Women in household production systems

      Bedouin family    

The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) is working intensively with women, who play a main role in the agricultural economy – particularly in arid areas where rainfed agriculture and livestock are a major source of family income, discusses Taghrid Lahham on the theme of ‘Women in household production systems'. This document reviews the available literature on women in agriculture in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) with the purpose of:

  • defining women's role in food production

  • identifying major constraints that women face as contributors to farm household security and livelihood and

  • assisting in developing gender-related priority research activities at ICARDA. In addition to showing that rural women in the region are crucial in agricultural production, the paper also highlights women's limited access to and control over productive resources such as land, inputs, technology and support services such as extension, information, training and marketing.

In spite of a shortage of qualitative and quantitative data, this paper clearly shows that women's contribution to agricultural production in WANA is significant. It also shows that women's work complements men's work. Women spend long hours daily performing many time-consuming and labour-intensive tasks in crop and livestock production. These efforts contribute substantially to farm income and household welfare. Though their exact contribution in terms of time, effort and income has yet to be quantified, women have significant and increasing responsibility in agricultural work, both as hired workers and as family labourers.

Women are responsible for animal care and operations that are not yet mechanized (for example planting, weeding, harvesting and post-harvesting tasks) in cultivating major food crops. This is in addition to their activities within the household, such as reproduction, child-rearing, house-keeping and fetching water and fuel.

The paper also shows that while agricultural tasks are divided between men and women, as in the rest of the world, men and women work together to ensure household livelihood and they will perform each other's tasks if conditions require it. The extent of women's involvement in agriculture depends on their social and economic status, their age, marital status and factors such as landlessness, size of landholdings, farming systems, land management practices and labour market forces.

It is important for ICARDA to pay attention to gender analysis and especially to the effect of increased yields that result from improved varieties of cereal and legumes. Increased yields may cause more work for women in harvesting and post-harvesting activities, such as cleaning, sorting and bagging. ICARDA could research:

  • The implications of this additional labour on women's workload. Does an increased workload indicate the need for equipment to assist them in conducting these tasks?

  • Whether women receive any benefits from this increased workload. This may depend on household dynamics, culture, social structure, etc. If women don't benefit, what can ICARDA do to offset this?

      Bedouin woman with child    

By examining these issues, ICARDA can reach a better understanding about:

  • The quality and acceptability of the final products which emerge from its research in germ plasm enhancement. Adopting high-yielding varieties may require additional resources (in this case manual or mechanical equipment and tools for cleaning, bagging and sorting). Do these additional requirements affect the likelihood of adoption of these new high-yielding varieties?                                                                                            

  • The extent to which women are involved in subsistence cereal production (especially harvesting in Morocco, Syria and Baluchistan in Pakistan) and who is responsible for seed selection in cereal production.

  • The impact of better management techniques (for example herbicide use and planting dates) on the intensity and timing of men's and women's labour. Do these techniques increase or decrease workloads? Are women involved in the decisions regarding these management techniques?

  • Constraints facing women in livestock production regarding feeding, animal hygiene, disease control and health issues.

  • Technologies to improve dairy production (such as better feed) which could improve women's income from selling milk, yogurt, cheese and ghee.

  • Women's role in natural resource conservation and management. Women can become important collaborators in developing technologies for natural resource conservation and management since they are the ones who primarily gather and use water and fuel for households.

  • Women's role in rangeland management and the use and the potential impact of new rangeland management techniques (for example sown pasture) on women.