Gender Gaps in Agriculture: Evidence to Inform Advocacy, Program Design and Policy Making

May 18, 2015

By Mary Kate Costello, Policy Analyst, The Hunger Project

Courtesy: The Hunger Project

Courtesy: The Hunger Project

Across developing countries, women comprise approximately 43% of the agricultural labor force. Stakeholders are increasingly prioritizing gender equality as exponential strides are made as a result of gender consideration and inclusion. As we more closely assess best standards and practices for inclusive and sustainable development, there is additional evidence and data – rooted within a human rights based approach – worth considering.

In collaboration with ONE, the World Bank published a report titled Levelling the Field: Improving Opportunities for Women Farmers in Africa. The report provides new evidence and insights on factors of the gender gap [in agriculture] in six countries that comprise more than 40% of Africa’s population: Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. The outcome of the report suggests specific policy proposals to both address constraints that female farmers face while simultaneously benefitting the economy as a whole.

One of the most notable findings was that women farmers consistently produce less per hectare than male counterparts. When assessed “simply,” this shows a 13 – 25% gap in productivity. When assessing in consideration of plot sizes and region (similarly sized plots in comparable regions), the gap was measured to be as large as 66%. For example, this means that for every four pounds of maize a male produces, a woman produces just over one pound. Why?

The World Bank and ONE concluded three key factors:

  1. Women have unequal access to inputs and face unequal returns.
  2. The ratio of children to adults per household affects the amount of time a woman can devote to farming.
  3. Women have lower access to and use of agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and extension services.

Below are recommendations for solutions to these factors of the gender gap.


Slow or poor progress in other sectors are also at play, however. UN Water, with much shared agreement from other implementing agencies and CSOs, posit that universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene is crucial in reaching gender equality. For example, women, as the main caretakers of their household, are at a severe disadvantage in reaching their utmost agricultural productivity if they a) must spend hours each day fetching clean water for bathing and consumption needs, b) caring for an ill child as a result of food or water borne illnesses, or c) lack of access to facilities for basic menstrual hygiene management.


In response to these factors, the four working groups of the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme on Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP), Water, Sanitation, Hygiene, and Equity and Non-discrimination, proposed supporting indicators for the UN’s soon-to-be-adopted SDGs for the global monitoring of water, sanitation, hygiene, and gender related targets.

The inclusion of these indicators in the SDGs to measure progress, and the establishment and implementation of those policies proposed in the aforementioned report will increase female farmers’ productive, ultimately improving the economy. The World Bank stated that such efforts “will mark an important turning point for Africa’s women [farmers] towards the opportunity and equality they rightfully deserve.”