Who’s Farming?

Woman in field with hoe.

Madagascar. A woman prepares her field for a peanut crop. Source: 2006 C. de Bode/Panos

Many agricultural development programs are launched with a faulty assumption: that the farmer is a man. But millions of small-scale farms in developing countries are actually farmed by women. When they get this wrong, interventions risk failure. In many cases, governments and aid agencies simply don’t know who’s farming where.

Better Data for Better Outcomes

To help fill in the blanks, IFPRI and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) created the Gender Mapper, a crowd-sourcing effort to collect and share data on where men and women are farming in Africa south of the Sahara. By providing a more informed picture of farmers on the ground, the data should help development practitioners direct interventions to the right person.

“Any type of agricultural research should include information about gender. It’s key to introducing interventions that are gender equitable and that accurately target the right farmer or decisionmaker,” says Ruth Meinzen-Dick, an IFPRI senior research fellow. “And it leads to better outcomes.”

At the Gender Mapper website (gender.mappr.info), extension workers, researchers, or anyone who is familiar with a particular locale can specify who is doing most of the farming work, who makes the most decisions, and who controls the products or income in villages and communities throughout West, East, and Southern Africa. The Gender Mapper team will enrich the site by including gender data from agricultural censuses and other national datasets. “The more data the Mapper can house,” says Meinzen-Dick, “the more useful it will be for current and future researchers and policymakers.”

Gender Matters

There are many ways that interventions directed to women might differ from those directed to men. One difference can be as simple as the design of a farming tool. Most are constructed to fit a male physique. Providing a woman farmer with a smaller, lighter-weight hoe will generate better results. Training materials may also differ. In many areas women farmers receive less formal education than men, so designing agricultural training materials at lower literacy levels gives women farmers the opportunity to learn and apply new skills.

Governments and aid donors are increasingly aware of women’s roles in agriculture, says Meinzen-Dick, but only when they take gender into account in their programs will they have their intended impact.

For more information on this topi:

A discussion of how to map the gender of farmers

A measure of women’s empowerment, agency, and inclusion in the agriculture sector

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