Gender, Climate Change and Agriculture
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The agricultural sector employs 60 percent of women in Southern Asia. Despite women’s large role in agriculture, however, there remains a gender gap in access to resources and agricultural productivity. As a result of this gender gap, male and female farmers in South Asia and other developing countries have different abilities to adapt to climate change, climate variability, and weather-related shocks. The journal Gender, Technology and Development recently released a special issue entitled “Gender, Climate Change and Agriculture,” which brings together five papers investigating the relationship between gender disparities, agriculture, and climate change.

One paper discusses the role of communities and organizations and their impact on strengthening the adaptive capacity and food security of smallholders based on community-level participatory and organizational-level interviews from 15 sites across West Africa, East Africa, and South Asia (including India). Information was collected on the role of organizations in each local community, whether they work on food security or not, and the value households place on the importance of these organizations. The study finds that in all regions, women tend to value local organizations more highly than men and that women’s perception of food security is broader than men’s, going beyond production and including other aspects such as health. However, most of the local organizations with food security as a stated objective (two-thirds of the total in South Asia) focus on production which can marginalize women. The paper recommends that given the effects that climate change is predicted to have on food security, development organizations should consider the differing priorities and preferences of men and women (for instance the preference for community based self-help groups by women) and use a gendered perspective when building adaptive capacity to respond to climate change and improve food security.

Another paper investigates whether climate information services received through mobile phones can support gender-inclusive agriculture through productivity improvements for both men and women. The study focuses on a pilot project, Mobile Solutions, conducted in the Indian states of Haryana and Bihar. Mobile Solutions is an ICT-based climate and agro-services project which aims to promote the adoption of climate-smart agriculture practices as well as increase awareness about climate risk management among farmers. The project sends voice and text messages in Hindi or in a local language to the farmers’ mobile phones twice a week. Messages include weather forecasts and recommended actions that farmers could take, as well as information on pests and remedies, seed varieties, and climate-smart technologies such as conservation agriculture.

A total of 1,100 farmers were included in the project, 510 of which were asked to provide direct feedback on the usability and effectiveness of the information provided. The study finds that climate information services distributed through the mobile phone can reduce knowledge gaps that exist between large and small farmers and between women and men and that women and men farmers spent roughly the same amount of time listening to voice messages. Weather-related information was found to be the most relevant to all the farmers, regardless of gender, and 98.6 percent of the women in the study indicated that they found the information they received useful and more than 80 percent of both male and female farmers made changes in their agricultural practices. Based on these results, the paper concludes that providing low-cost information through mobile phones can address resource constraints for women farmers, especially considering that the costs of attaining information from other sources is generally high for women, and can potentially increase incomes through improved production.

Several common themes emerge across the different gender aspects of agricultural production investigated in this issue. Most importantly, addressing gender inequality in agriculture involves more than just overcoming unequal access to resources.  The papers also highlight that technology alone is not sufficient to support agricultural improvements; rather, such improvements need to be understood in the context of local knowledge, culture, gender relations, capacities, and ecosystems to prevent technology from reinforcing existing gender and power imbalances. A key common recommendation of the papers is that technologies and initiatives need to be developed and implemented in a framework that considers gender relations and that focuses on reinforcing women’s resources and decision-making capacities.

By: Bas Paris

Photo credit:Flickr, ADB