Gender-responsive adaptation in smallholder agriculture: challenges and opportunities

Photo: G. Smith (CIAT)

We need to reduce the constraints that women face in agriculture in order to feed more people.

Building on the momentum generated during the first day of the Agriculture Advantage event series on the sidelines of COP23 that discussed the framework for agricultural development under climate change, the second day brought in gender and social inclusion issues that must be addressed for agricultural transformation to occur.

Smallholder agriculture has so much potential to meet the food needs of millions of people in developing countries. However, this is currently not exploited, partially because the roles and responsibilities of women and men, their access to and control of various resources, and their participation in making informed agricultural decisions is not well understood. A great number of agricultural development programs generally assume that women and other vulnerable groups will benefit directly from adaptation initiative. In reality, women and men have differential access to agricultural resources and also have different adaptive capacity.

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and partners gathered to share lessons on integrating gender in adaptation projects with smallholder farmers which could serve as guidance for those who will implement adaptation measures in agriculture.

Watch the recording of the event:

Watch Alain Vidal's remarks on the CCAFS youtube channel.

After the welcoming remarks delivered by Alain Vidal, from the CGIAR, Ilaria Firmian, an Environment and Climate Knowledge Officer working with International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) set the event by acknowledging that, under climate change, building on women’s agricultural knowledge and experiences can deliver gender-responsive adaptation benefits. Tapping into this knowledge and working in partnership with women and other vulnerable people within a community will lead to economic empowerment, decision-making and representation by women and equitable workload balance. Ms. Firmian emphasized that this can be done by conducting vulnerability analysis (using participatory approaches) to identify who the most vulnerable are and the resources they have, and then develop adaptation actions that can generate equitable benefits.

If women had same access to resources as men, #ag output in developing countries could increase by 4% @Iliaria @IFADnews #AgAdvantage #COP23

— CCAFS cgiarclimate (@cgiarclimate) November 8, 2017

Watch Ilaria Firmian's presentation on the CCAFS youtube channel.

Sharing IFAD’s experiences, Ms. Firmian mentioned that women’s participation in agricultural adaptation efforts under a changing climate requires critical resources; water, energy and climate information (weather and agro-advisory serves) and climate resilient practices and technologies. Access to water for domestic and farming activities within the homestead can reduce the time women and young women take to collect water. Water is also important for irrigation practices for fields that are managed by women e.g., kitchen gardens.

The need for engendering agricultural energy technologies that can reduce women’s labor demand is urgent. Participatory development of gender responsive agricultural machinery and enhancing women’s access to agricultural inputs that require intensive use of energy, such as irrigation technologies, will ultimately transform agriculture, thus increasing productivity and incomes.


Watch Tonya Rawe's presentation on the CCAFS youtube channel.

Following UNFCCC Decision- /CP.22, parties agreed to appoint and provide support for a national gender focal point for climate negotiations, implementation and monitoring.  Tonya Rawe, Global Policy Lead, Food and Nutrition Security, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), discussed the importance of having gender focal points during the designing stage of adaptation actions that will provide guidance on implementation of Gender Action plans. A gender focal point will make sure that adaptation actions move forward and therefore program must invest in building capacity and increasing number of expertise on gender mainstreaming in adaptation efforts.

Sharing experience encountered by three organizations (CARE, CCAFS and IFAD), evaluating IFAD’s Adaptation in Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP), on whether the project translated project design commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment into implementation practice, Ms. Rawe noted that the “ASAP project had a strong emphasis on targets for women’s participation, but not necessarily their access to project opportunities or the impact of their engagement’.

Understanding gender & social norms is essential for #gender responsive adaptation in #agriculture @tonyarawe #cop23 #AgAdvantage

— CCAFS cgiarclimate (@cgiarclimate) November 8, 2017

According to Ms. Rawe, understanding the deeply embedded gender and social norms that govern an individual’s adaptive capacity is the first step in designing a gender transformative agricultural program. This is extremely important to all stakeholders,  more so for gender focal points. Indeed, it is critical for a gender responsive program to document how everyone (women, men, old, young, etc.) understand and experience climate change. These differential experiences will enable agricultural programs to develop adaptation efforts tailored to the different types of people.

A robust and gender-responsive monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) framework should also be integrated into the programs. An effective MEL will engage women and youth in the process of reflecting in the whole process and dialoging on what kind of change they are looking forward under the changing climate. This is important because adaptation needs can change over time. Having a gender responsive MEL also empowers local stakeholders to voice their needs throughout the process. Read more: CARE participatory performance tracker

At the continental level, a number of organizations and alliances are working towards mainstreaming gender in climate change adaptation actions. The African Working Group on Gender and Climate Change (AWGGCC) comprised of stakeholders form national governments, community-based organizations (CBOs), NGOs, academia and research institutes. It bridges the gap between science and policy in gender and climate change, as well as accelerate implementation of gender-responsive climate change policies and programs. Additionally, AWGGCC supports African countries to develop gender-responsive adaptation and mitigation plans such as the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and climate-smart agriculture (CSA) framework.


Watch Priscilla Achakpa's presentation on the CCAFS youtube channel.

Priscilla Achakpa, a member of AWGGCC and Nigeria party delegate, emphasized that gender mainstreaming is not an end in itself but a strategy, an approach and a means to achieve the goal of gender equality in Africa. Ms. Achakpa concurred with the other presenters who noted that, to ensure a transformation in Africa’s agriculture, we should understand that women and men have different life experiences, needs, vulnerabilities, coping strategies, priorities and that all these are affected differently by climate change. Ms. Achakpa called for increased institutional capacity for gender mainstreaming (increased trained gender focal points), use of gender-responsive criteria or checklist in MEL of adaptation programs, and conducting both distributional and relational gender analysis.

Women’s inequalities in access to and control over resources will undermine equitable adoption of adaptation actions in agricultural sector." Ms. Achakpa, AWGGCC member

Watch Sophia Huyer's presentation on the CCAFS youtube channel.

To bring all the discussions together, was a presentation by Sophia Huyer, CCAFS Gender and Social Inclusion Leader, who provided a research and action agenda for mainstreaming gender in adaptation in smallholder agriculture. Ms. Huyer pointed out that a gender-transformative agriculture adaptation must be accompanied by:

  • Gender and social analysis of norms, policy, differential resilience and vulnerability to climate risks
  • Equal access to agriculture and climate information
  • Women’s information priorities are addressed
  • Equal access to agricultural inputs and technology
  • Equal access to land, water and forest resources
  • Promote access to market opportunities and to equitable credit and finance
  • Use innovative, farmer led, community based approaches for capacity building
  • Promoting anticipatory, flexible, inclusive, and forward looking adaptation planning and decision making processes
  • Equal representation in decision making at household, community and national level forums
  • Integrating consultative learning, capacity building, monitoring and knowledge management processes
  • Investing in staff capacity to mainstream gender transformative approaches during program implementation

"It is timely we identify these issues and we need to really ensure there is coherence among gender, development and the climate change community across these themes," said Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, Gender Coordinator and Social Scientist at CIFOR in her closing remarks. As we move forward towards sustainable development solutions, we need to think of how we ensure that these themes are addressed in both in safeguarding women’s rights but also in focusing on opportunities they might provide moving forward.

We need to ensure gender is not left to the poor women in the global South or in the local community but that there’s this broader enabling framework in cross-sectoral policies to ensure there’s consistent approach to supporting gender.



Mary Nyasimi is the Science officer at the CCAFS Gender and Social Inclusion Unit.

Lili Szilagyi is the Communications consultant at the CCAFS Program Management Unit and CCAFS East Africa.