Researchers and policy experts worldwide say one of the keys to improving agriculture and nutrition in developing countries is to address a “gender gap.”
Studies show one reason the agriculture sector underperforms in these countries is that women have reduced access to land, fertilizer, technology, extension and credit (1).
This especially holds true in Haiti, among the world’s most food insecure countries, where 39 percent of rural households are headed by women (2) and the majority of them are smallholder farmers. Researchers have observed that this gender gap limits the productivity of Haiti’s agricultural economy.
“The problem is particularly pronounced in female-headed households, which compared to male-headed households use fewer inputs, have less productive farms [and] lower incomes, and suffer from higher rates of food insecurity,” according to a World Bank report on the challenges and opportunities in rural Haiti.
Addressing gender disparities in agriculture
This is the context behind “Addressing Gender Issues in Agricultural Technology Design, Use and Dissemination,” a three-day workshop in Port-au-Prince that was organized by the Appui à la Recherche et au Développement Agricole, or AREA project. Twenty-five Haitian researchers, Ministry of Agriculture officials and other agricultural professionals attended the Oct. 1-3 training to learn ways to address gender disparities when designing programs and outreach efforts to introduce agricultural technologies, which includes everything from higher-yielding seeds and fertilizer to better farming equipment.
“Gender disparities are widespread in Haiti,” said Taisha Venort, a gender and extension specialist with AREA, a University of Florida-managed project that assists Haitian agricultural researchers, professionals and institutions to modernize the country’s agricultural sector. As part of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future initiative, AREA incorporates women into every component of its activities in an effort to achieve gender parity.
“While women play key roles in most agricultural value chains, they are often limited in reaching their full potential. This is important for extension agents and stakeholders to understand as they aim to better support the involvement women,” Venort said. The value chain describes the full range of activities to bring a product to market: accessing credit, procuring raw materials, planting, hiring labor, harvesting, processing, storing, transporting and selling.
Venort led the training with Cait Nordehn, a gender specialist with Cultural Practice, an international development consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. Cultural Practice designed the training, which it previously delivered in countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Sierra Leone.
In Haiti, the participants learned about the principles of how to integrate gender considerations when introducing innovations designed to improve the country’s value chain. They learned the best practices for conducting a gender analysis of technologies and providing recommendations to better reach women — as well as men. In small groups, they discussed how social norms and institutions shape opportunities for women and men. Through the use of a case study, they discovered ways to identify gender-related challenges and opportunities.
By the end of the workshop, each participant developed a plan of action their institutions can take to improve the attention they give to gender considerations.
Using a gender and technology toolkit
Venort and AREA researchers also presented the preliminary findings of a pilot project to use a Cultural Practice-developed tool (3) to assess the adoption of an agricultural technology, in this case Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bags, which had been introduced to women and men farmers in two regions of Haiti. Research shows that farmers who use these bags can reduce their postharvest losses compared with bags commonly used to store grains.
“This case study demonstrated to the group how they can use a gender and technology toolkit to improve agricultural technology design and dissemination in the Haitian context,” Venort said.
Attendees said they gained a better awareness of the importance of targeting women as they try to help farmers improve the yields of their crops and increase incomes.
“If technologies are available to them, women can improve incomes from agricultural activities,” said Luckner Saint Fleur an agronomist with the Haitian Foundation for Sustainable Agricultural Development, or FONDHAD. The foundation manages the Bas Boën Rural Center for Sustainable Development (CRDD), an agricultural research and extension center and one of AREA’s partners. “Women could play a larger role in Haitian agriculture if there is good relationship between men and women.”
Christine Melissa Pierre from the Ministry of Agriculture said she wished the workshop was even longer so she could learn more about case studies taking into account gender when evaluating new agricultural technologies.
Nordehn said the participants’ high level of engagement indicated they hit the mark of sparking critical thinking about how gender issues affect research and development projects. “They can better identify options that benefit women and men while also leading to better project outcomes, and ultimately improve the wellbeing of farmers,” she said.
“I think we definitely achieved the objectives of the training. I was particularly excited to hear how some of the trainees would apply what they’ve learned to their work.”
While agriculture in Haiti faces ever tougher challenges — ranging from increased food demand to the impact of climate change — one thing seems clear: gender matters. And, equipping women with the right tools, training and technology is crucial for Haiti to feed its growing population.
For more information
1. This is according to a growing body of research, including the findings of the CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research, or CGIAR, a global research partnership developed to reduce poverty and enhance food and nutrition security.
2. See page 118 of the report, Women in Agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development, from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
3. The assessment was developed by Cultural Practice to help researchers and practitioners to improve the design and dissemination of agricultural technologies in ways that increase adoption by men and women farmers. It was created under the USAID-funded Integrating Gender and Nutrition with Agricultural Extension Services, or INGENAES, a project led by the University of Illinois in partnership with the University of Florida and the University of California-Davis. Learn more about the technology assessment methodology and toolkit.