women and agriculture made the first global quantitative assessment of the productivity gaps and their implications. The report had some profound findings—that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, agricultural productivity would increase by 20-30% and agricultural output would go up by close to 4%. The additional production would be enough to feed an additional 100-150 million people. This is more than changes from introduction of new technologies! And who said gender does not matter!

A new report by the World Bank and ONE up campaign adds to our existing knowledge of what it will take to reduce this productivity gap. The key findings from the report are;

  1. That women continue to produce less per hectare than their male counterparts. This varies by countries ranging from a low of 13% in Uganda to a high of 25% in Malawi. And when you compare men and women with similar land sizes, these differences are even more stark-they range from a low of 23% in Tanzania to a high of 66% in Niger. If nothing else, these figures should really spur both programmatic and policy actions to reduce these gaps in productivity.
  2. While the FAO report focuses on access to productive resources by women as the main strategy for reducing the productivity gaps, this new report gives new insights—equalising access to resources will not necessarily lead to changes in reducing the productivity gap because, women have lower returns anyway to the resources they already have.
    The methodology in this report looks at not only the quantity and levels of resources that women use, but also assesses the returns that they receive from these resources, or how well these resources actually translate into increased agricultural productivity. And what the report finds is quite interesting: Even in countries where women have the same resources as men, this equal access does not translate into equal productivity. What this means is that there are other causes to these differences in productivity. The report summarises these as cultural norms, market failures and institutional factors that still constrain women. What does this mean in practice? It means that for example even in countries where women have equal access to extension as men do, the extension messages are more suited to men than they are to women and women cannot effectively use this extension advise.
  3. Not every factor matters in every country and both policy and programmatic interventions have to take into account the context and the main barriers in that country for women to have equal productivity as men. The report identifies several important areas for intervention: access to labour, differences in the use of and returns to fertilizers and other inputs, women’s security of land tenure even when they have access to land, the gender gap in education, unsuitability of extension information to the needs of smallholder farmers and market access.

The African Union has declared 2014 to be the “Year of Agriculture and Food Security”, bringing much needed attention to the sector’s potential to transform the continent. Addressing these gender gaps must be central to any strategies to increase agricultural productivity in the continent.

While previous efforts have dealt with gender from the margins, studies like this point to the need to meaningfully put gender at the top of the agenda. If 22% to 66% of differences in women’s and men’s productivity is attributed to access to and returns to resources by women compared to men, then surely addressing this must be at the top of any agenda aiming to increase productivity and agricultural output in the continent.

Read the full report here


Changing perceptions on gender equality


At the TEDx on Women in Agriculture -Washingto DC

The last few days, I have been reading a few recent documents on gender issues in Africa. One of the interesting ones is the Afrobarometer study on  public perceptions on gender equality. ( This is a study that covers 34 countries and interviews over 50,000 people. While the report shows great support for gender equality in the continent, the devil, as people say, is in the details.

A majority of women say women should have equal rights with men and not have to be subjected to customary law, and this support has been going up since the first Afrobarometer survey in 2002. One in three Africans think only men should be elected as political leaders, and close to one in five believe that if funds were limited, priority for education should be given to the boy, rather than to the child with the best ability.

Women are worse off in North Africa where they face much more discrimination. Perceptions of gender equality in these countries is quite mixed especially between men and women. Only a third of the men believe a woman can be president or that a woman should initiate divorce. And women’s perceptions are quite similar! Only a half of the women believe a woman can be president or prime minister or should initiate a divorce. This lack of confidence in women’s own belief of their capabilities and rights comes from an acceptance of the status quo–if a situation is manifested for a long time, it starts to seem  normal and acceptable!

And this phenomena is not just in politics or leadership. In a study my former colleagues and I did at the International Livestock Research Institute, we found that close to 70% of women believed that if they suffered gender based violence, it was because they deserved it and a similar proportion believed such cases should not be discussed with the public or reported to the police because they are internal family issues.

This acceptance of the status quo of gender inequality has implications for development programs, civil rights and women’s rights organisations.  For gender equality to be achieved, it has to start with changing the perceptions of both men and women towards gender equality and especially building women’s confidence and women’s awareness of their self worth and of their rights.



Assessing progress towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls: Progress made but more needs to be done!


The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) met last month for its 58th session. The main agenda was to review progress made on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls.

The main message coming out of the meeting was yes, progress has been made, but much more needs to be done to reduce gender inequalities across all the MDGs. The Commission noted that the achievement of the MDGs has been slow and uneven both within and across countries.

While there is a goal (MDG 3) dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment, gender is relevant and critical in the achievement of all the other goals, and the achievement of these goals is critical for the status of women and girls.

The assessment does not paint a rosy picture of the status of the MDGs as far as women and girls are concerned. In three of the MDGs, the commission noted positive progress, while in the other five, it was clear targets would not be met.

Some of the MDGs where progress has been made is MDG 2 (Achieve universal primary education) where significant progress has been made in net primary school enrolments and towards eliminating gender disparity in primary education enrolment. The commission however expressed concern on the focus on numbers at primary level that has led to less focus on quality of education and transition of girls and young women to secondary and tertiary education. The majority of youth lacking basic education are young women.

Another goal where progress has been made is MDG 4 (Reduce child mortality) where significant progress has been made in reducing child mortality globally including through the efforts to eliminate new HIV infections and vertical transmissions in children, and other factors including lack of vaccines, malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, hunger and anemia. The commission however notes the interconnectedness of child mortality and women’s empowerment and the targets for this goal may be missed especially for poor countries and countries with high gender inequalities.

For MDG 7, the assessment concludes that while progress has been made globally in access to safe drinking water, progress on access to basic sanitation has been particularly slow, and the target is likely to be missed, with serious implications for women and girls, especially those living in vulnerable conditions. The Commission expressed concern at the disproportionate impact of climate change, natural disasters and other environmental disasters on women and girls.

On all the other MDGs, the commission notes that little progress has been made globally and there are great disparities between countries. Women remain disproportionally poorer than men, labour markets and wages remain unequal, maternal mortality remains high especially in poor and rural areas, number of women with HIV has increased globally since 2001 and not enough funding is going to women focused programs.

Not enough progress has been made on MDG3 (Promote gender equality and empower women) where progress has been noted to be slow with: “persistent gender disparities in some regions in secondary and tertiary education enrolment; the lack of economic empowerment, autonomy, and independence of women including lack of integration into the formal economy, unequal access to full and productive employment and decent work, under-representation in non-agricultural wage employment, over-representation in low paid jobs and gender-stereotyped jobs like domestic and care work, and the lack of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value; as well as the unequal burden of unpaid care work and insufficient measures to reconcile paid work and care responsibilities; the persistence of discriminatory attitudes, norms, stereotypes, and legal frameworks; insufficient social protection and insurance coverage for women; and despite progress, the low proportion and unequal participation and representation of women at all levels of decision making, including in national parliaments and other governance structures”.

One of the main concerns by the commission that has implications for research is the absence of consistent sex disaggregated data that would allow for a rigorous assessment of the situation of women and girls with regards to all the eight MDGs. This needs to be looked at in the broader context of mainstreaming gender and integrating gender perspectives in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of future development goals.

The Commission recommends a standalone goal on Women’s empowerment and gender equality that takes into account aspects of gender inequality such as gender- based violence, women and girls disproportionate share of care and unpaid work, the gender wage gap, and women’s access to assets and productive resources including land that have been missing from the current goals.