Gender gap widening in family farming

The Food and Agriculture Organization defines family farming as “a means of organizing agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production, which is managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on family labour. The family and the farm are linked, co-evolve and combine economic, environmental, reproductive, social and cultural functions”

It follows that family farming is not only a means of production but a way of life, a mode of preserving and transmitting culture and agricultural knowledge.

However, numerous factors constrain family farmers, including low prices for products and high costs of inputs, the volatility of markets, competition from powerful interests for scarce land and water resources, the need to adapt to climate change and the neglect of agriculture in development policies.…

In addition to the above described challenges, the gender gap in agriculture further hampers the potential of family farming. This is especially worrying given the prominent role of women in agriculture: women represent on average 43 percent of the agricultural labour force, yetin many countries their productive role is relegated to that of unpaid family labour, and as a consequence women are in many cases excluded from statistics. Hence, women are often invisible in agricultural censuses.

Moreover, the majority of small-scale farmers are women, yet due to structural barriers, they have lower productivity levels compared with men, and thus their contributions are marginalized.

In the context of family farming, there are several critical areas where gender inequalities should be addressed to ensure the sustainable enhancement of production and livelihoods. Among the inequalities accounting for women’s under-performance in family farming are their lower access to productive resources; intra-household division of labour, of which women bear the brunt; discrimination from formal and customary institutions, particularly with regards to inheritance, property rights and land tenure; the exclusion of women farmers from groups such as producers’ organizations, which are often a source of knowledge, inputs and power; and women’s lack of access to the resources and learning opportunities provided by Rural Advisory Services extension, which are crucial to making the most productive use of men and women farmers’ time.

Although RAS provision in developing economies remains low for both women and men, women tend to have even less access than men, despite attempts to mainstream gender into agricultural extension delivery in the last decades.

According to a 1988–89 FAO survey on agricultural extension covering 97 countries with sex-disaggregated data, only five percent of all extension resources were directed toward women. Nevertheless, evidence shows that closing this gender gap would unlock the productivity potential of women.

FAO estimates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent and could increase agricultural output in the developing world by 2.5 to four percent, on average, with higher gains in countries where women are more involved in agriculture and the gender gap is wider.

The increase in female productivity is conditional on substantial changes in gender relations and the successful engagement of men, who must consider themselves partners and beneficiaries of gender equality and the sharing of productive recourses.

Furthermore, women’s contributions to food security go beyond their productivity levels due to their role as primary caretakers in the household. Women directly provide for food security (prenatal nutrition, breastfeeding) and invest in the overall well-being of the family (food, children’s education) comparatively more than men.

The Food and Agriculture Organization is an agency of the United Nations.

This was an excerpt from Enhancing the Potential of Family Farming for Poverty Reduction and Food Security Through Gender-Sensitive Rural Advisory Services. For the full document, visit

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