Women in agriculture : Agriculture sector is being feminised but their contribution is still undervalued

Arati Joshi

Women in agriculture : Agriculture sector is being feminised but their contribution is still undervalued

Joshi is an undegraduate student at the Agriculture and Forestry University, Rampur, Chitwan and member of IAAS. This article was originally published on The Kathmandu Post – PRINT EDITION – 2018-08-02  |  OPED.

The World Bank estimates that as of 2018, agriculture comprises around 9.5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for all developing countries. In Nepal, agriculture contributes to about one third of the GDP. But agriculture, which is considered the primary occupation of 66 percent of the Nepali people is actually dominated by women; women who work endlessly on the backstage of the homestead are the real backbone of the national economy. Women’s unpaid labour—be it household work or voluntary work—has been culturally and economically devalued as well as unrecognised since a long time.

Give due recognition

Due to the mass exodus of men abroad in search of lucrative jobs, the agriculture sector is being feminised in Nepal. More and more women are found to be increasingly involved in agriculture. The participation of the female labour force in agriculture has increased from 36 percent in 1981 to 45 percent in 1991 and has hiked up to more than 50 percent in 2016. and this is despite women only owning less than 20 percent of the agricultural land. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that women make up 45 percent of the agricultural workforce, rising to 60 percent in parts of Africa and Asia.


Women usually face a double burden, which includes working in the fields as well as maintaining the household. The completion of both of these works requires a  long period leaving them with no time for leisure or recreation. Though a greater contribution of women is found in agriculture, their hard work mostly remains invisible in society. They are rarely recognised as farmers. They do not gain proper access to the inputs, resources, credits, and land and are limited to undervalued jobs.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed that although women remain engaged in broad activities of agriculture but in reality are mostly involved in weed control and harvesting. Society’s regressive attitude towards women believes that they lack skills. Therefore they have been stopped from to going to markets for purchasing the inputs or using agricultural machineries like tractors or threshers.

Women are often ignored in many fields. Agricultural programs, training, policies, and numerous types of equipment are directed according to the need of the male members. We rarely see women friendly environments and equipment and tools being directed towards women. Regarding the access to extension services and trainings, an overwhelming domination of men is observed. Women’s access to extension services is also limited due to inadequate number of female extension workers. In the labour market, many women are not paid for their work and when paid, receive little portion compared to their male counterparts.

Women seldom get to enjoy the property ownership right. With the new Land Act, the Government of Nepal has marked a policy that allows girls and daughter-in-laws to have equal right in parental property and and has also provided subsidy to women while registering lands and buildings. But this has not been fully practiced yet. Even if women do have the ownership of land, they face restrictions on their rights to lease or sell it. The restricted access to land and  other farm inputs results in lower productivity and agricultural yield farmed by women. Lower productivity of female agricultural workers translates into lower household incomes, a greater food insecurity, and lowered wellbeing of women’s families and communities.

The way forward

If similar opportunities and access to same resources were given to women, they could become equally productive as male farmers. According to Neven Mimica, the European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, agricultural yields would increase by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men. Similarly, the FAO estimates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, women could boost yield by 20-30 percent; raising the overall agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4 percent. This gain in production could lessen the number of starving people in the world by 12-17 percent, in addition to increasing women’s income.

Women’s empowerment by extending  the facilities provided to women to make decisions and take advantage of opportunities is essential for broad-based agricultural development in low- income countries. Therefore, women should be given certain decision-making posts in agricultural services.

Similarly, new land use policy needs to be urgently implemented so as to ensure equal land rights of men and women. Secured land tenure, greater financial inclusion and greater access to technology, extension services and trainings, as well as to information and markets, are essential to pursue  gender-smart agriculture.

Greater emphasis on women entrepreneurship should be given through trainings to encourage women to take up  leadership positions in society. Agriculture is not only about producing food but also about producing public goods. Both genders should thus, be equally responsible to build an inclusive and equitable environment in the agriculture sector.


Andjela Komnenic
Andjela Komnenic
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