Examining Cultural Gaps in Gender Inclusion in Agriculture
The ACCESS to Markets program in Honduras, implemented by Fintrac, is providing technical assistance and training to 18,000 rural client households to increase incomes and improve child nutrition. In the first six months of implementation to September 2015, women made up 20 percent of the individuals trained in the agricultural sector. This Feed the Future-funded program conducted a gender analysis in the early days of the activity and has since been employing strategies to promote women’s involvement in economic activities by promoting time-saving technologies, gearing training and technical assistance specifically toward women and facilitating access to essential inputs and credit. Over the 12 months to September 2017, women's participation has shown a marked increase, where 45 percent of the individuals receiving training were women.
The most popular economic activities among women members of the household clients in Honduras include small animal rearing (poultry and goats) and value-added products, including bakery, dairy, chips and coffee. However, only 11 percent of household clients involved in high-value crop production are women.
To better understand the factors that motivate, and prohibit, female involvement in agriculture (specifically agricultural production), we spoke with two women who have shown remarkable success in crop production, specifically high-value crops long considered “male-produced crops,” since starting with ACCESS to Markets almost three years ago.
Maria Cleotilde Maldonado and Maria Elena Cruz are both producing crops such as coffee, beans, maize, cucumber, tomato, passionfruit and cabbage in the department of Copán in Western Honduras. When asked what first motivated them to become involved in agricultural production, both credited their upbringing. Both of their families depended on farming for their livelihoods, and their fathers trained them from an early age in both technical skills and decision-making. They say their childhoods sparked an interest in farming as a viable income source and a way to provide for their families, and they learned by example the value of hard work and strong communication between all family members.
We also spoke to these women’s spouses, and all four mentioned that open communication and respect has allowed their families to succeed. They said they have had to overcome preconceived notions from neighbors and friends about women working in production, but by trusting their wives’ judgement and discussing family needs ahead of time, they’ve been able to ignore those comments and be comfortable in their roles.
Both men said they have no problem in sharing all household duties such as meal preparation and other daily chores so their wives could participate in trainings and technical assistance visits to learn good agricultural practices and updated production technologies. Maria Elena’s husband, Adelmo, said he is happy for his wife to attend because she has learned to read and write through other literacy trainings, while he cannot.
They are also committed to farming as a family business. Maria Elena’s oldest son, who is 19, is working on the family plots and attends all training and technical assistance workshops with his mother.
The men said they believed their wives’ success on the farm stemmed from several factors, including their inherent interest in farming, smart time management, communication and the trainings from ACCESS to Markets, which not only improved their technical abilities but their confidence as well. When asked the same question, the women agreed and added that they really appreciated the two-way nature of their relationship with ACCESS to Markets agronomists, who encouraged them to ask questions and deepen their understanding of the subject matter.
“Though they are agronomy experts, and we are only farmers, they treat us as equals,” said Maria Cleotilde. “They have patience when training us.”
Based on these interviews, we believe the traditional obstacles for women entering into commercial agriculture are based on gender roles established at a young age. Therefore, gender sensitization and behavior change communication strategies should target men, women and children of all ages. We have also seen masculinity trainings spur positive discussion and action steps on redefining long held cultural beliefs on gender roles.
With an integrated approach that builds confidence in women while simultaneously helping men re-examine traditional roles, programs like ACCESS to Markets can make major strides in building a more gender-balanced agriculture sector.
Discussions like those happening on Agrilinks this month are also critical so that development practitioners and implementing partners can learn from each other’s successes and challenges. We would love to know more about feedback other partners are hearing from female clients.