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Query: Are agriculture programs supporting women to improve their livelihood?

Dear all, 

I would like to draw your attention to the online discussion going on on the EvalForward Community of Practice, copied below.

You can find more information and contributions on the website: 

Comments from members of the Gender & Evaluation CoP are welcome.

All the best, 



Are agriculture programs supporting women to improve their livelihoods? 

Dear members, 

Women constitute the majority of the agricultural labour force in small-scale and subsistence farming. According to FAO, 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries is comprised by women and yet they account for an estimated two-thirds of the world's 600 million poor livestock keepers. (

What are the lessons learnt from agriculture programs with regards to the activities of the women in the agricultural sector?  Which recommendations by evaluators have made (or could have made) a positive difference in the farming practices as well as the livelihood of these women and their families? To what extent have the programs empowered the women? Have the programs encouraged and supported women to become entrepreneurs, moving from subsistence to commercial farming? Are the initiatives of agriculture programs more male focused than female focused? Should programs be gender free or gender focused?

I look forward to your responses.

Kind regards,

Jackie Yiptong Avila

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Replies to This Discussion

Response sent by Kanchan Lama, Nepal through email . Her profile at

1. What are the lessons learnt from agriculture programs with regards to the activities of the women in the agricultural sector?  

A recent assessment on the status of women from diverse groups of communities in accessing agricultural services and sharing benefits in market sector, implemented by USAID funded KISAN II project, reports   on emerging opportunities to engage women in a much broader way in terms of involvement in commercial agriculture and market systems. Even the private sectors in general recognize that women are easier group to engage for market expansion than many marginalized groups which are often seen as requiring more work or entail more ‘risk’. However due to discriminatory social norms and values restrict women’s mobility in certain specific communities under religious and cultural systems. For example, the Muslim women are the most restricted in mobility due to their cultural and social norms. The study also points out to the need to develop special strategies by agricultural development programmes to include programme on gender /social awareness (sensitization) to discourage discriminatory gender norms as one priority activity which must include appropriate institutional accountability to ensure that M&E system address that improvements in participation, leadership, empowerment are measured and reported through qualitative assessment of gender impacts along with quantitative evidences.    

2. Which recommendations by evaluators have made (or could have made) a positive difference in the farming practices as well as the livelihood of these women and their families?  

Involvement of women farmers in Farmers Field Schools, Leader farmers’ role and in managing agricultural cooperatives through specially focused programmes have resulted in enhanced economic advancement of women farmers. Nevertheless, this empowerment has yet to become reflected in advancing women and men’s equal power sharing regarding decisions regarding productive resources, e.g., land and agricultural products. Another most common important recommendation frequently given by evaluators is to provide women farmers appropriate technology to save time and labour. The countries providing such alternate technologies definitely can claim an increase in production of agricultural goods as well as improving household nutrition and well-being . In this regard, Nepal remains far behind compared to some other countries in Asian region. Although there is an increasing concern on providing support to develop climate resilient agricultural approaches, yet there is a low  priority on providing such appropriate technologies in the remote areas . Contiguous research and services are  preconditions for the mountain farmers as of immediate action. Another strategic recommendation forwarded by majority gender assessment is that of creating alternate system of land ownership so that women can take economic decisions without any fear of loosing control over household resources. The relationship of agriculture development programmes to that of raising awareness and status of household nutrition is very important.  Many agriculture development programmes seldom address such coordination. The Global Agriculture and Food Security support project (GAFSP)” implemented in several countries, (funded by World Bank) has established certain examples in Nepal that of coordination among Department of Health, Livestock, Agriculture to operationalize the project where agricultural development activities are implemented through Village mothers Health groups involved in UNICEF’s “Thousand golden days of motherhood”. The programme strategy was also influenced by already proven successful programme of combining home gardening with behavioural change in nutritional food intake on Suahara (healthy meal) introduced by Hellen Keller International and scaled up by various organizations including Save the Children in Nepal.  

A useful recommendation usually given by evaluators for developing and engaging female extension  staff for effective communication between service providers and women farmers, has not yet been practiced by government agencies to a satisfactory level. Also due to lack of institutional coordination between irrigation and agriculture departments hinders the overall outcome in agricultural production which ultimately impacts household economy and well being. 

3. To what extent have the programs empowered the women?  

In many cases, by default women farmers are taking leadership in agriculture production and cooperative management. However in most cases it relates to their labour participation. Their secondary position in household decisions make them dependent on the formal marketing matters. Empowerment of women happening differently for women from different socio -cultural contexts, by age, marital status, religious background and in some cases, by educational level. An overall view is that although participation of women farmers in agriculture development programmes has increased, their participation in policy development , planning and monitoring is not ensured by majority programmes; this is what must be addressed as a serious gap during designing and implementing agriculture development programmes. The voice of the marginalized women farmers need to be documented and responded in all agriculture research, monitoring and evaluation in order to measure gender transformative changes. 

4. Have the programs encouraged and supported women to become entrepreneurs, moving from subsistence to commercial farming?  

Programs have introduced leased farming for the small holders, landless and excluded groups, including women. Women are encouraged to participate in the value chain processes. Nonetheless, efforts are rather initiated by donor supported development projects. The mis term and Final Evaluations usually recommend for strengthening empowerment aspects, which does not normally reflect in upscaling of the lessons of successes on women’s empowerment. Institutional transformation on women empowerment is weak which eventually impacts the achievement of women empowerment in agricultural market sector related decisions. Women demonstrate leadership in informal subsistence level farming . Although agricultural cooperatives provide an avenue for improving commercialization part by women. However in absence of gender transformative institutional culture, women often fail to obtain appropriate services, technology, resources and information to play a significant role in the commercial farming. Thus it can be said that women empowerment has been a slogan for some actors in agriculture which needs to be translated into practical behaviour among institutions , most importantly at household level by removing all the structured barriers against women’s decisions making over productive assets and resources. There is a serious need to consolidate the efforts to mainstream empowerment into commercial agriculture systems.       

5. Are the initiatives of agriculture programs more male focused than female focused? Should programs be gender free or gender focused? 

Thee is a mixed realization in the agriculture sector development programmes of focusing on women and men. For labour related activities women are focused and when there will be any important consultations, meetings for agricultural planning, budgeting and institutional arrangements for service providers, women are formally excluded and men are focused. The excuses given in general are that women do not have time to attend such consultations. The distance of meetings venues also fails to attract women, who usually are responsible for household work management. Another excuse often seem to be that women cannot rad and write the formal documents. The crux of the problem is that women’s role as the PRIMARY FARMER has yet to be formally recognised and established at all levels and for all activities. This role must be rationalized on the basis of the share of workload and existing indigenous knowledge of the farmers in every field of agriculture. Thus programms should be designed as “gender focused” in order to address the deep rooted issues of power discriminations at the household, community and service provider institutions.    


Some citation from Farnworth, C.R., Jafry, T., Lama, K., Nepali, S.C., & Badstue, L. (2017). From working in the wheat field to managing wheat: Women innovators in Nepal. 

The key actors in rural advisory services remain prey to believing in myths that cast women only as helpers in farming, or as managing the home. This in turn creates difficulties for women attempting to obtain training, finance, and other mechanisms for making their participation in innovation processes easier. Distinguishing between widely held norms and the reality of what is actually happening is essential. Gender norms remain important because they help to structure expectations of what men and women should do, but in myriad ways these norms are being ‘hollowed out’ and renegotiated in ways which support important local values yet allow the freedoms necessary to move forward and develop capacity to innovate. Understanding, recognising, and building on change processes is essential if innovation processes in wheat are to be supported by researchers, policy-makers, development partners and rural advisory services. Suggestions to break conceptual lock-in for researchers, rural advisory services and development partners are provided below. 

“The potential areas of enquiry include: How do women develop formal and informal support innovation networks with other women and other networks? In what ways do women exercise their decision-making power in intra-household discussions with their spouses, and extended family, in order to innovate? How can men, including men decision-makers at community level, be encouraged to support women as innovators? How are gender norms shifting to accommodate women as innovators, and are changes to norms likely to be institutionalised?”   C. R. Farnworth et al. 


Kanchan Lama

Gender specialist and member of the Gender and Evaluation CoP


I would like to share my thoughts for the question 'What are the lessons learnt from agriculture programs with regards to the activities of the women in the agricultural sector?'

1) Many agriculture programs seem to have weak program designs which pose several risks, including the following:

  • It makes it harder for those involved in the program (e.g. program staff, farmers, local government) to have a clear and common understanding with regards to the program and how certain activities bring about change.
  • Most programs have weak M&E design and processes. There is a common misconception among program managers that M&E exercises are expensive and require significant effort. Due to lack of focus and understanding about what is important for the program, less relevant data is collected and data is not used for making decisions during the lifespan of agricultural programs.

Selection of farmers (women) to participate in programs can be biased:

  • Many programs I have evaluated were implemented in societies where the heads of villages or communities hold significant power. At early stage of the programs, these leaders were informed first and they, in turn, select/propose who will participate in the program. Most programs require endorsement of the local leaders (directly or indirectly). This poses significant risks of exclusion and under-representation of certain groups and sensitive to local politics.

Dear Dolgion,

Thank you for your inputs to this discussion raised on the EvalForward Community of Practice. I posted your comment on the online Forum too: 

All the best


Dear Members of Gender and Evaluation, 

I am sharing below the concluding remarks on the discussion on Women and Agriculture held on the EvalForward Community of Practice and cross-linked here. Thanks for your attention and contributions. For more information please visit: 


Dear Colleagues,

I wish to thank you for taking the time to join this discussion, share your experience and web links to very informative documents. Please allow me to summarize some of your comments and share my reflections following this discussion on women in agriculture which is certainly an important topic as demonstrated by your interest and contribution.

Several of you have pointed out the challenges faced by women; these include no access to Land Ownership; lack of financing; chores and household responsibilities. More importantly, is the lack of voice of women in decision making which can be due to the cultural and societal norms; perception that women are illiterate hence cannot contribute to decision making. Furthermore, technology is perceived as a male domain.

It was also noted that while evaluations found that agricultural production by women beneficiaries increased as a result of their participation in agricultural activities, there was less evidence to suggest that they were individually diversifying their agricultural products and breaking into agri-business and self-employment as expected. This is to say that women continue to practice subsistence farming which is not going to move them and their family from poverty.

It appears that we have yet to find ways for women develop formal and informal support innovation networks with others;  ways for women to exercise decision-making power in intra-household discussions with their spouses, and extended family especially when culture limits this kind of interaction. Not the least is how do we get men to support women including their spouse to innovate and move from subsistence farming to entrepreneurship. Should we say moving women from the invisibles to strong actors along the agriculture value chains?

I also note with interest in your contributions that urban farming especially on roof top is now an activity that is being practiced. I have not yet seen in my work and It would be interesting to see what data exist for this type of activity.  Sadly, you have noted that monitoring systems are not always in place to measure the results of agriculture programs on women performance beyond increased productivity. Furthermore, some of you are finding that program managers still think that M&E exercises are expensive and require significant effort; hence the lack of efficient M&E system.

The Oxford Dictionary provides the following definition for Empowerment which says

To empower somebody (to do something) is to give someone more control over their own life or the situation they are as in “The movement actively empowered women and gave them confidence in themselves.”

This will become more necessary as we try to meet the challenges of the SDGs since statistics tell us that there are increasing number of households being headed by females (for a summary of World bank data please see Women are often left in charge as their spouse has left to wage wars and/or have returned maimed; left to work in the cities; have never married; are widowed or the man has simply deserted the family.

Thank you again for your contributions. I hope that we will have more opportunities to discuss this topic in the future and that you will be reporting that women and marginalized groups are moving from subsistence farming to engagement in agricultural market expansion. J

Jackie Yiptong Avila, Bsc, MBA, DPE 
International Consultant
Program Evaluator; Survey Methodologist
Ottawa, Canada



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