Addressing the gender gaps in agriculture to improve productivity

Stories from the 2023 GAP Report partners.

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Women make up over one-third of primary producers in agriculture yet remain marginalized within the sector, often lacking decision-making power, access to mechanization, access to information on agricultural best practices, and more. The Impacting Gender and Nutrition through Innovative Technical Exchange (IGNITE) project—implemented by Tanager, Laterite, and 60 Decibels—is offering tailored technical assistance to African agricultural institutions to mainstream gender and nutrition into their interventions, systems, and operations. Based on research findings from IGNITE, recommendations are provided to enable all agricultural institutions to similarly apply a gender lens to their work as a pathway to increasing agricultural productivity.


Agricultural productivity for smallholder farmers depends on good agricultural practices, quality inputs, and mechanization, in which women play a vital role.

Globally, among crop, livestock, fishery, and forestry industries, women make up over one-third (38%) of the primary producers in agriculture. That percentage dramatically increases in more rural, low-income regions. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, women comprise nearly 50% of primary producers. Women also make outsized contributions throughout the food system as processors, retailers, and marketers.

Despite their significant contributions, women remain marginalized within the agricultural sector. Social and gender norms limit women’s access to productive assets, agricultural inputs, extension services, and information, as well as limit their contributions to household decision-making. These norms also dictate the type of work women conduct in agriculture, often limiting them to participation in informal, labor-intensive activities in lower-paid and less-profitable value chains.

Tanager is addressing these trends through the Impacting Gender and Nutrition through Innovative Technical Exchange (IGNITE) project, which offers tailored technical assistance to African agricultural institutions to mainstream gender and nutrition in their interventions, systems, and business activities.

Building on a robust body of research in this area, IGNITE has conducted more than 20 gender or nutrition studies with institutions through its learning consortium of Tanager, Laterite, and 60 Decibels. While methodologies have differed by specific report, these studies employ mixed methods, from longitudinal in-person household surveys to phone surveys to focus group discussions and in-depth interviews. The overall goal of these studies is to help institutions make decisions on their gender or nutrition programming and identify successful models of implementation.

One study, for example, led by Laterite, examined how men and women smallholder cassava farmers in Southwest Nigeria benefit from the use of mechanization technologies, such as tractors. The study found these technologies save farmers significant time and labor—but they often benefit men more than women. Mechanization technologies are typically targeted to the roles that men undertake, such as land preparation, planting, and harvesting. For roles that women tend to occupy in this context, either the technology is not readily available, or the process is not mechanizable. In these cases, institutions should consider offering mechanization for activities commonly performed by women to potentially increase their time savings and subsequent gender or nutrition outcomes. Targeting gender roles through social and behavior change (SBC) trainings is another useful approach for addressing underlying social norms that limit women’s participation to more time-intensive tasks.

Another IGNITE study examined the gender factors that influence the adoption of best practices in teff-farming households in Amhara, Ethiopia. The study found that 14 percent of women reported limited or no access to agricultural information, compared to just 2.5 percent of men. In another study in Ethiopia—where 78 percent of women and 95 percent of men are involved in wheat-farming activities—women with access to information reported greater involvement in wheat farming, greater knowledge and adoption of best practices, and more decision-making power related to decisions on wheat farming and income. These findings point to the need for institutions to improve women’s access to information by implementing strategies to increase training attendance by women or developing SBC campaigns to address barriers that may be limiting their participation.

Gender-related constraints have real consequences for global agricultural productivity. Recent findings indicate there is an estimated 24 percent gap in land productivity between farms of the same size managed by women versus by men. This represents not just a major loss in potential food production, but also consequences for food security and household poverty levels worldwide. Addressing gender-related gaps in agrifood systems would reportedly net a USD 1 trillion increase in global GDP and a corresponding decline in food insecurity by 2 percent, or 45 million people.


Based on findings from the IGNITE project, as well as Tanager’s 30 years of experience implementing gender and social inclusion, women’s empowerment, and nutrition-sensitive interventions in the agriculture sector, the following recommendations offer a starting point achieving gender equality and improved development outcomes.

Recommendation 1: Collect gender-specific data in all projects and programs. Collecting and analyzing all organizational data through a gender lens uncovers potential gaps in service delivery, programmatic coverage, household-level dynamics, and decision-making that may impact outcomes. Strategically designing research to include women’s, men’s, and youth voices is a vital first step to exploring gender in agriculture in any project. When collecting data, speaking to both women and men from each household—considering different household compositions—and anticipating how the gender of the enumerator and the way data is collected (i.e., over the phone, time of day) may impact data quality. Conducting a gender analysis at the design stage of any project will also help identify unique gender-related needs and potential programmatic impacts on participants.

Recommendation 2: Design projects, services, and products with gender in mind. By applying learnings from Recommendation 1 to inform the design of projects, products, and services, institutions can ensure they are addressing the unique needs of small-scale farmers, which regularly differ for women and men.

Recommendation 3: Adopt a gender policy to mainstream commitments to gender equality across the institution. A gender policy is a set of goals, standards, and guidelines through which all departments can orient their gender approaches and set key indicators. Such a policy will ensure that gender is considered systematically and maximizes the potential for increasing women’s empowerment, inclusion, and productivity.

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