Low-emissions development initiatives must understand gender dynamics to develop technical interventions that do not exacerbate gender norms or stereotypes.

The Government of Kenya has been pushing to intensify the dairy sector for many years to increase productivity to meet the rapidly growing demand for milk products. Developing the dairy sector is often favorably viewed by policymakers. However, it is important to consider how development policies can have different benefits or consequences for different communities and social groups.

The relationship between societal equity, agriculture, and emission reduction efforts is rarely explored in agriculture and climate change mitigation research. Implementing new formal markets in dairy can shift workloads between women and men, depending on their role in agriculture production and local gender norms. However, the extent to which intensification impacts societal equity is mostly unknown.

Formalization of dairy markets in Kenya

In the dairy sector, low-emissions development (LED) often utilizes intensification practices that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increase yield. However, LED focuses on technical practices and outcomes, seldom considering the subsequent impacts on women’s and men's social distribution of burdens and benefits. 

Recent research, supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS), examines the relationship between agricultural intensification and gender equity outcomes in Kenya’s dairy system. A CCAFS working paper reviewed the literature on this relationship and a journal article examined the same system change but analyzed the spectrum of women’s informal milk market practices where the dairy system was undergoing intensification.

These studies suggest that intensification and the ensuing commercialization of dairy systems often increase women’s labor in households and excludes them from other economic opportunities.

Market access and social consequences

Women generally choose to use informal markets to sell milk in Kenya, which gives them more control over the proceeds. Men usually have complete control over all other milk sales and use formal markets.

There is a push in Kenya to increase the use of formal markets, which impacts informal market use and limits women’s ability to sell milk. However, an increase in use of informal markets by women in some areas disrupts the boundaries between socially acceptable and socially disruptive gender relations by reinforcing and aggravating existing unequal dynamics.

Women participating in these informal markets face high social culpability and danger from engaging in activities that break normalcy, like riding a motorcycle to deliver milk or being branded as a market “loser” for using informal markets. These women face disapproval from both men and other women.

Dual interventions to boost intensification and social equity

Women have limited rights to own livestock, especially large livestock like cows. Dairy interventions that do not consider gender dynamics often reinforce men’s cultural claims to livestock. Livestock often has highly variable cultural and gendered significance attached to them. Place-based research is a crucial step to understanding local dynamics when designing livestock interventions.

Development investors can use research and local data to design gender-responsive or -transformative approaches to intensification interventions. For example, where cattle are under men’s control, instead of increasing women’s access to cattle-incomes, promote other activities where women already have more control, like poultry or small stock farming.

As much of women’s time on-farm is spent on domestic and dairying activities, interventions should focus on time- and labor-saving technologies to reduce their household workload. Joint initiatives that include gender-transformative approaches and technical interventions could provide workshops to sensitize women and men about the benefits of sharing decision making power and income more equitably. 

If LED interventions to intensify dairy do not wish to create adverse effects, they must anticipate the existence of gender dynamics and plan to identify them and develop social interventions to accompany technical interventions.

Read the publications

Working paper: Social equity implications of agricultural intensification and commercialization, with a focus on East African dairy systems

Journal article: “Breaking Even” under Intensification? Gendered Trade‐Offs for Women Milk Marketers in Kenya

Sadie Shelton is the Communications Officer and a part-time research assistant for the CCAFS Low-Emissions Development Flagship.