Gender in Agriculture Partnership

Transforming agriculture to empower women and deliver food, nutrition and income security

GAP Update - Special Issue: Gender in the context of GCARD3

Special Issue of the GAP Newsletter on the occasion of the third

Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3), Johannesburg, 5-8 April 2016


Why are Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment critical to strengthen Agriculture-Nutrition Linkages?


Introduction to the theme and its importance

This Special Issue of the GAP Newsletter brings us a guest editorial by Lynn Brown, GAP Catalyst and Chair of the Nutrition workstream of the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development. Lynn has compiled evidence from recent research, demonstrating the inter-relationships between gender equality, women’s empowerment and improved agriculture for nutrition security.

Prepared in advance of the 3rd Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3) whose theme is: “No one Left Behind: Agri-food Innovation and Research for a Sustainable World”, this Special Issue is very timely as women are so very often left behind!!  

So how can we draw on the findings below, among other sources of evidence, to ensure that the challenges of achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment are brought into the GCARD3 discussions, outcomes, and future policy, research and investment commitments by GCARD3 participants, including by GAP stakeholders?

The issues highlighted are relevant to all the GCARD3 Themes:

Theme 1 (Scaling up: from research to impact) needs to consider (among others) trade-offs between a focus on cereals (“stomach fillers”) and more nutritious foods such as vegetables, fruits, and small livestock and fish products that are often women’s domain, as highlighted in the Newsletter. Also, the successes and failures of new interventions are often gendered: women tend to emphasize their families’ food and nutrition security when deciding whether to adopt new varieties (such as the orange-fleshed sweet potato to be discussed in Theme 1) while men tend to prioritize yield and income.

Under Theme 2 (Showcasing results and demonstrating impact) we need better research tools, methods and metrics to capture the dimensions of gender and demonstrate women’s economic empowerment, as exemplified in this Newsletter’s references to the Gender Agriculture and Assets Project and the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index.  

Theme 3 (Keeping science relevant and future-focused) will discuss ways of integrating gender into foresight,  with a view to developing a future collective programme to ensure this. 

Theme 4 (Sustaining the business of farming) will clearly need to address gender-related issues, including gender-differentiated attitudes to risk and incentives (for example, the nutrition incentives to stabilize women’s milk deliveries in Senegal, highlighted in the Newsletter), and the economic opportunities offered to rural women by agri-food innovation.

Finally Theme 5 (Ensuring better rural futures) must bring direct and equal consideration of the preferred futures for rural women if no one is to be left behind!

Partners in GAP – which now has members from over 700 institutions worldwide – will be looking very carefully during GCARD3 to see which priorities it should focus its future activities on, and to develop and strengthen partnerships to work in these areas for greater synergies and impacts. If you have any suggestions on priorities and/or wish to commit to a joint GAP activity, please write to the Secretariat!!

In the context of GCARD3, the Newsletter below shares the findings and implications of recent research demonstrating that gender equality and women’s empowerment are critical to strengthening agriculture-nutrition linkages to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns (SDG12) and thus to enable the attainment of SDG 2 “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” as well, of course, as SDG 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.


Editorial by Lynn Brown, GAP Catalyst and Chair of the Nutrition workstream of the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development
Agricultural research: a focus on calories rather than nutrition?

As we look to GCARD3 it’s good to think about what is agriculture’s responsibility to nutrition, and also how it impacts – often quite differently - on women and men.

I would argue that agriculture’s core responsibility is to deliver a diversified, nutritious diet for everyone. Does it do that today?  My answer would be no! Hopefully this will keep you reading! Why do I say that?

Today we have an agricultural research and production system that is overly dominated by staple grains…maize, rice, and wheat. We produce more than enough of these globally for everyone to have his or her fill. So these crops are certainly important, they are stomach fillers, but they don’t deliver a nutritious diet. Research on legumes lags behind, and that on fruits and vegetables even further.  Today we don’t even produce enough fruits and vegetables for everyone to have enough - see Siegal et al 2014

Climate change will make this worse. In fact a recent publication showed that while decreasing food supplies may lower obesity in the developed world, those impacts were more than offset by worsening diets globally, and increasing underweight in the developing world. The authors predicted that without mitigation there would be an additional half a million deaths by 2050. They concluded that:

The negative health effects associated with reductions in fruit and vegetable consumption led to 534 000 climate-related deaths (95% CI 365 000–699 000; CC SD 100 000), which far outweighed the health benefits associated with reductions in consumption of red meat (29 000 avoided deaths [95% CI 27 000–32 000]; CC SD 4000)

If we think of the 15 CGIAR Centers, no center focuses on fruits and vegetables, and only a few carry out research programs on legumes and small livestock.  The relative prices of staple grains compared to more nutritious crops, livestock products and fish also influence the food industry and the choice of raw materials they use to produce food products that shape people’s diets.


Gender and nutritious diets

If agriculture focused on meeting its obligations on nutrition, then research would also focus on fruits, vegetables, legumes, small livestock, fish and aquaculture. Its failure to do so has also resulted in a lack of attention to women’s roles in agriculture. Yes, women do grow staple grains, but they are also much more likely to be responsible for small livestock, fruits, and vegetables, and play important roles throughout capture fisheries and aquaculture value chains, and to produce these for both household consumption and local sales.

So agricultural research has also failed to serve the needs of women farmers, fishers and entrepreneurs. Crops often controlled by women have not experienced the same technological gains, the same improvements in productivity, compromising women’s ability to increase income and their consequent empowerment.  Even when both women and men grow the same crops (separately or as a family), women are often less able to benefit from new labor-saving or productivity-enhancing technologies because of gender stereotypes, norms, and customs that give them less secure access to land, smaller land areas, and inferior access to finance and credit, information, extension, services, and markets (see, for example, FAO, SOFA, 2011).

So, it’s very important that GCARD3 provides a very clear focus on how to improve productivity of crops (and livestock and fisheries/aquaculture products) produced, processed and/or marketed by women, since these foods are often the prime contributors of a more diversified diet.


Empowered women improve dietary diversity

In this newsletter we also look at some of the other materials that have come out this year that focus on agriculture, gender and nutrition and illustrate some of the points above.

The Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) CGIAR Research Program (CRP) led by IFPRI with 11 other CGIAR Centers participating has launched the Gender and Nutrition Ideas Exchange. This is a good site to follow, both for new materials and interesting blogs from researchers geared to specific days!  Check out the entry for International Pi Day…yes, that wonderful number 3.142 has its own day on March 14th.   Agnes Quisumbing, Hazel Malapit and Mysbah Balagamwala use pie charts to illustrate diet diversity or the lack thereof – more than three quarters of household calorie intake comes from starchy staples and just 9% from fruits and vegetables. They also show that increasing women’s empowerment would increase the size of the pie, i.e. increase overall calorie availability, as well as increase dietary diversity.


Trade-offs in developing women’s agriculture and nutritional outcomes for their children

Although we often argue that we should engage women more in agriculture and help them increase their productivity as this is good for household nutrition, the problem is that this commonly increases their time burdens: so what are the tradeoffs?  We know women’s time commitments are already high given their triple roles, so maybe increasing their agricultural work would worsen nutrition both for themselves and their young children.

USAID’s Agrilinks site recently hosted a post (Feb 9th 2016) by Hitomi Komatsu discussing women’s assets, workloads and nutrition outcomes.  She cites some evidence that the more assets poor women have, the higher their time burdens, and the more they sacrifice domestic and cooking work, undermining the quality of the diet for themselves and their children. The inter-linkages are, however, complex and often situation-specific, and the implications for policy and development programs need to be nuanced.

Recognizing women’s time burdens, especially the unpaid burdens, were the subject of a recent blog post by Melisa Williams at the World Bank. It was based on her work coordinating the knowledge and learning network Business, Enterprise and Employment Support (BEES) for women in South Asia. As Melissa noted:

Women are the ultimate generalists. They cook, clean, gather food and shop, raise children, care for the elderly, nurse the sick, sew clothes, get water, plant and care for crops, take care of the livestock, make handicrafts, work as day laborers, and much more.

One BEES member noted that men spent 2.5 hours per day in unpaid work compared to women’s 7.7 hours. Melissa’s blog identifies a number of ways that business enterprises have been formed to address both women’s lack of time and the need for nutritious meals. These range from a community food bank to a female run enterprise making healthy meals that cost less than 35 rupees and sell out locally before 11.00 am.


Gender, agriculture and nutrition in emergencies

We do not often think of gender, agriculture and nutrition in the context of publications on Emergencies. Check out the excellent January 2016 issue of the Field Exchange No. 51, a publication of the Emergency Nutrition Network. This edition includes a number of relevant articles. Look for a discussion of Nutrition Links in Ghana (beginning on page 16, box 1) which shows how nutrition varies with land ownership, home gardens etc. and how a new project financed by Canada is seeking to change the numbers on the ground by linking agriculture and nutrition.


Nutrition incentives can stimulate better agriculture

Another excellent article in this edition of Field Exchange focuses on nutrition incentives in contract milk production to stabilize milk deliveries to a dairy processing plant in Northern Senegal. The incentive was a micronutrient fortified yoghurt product.  Mixed with cereal and fortified with 2.1 mg of EDTA iron, the yoghurt served as an incentive to increase the regularity of milk deliveries in the dry season for contracts held by women and improved the haemogoblin levels among the women’s children aged 2-5.

While not a cost effective business model, the results may have a different value from a public health perspective, pointing to opportunities for interesting public-private partnerships. A fuller draft research paper on this Senegal work was included in the Centre for Africa Studies, Oxford University March 2016 Annual Conference (Bernard et al). This edition of Field Exchange contains many other write ups of interesting agriculture and nutrition interventions, generally mediated through women, with references to the original articles.


Women’s Empowerment and Nutrition

The Gender Agriculture and Assets Project (GAAP), led by IFPRI, has been so successful that it is moving into a second phase.  Core team members work with agricultural development projects in South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa to:

1. Identify how development projects impact men's and women’s assets;

2. Clarify which strategies have been successful in reducing gender gaps in asset access, control and ownership;

3. Improve partner organization's abilities to measure and analyze qualitative and quantitative gender and assets data in their Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) plans for current and future projects. 

One aspect of GAAP2 will be further development of the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) to enable it to be used for project monitoring – the pro WEAI. For more information on the index, see the WEAI resource site at, which provides WEAI training materials and videos, as well as publications making use of the index. This index has already been used to map domains of women’s empowerment to nutrition, for example in the following publications:

K. Cunningham, G. B. Ploubidis, P. Menon, M. T.  Ruel, S. Kadiyala, R. Uauy, and E. Ferguson. Women’s empowerment in agriculture and child nutritional status in rural Nepal. Public Health Nutrition. Article in Press. First published online on March 23, 2015

H. Malapit and A. R. Quisumbing . 2014 What dimensions of women’s empowerment in agriculture matter for nutrition-related practices and outcomes in Ghana? IFPRI Discussion Paper.

E. Sraboni, H. Malapit, A. R. Quisumbing and A. Ahmed. 2013. Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture: What Role for Improving Food Security in Bangladesh? IFPRI Discussion Paper.


If you have relevant materials (articles, blogs, videos etc) that we can also share through GAP, please don’t hesitate to send them to, or register as a Partner or Catalyst on the GAP website to directly post your materials.

We look forward to hearing from you about HOW you'd like to be involved with GAP!  Please let us know what you and your organizations are doing to improve gender equality and women’s roles in the agriculture-nutrition nexus, and contribute to the latest discussions on LinkedIn!

We greatly appreciate this Special Issue by Lynn Brown, and would very much welcome other GAP Catalysts also contributing special issues of the GAP Newsletter.  If you’d like to prepare a special issue on a topic of your choice, please contact Charles Plummer (


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Photo credits: first- FAO; second-   ; third- Melissa Williams

GAP Update is a briefing service from the Gender in Agriculture Partnership, a partnership open to all those who work for the economic empowerment of women in agriculture. Our aim is to keep you regularly informed and aware of new initiatives and actions around the world.