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Researchers are looking inward to address gender inequities. Today's young scientists recognize that many research-for-development projects - even ones that produced high returns on investment in the past – have often been "gender blind" or have wrongly been assumed to be gender neutral.  Gender-sensitive research benefits women, youth, and other marginalized groups in developing countries -- such as the landless poor.

80% -  Amount of farm labor provided by women in Asia and Africa

70% – Share of agricultural land owned by men in West Africa

100 million – The number of people who could escape poverty if women achieve gender parity


It’s been said often enough but bears repeating:  women are the mainstay of the developing world’s agricultural economies. No one disputes the numbers:

  • In Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, women account for as much as 80% of labor involved in planting, weeding, post-harvest processing and producing crops for home consumption.
  • In recent years, gender inequalities have become even more significant as the number of female-headed households has grown. Today, one out of five farms is headed by a woman.
  • Women are far more likely than men to channel their income from agriculture into the nutrition, health and education of their children. According to FAO, tackling gender differences could increase agricultural output as much as 4% each year, and lift an estimated 100 million people out of poverty.
  • In Africa, women own just 1% of the agricultural land, receive only 7% of available extension services, and are able to access less than 10% of all agricultural credit. Ironically, in many countries women are not even perceived as “farmers”, and agricultural extension, information, and credit is directed almost exclusively to men. 

What needs to change?

Land rights provide a good starting point. Growing evidence suggests that providing women with the right to own land would stimulate investment, boost productivity and profits, promote land stewardship, and greatly improve the health and well being of children. It's not just land ownership, however, but all that goes with it - access to creditextension services, and new technology, especially improved seeds and new technology and agronomic practices.

All are central to overcoming poverty and inequality. So too is ownership and control of such assets as housing, livestock, and commercial enterprises. But the deep-seated social inequities that have denied women an effective voice can also be found closer to home, within the research and development organizations established to eliminate hunger and poverty. Thankfully, things are changing as more women assume positions of authority and as younger scientists rise within the ranks.

Can research help?

Increasingly, the international agricultural research community has come to recognize the importance of embracing an R&D paradigm that is gender-equitable and, ultimately, gender transformational. It is not merely an issue of political correctness or ideology; it is a matter of effectiveness. ICRISAT is no exception.

For more than two decades ICRISAT has considered gender-related research to be a central part of its research for development portfolio, and the Institute has assembled a large body of quantitative data and publications about the impact of gender inequity and how it impedes the adoption and diffusion of new technologies.

More recently, gender was codified as a central element of ICRISAT R4D agenda through its Inclusive Market-Oriented Development framework (IMOD). This framework is designed to help the rural poor - the majority of whom are female and under 25 years of age – take advantage of modern agricultural science by harnessing market forces. Early indications are that it is a winning strategy. 

IMOD's goal is to help the dryland farmers grow their way out of subsistence through marketed-oriented agriculture that provides the means to escape poverty for good. Gone are the days when researchers assumed that the interface between technology development and markets would simply take care of itself.

ICRISAT is also strengthening its gender portfolio through two global CGIAR Research Programs. Gender has been assigned a high priority in each Research Program – GrainLegumes and DrylandCereals – and each has professional staff that conducts gender analysis and addresses gender-specific research questions. Both programs seek to produce technology that increases employment opportunities for women, improves efficiency, and reduces drudgery.

The Research Programs also emphasize social and gender-based equity research in an effort to create a more thorough understanding of the conditions needed to help women participate fully and equally in decision-making. Two key objectives are to support researchers working in other fields and to help mainstream activities that increase the participation of women in technology testing. The allocation of female labor and the identification of productivity gaps between men and women are also given a high priority.

Providing women with the right to own land stimulates investment, boosts productivity and profits, promotes land stewardship, and greatly improves the health and well being of children. Equally important are ready access to credit, extension services, and new technologies, especially improved seeds and agronomic practices.
Gender-sensitive agricultural research by ICRISAT and its partners places an emphasis on youth and recognizes the need to help young people contribute in more meaningful ways to improving the livelihoods of rural households in the semi-arid tropics.
Kenyan chickpea farmers benefit from improved varieties that match their preferences –as producers, consumers, and for marketing purposes. To help make sure their needs are met, thousands have contributed to ICRISAT’s participatory breeding programs in Africa and Asia.