Farming has always been a key occupation for women in developing countries. But most female farmers produce food crops for home consumption rather than cash crops. In recent decades, women’s presence in farming has only continued to grow with the increased importance of agro processing and export horticulture, and the creation of global agricultural supply chains linked to supermarkets. But this growing presence has not translated into their growing power in the agricultural sector. Successful commercial female farmers who have switched into profitable crops traditionally controlled by men remain the exception, and there is much to learn from them.

Summary of Lessons

Secure land rights increase investments in land fertility have empowerment effects for women within families, and reduce the vulnerability of women and households to economic shocks. Granting women land rights is strongly associated with increases in the productivity of women farmers and their economic security and autonomy. Educating women and households about their land rights may yield high returns since legal knowledge associated with land rights determines farmers’ land-related investments, and research shows that only a minority of land users have knowledge about these rights.

Successful large-scale land registration programs in Ethiopia and Rwanda had large positive effects on land investments and farm yields, especially among female-headed farm households.

Land-use rights held by women in Vietnam had a number of beneficial effects, including higher household expenditures (per capita expenditures were 5.3 percent higher when certificates were held by women and only 3.6 percent higher when they were held by men), higher education for women and lower daily hours of housework.

Farmer groups, associations or collectives can provide individual women producers with access to markets and help overcome constraints they face in meeting the demands of agricultural supply chains.

Successful projects with small-scale women farmers or agricultural producers are those that provide an integrated suite of services rather than one single service. The services must target production and marketing and be tailored to address social constraints. Single services may be enough to improve the productivity of women with larger farms, more assets, and more control over their assets. Common services provided include modern farm inputs, such as fertilizer, seeds and irrigation, knowledge and extension, and financial services.

Some common lessons for improving productivity for entrepreneurs on and off the farm include rural electrification as well as providing price information via mobile phones. In addition, interventions targeting rural producers are more likely to succeed in settings where women have a greater degree of autonomy.

In Uganda, farmer groups and women’s networks disseminate messages helping to close the gender gap in access to information on new varieties and farm management practices. Producer groups in Bangladesh have used group savings to purchase dairy cows in the groups’ name.

In India, a rural electrification program that increased coverage from 74 percent of rural households with electricity in 2005 to 91 percent in 2011 increased hours in employment by more than 17 percent for women and only 1.5 percent for men. Electricity extended the hours of operation of household businesses and per capita household income and food expenditures increased significantly with access to electricity. Poverty incidence decreased significantly.

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