Let her Grow: Addressing the productivity gap in agriculture—Barriers and promising interventions

Let her Grow: Addressing the productivity gap in agriculture—Barriers and promising interventions
Let her Grow: Addressing the productivity gap in agriculture—Barriers and promising interventions

On May 18, colleagues from the Gender Innovation Lab at the World Bank hosted a webinar titled "Let her Grow: Addressing the productivity gap in agriculture—Barriers and promising interventions." The webinar presented the findings from three studies on productivity gaps between women and men farmers in Timor-Leste, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Côte d’Ivoire. These studies presented new evidence on the most binding constraints faced by women farmers, and effective interventions to address these constraints.  Each of the studies examined different aspects of this issue and presented learnings that can also be applied to our work in supporting the productivity and livelihoods of women smallholder farmers in the work of the GIIF and beyond. 

Study 1: Measuring and Explaining the Gender Productivity Gap in Timor-Leste
This study analyzed the productivity gap between women and men farmers across Timor-Leste using nationally representative data on 3,561 farming households. It found that the average gender productivity gap, as measured by the value of harvest per hectare in households with male and female plot managers, is approximately 15.3%. This means that in Timor-Leste households with female farm managers produce on average 15.3% less per unit of land compared to households with male farmers. When accounting for the smaller land size operated by women,  the gap doubles to 31% and is similar in magnitude in the Coastal and Central subregion. To understand the key drivers of the gap, the team conducted an Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition, examining disparities in access and returns to various household and input characteristics.

The decomposition analysis uncovered  that the gender productivity gap is driven almost entirely by women and men's different access to factors of production, such as literacy, farmer groups, agricultural inputs, sale of crops and decisions on which crops to produce. Why are these results important? The findings help to inform country-specific interventions aimed at closing productivity gaps between male and female farmers, which could boost agricultural output and improve food security. They show that the design of farming extension services needs to better account for gender differences in literacy, encourage us to look more closely at agricultural value chains and access to markets. and underscore the importance of better-quality data to understand how decisions are made within households.

Study 2: Improving farming productivity through mechanization in Cote d'Ivoire.
This study examined the impact of a labor-saving technology (oxen animal traction) on agricultural production and labor supply in the household. In the study, pairs of oxen distributed to 2,546 cotton farmers positively impacted households’ cotton production, freed up women's time, and decreased the time women spent on farm work. Results showed that farmers increased their cotton production and revenues by 7%, increased their purchase of non-labor inputs (like organic fertilizer) by 12%, coupled with an overall 6% increase in land cultivated and a decrease in household member farming time at 7% per hectare. 

The study also found that after receiving the oxen, time spent by women on household plots decreased by 2 hours per week and 2.5 hours for girls. Preliminary results indicate that what women end up doing with this freed-up time varied and was influenced by social norms. In communities where norms restrict women's involvement in handling oxen, women moved away from agriculture, spending 20% more time on non-farm work. These results reveal that agricultural mechanization can negatively or positively affect women's farm and off-farm labor, depending on the influence of contextual factors in a given society. These findings provide important insights into the considerations we need to take when designing solutions for women that involve the mechanization of agricultural labor. In particular, closely looking at the social norms and how they align or conflict with our work is essential.  

Study 3: How does access to childcare impact women farmers' productivity in the DRC?
In the DRC, it is the norm for women farmers is to bring their pre-school age children with them to the fields while they work. Researchers from the Africa Gender Innovation Lab led a study to test if the provision of low-cost, village-based childcare services can increase women's wellbeing and income. Childcare centers were opened across four territories in the province of Kongo Central region, run by a local NGO that used a curriculum developed by Save the Children. Centers were open to children aged 2-6, 5 days a week for 6 hours per day. Over 70% of households provided with access to the centers used them, demonstrating that there is a high demand for rural childcare—and if offered an alternative solution to taking their children to the field, women will take it. Women decreased their need to multi-task while farming, reporting increases in their concentration and sense of control. Both women and their husbands increased their engagement in commercial activities, leading to gains in agricultural productivity and broader household income. The centers also led to significant gains in early childhood development outcomes, particularly for younger children. As we continue to design solutions for women smallholder farmers, offering quality childcare is a highly promising tool for economically empowering women.   

Conclusion: Although the insights from these studies cannot be extrapolated across the continent or to other regions, they do serve as very timely reminders to look closely at how we interact with and design programs for women farmers. As demonstrated through these studies, women farmers have lower access to tools and resources (such as mechanization), different levels of literacy compared to their male counterparts, and do not always have decision-making authority with regard to inputs or crop choices. Women also have additional care responsibilities that prevent them from being as focused and productive as men farmers. As we work to create extension services and insurance solutions for women farmers, we must design for these differences to ensure we are not overlooking their needs. Doing so will not only level the field for female farmers, but also allow their families and communities to flourish.  

Presenters: Aletheia DonaldDimitria Kostadinova Gavalyugova; and Julia Vaillant

For more information about this initiative and the presentation please click here. 

With a big thank you to our colleagues Sarah Ebrahimi and Emengini Doris Ibekwe who contributed to this piece.