10-24 December. Online Discussion: Women and Family Farming – Moving Forwards from the IYFF | Land Portal | Securing Land Rights Through Open Data

Discussion extended until 24 December  2014. Keep sharing your reflections!


2014 has been declared as the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF). As this year closes, it is timely to take stock of how gender dynamics and women’s rights have been considered in the framework of studies and activities related to the IYFF, and what lessons can be learned for addressing gender issues in family farming going forwards.

Crucial in this context are the assumptions related to the idea and definition of family and family roles, dynamics and structures. Family arrangements can vary (and change) according to family specificities and features at different times (total number of members, number of generations, numbers of adults and children involved in domestic/farming tasks, numbers of women and men involved, other family income sources, literacy and education levels, etc.). All this matters very much from a gender perspective. 

Gender issues such as these have been given some attention in the framework of studies and activities related to the IYFF, but in a context of strong concerns about land grabbing and food security, the debate has tended to focus on small farmers as a whole vs corporate capital and large farms.

In order to bring more attention to gender dynamics and women’s rights as the IYFF draws to a close, a discussion paper was conceived, based on the ILC case studies commissioned for this IYFF (all the papers published in the framework of this project are available here). Among these, three in particular, from China, India and Nicaragua, incorporate attention to gender issues in a positive way, and are strongly grounded in empirical fieldwork. The discussion paper explores the lessons from these case studies within the context of other studies and activities focused on family farming throughout the year, and set against the background of an extensive historical literature on gender dynamics within farming families.

Using this discussion paper as a point of departure, ILC will launch an open online debate/discussion hosted by the Land Portal  (from Dec. 10 until Dec. 24) with the aim of provoking more thought and engagement on how to address gender dynamics and women’s rights in all policy-making and interventions around family farming.

Following the online discussion we will publish a revised version of the discussion paper with a summary of the key points raised and recommendations made by those participating.

Please read the discussion paper and share your thoughts on the following questions:

•    What assumptions are made in discussions of family farming about the structure of families and their internal dynamics and composition? 
•    What importance is given to different types of productive and reproductive (unpaid care) work within families?
•    What lessons can we learn from historical experience and from the existing body of knowledge and literature on the complexities of rural households and farming families?
•    How can women’s issues be properly addressed in the policy and intervention framework of family farming?

We invite and urge you to participate in this discussion. We look forward to a stimulating debate, and in particular hope that you will share your knowledge, experience and perspectives on these complex but so critical issues.

How can I contribute?

You can participate by leaving a comment on this page. We encourage you to join the Land Portal for future debates! If you have problems posting, please send us an e-mail (s.pallas@landcoalition.org; e.cangelosi@landcoalition.org).

 ILC Secretariat


Razafindrakoto Yolande, Natural Resources and Land expert


Many studies are done, and a lot of fund was spent to finance studies but there are no effects because the grassroots are not included and concerned. To include women in the process, they must participate before to all discussions about gender issues, to share their need, because sometime the gender issues are discussed just among donors and person influent in the society but not the women grassroots. Also, CSO must be present during the elaboration of policy of land, or agricultural to make advocacy.

During my experience in Burkina Faso, I worked at Millennium Challenge Account, and I saw a success of gender approach project,  First, the staff of gender cell in the project was not compulsory women but also men. When men discussed with chieff of village, the have confidence and the advocacy is more complicate.

Secondly, men, husband, father and the chieff of village were included in the process.They discussed with them to found solution how to give land to women? and they propose a solution. During the project, the attestation de possession foncière rurale (APFR) delivered to women are more than delivered to men. the problem was, many women didn't have ID, and we organize an operation to give ID.

Nidhi Tandon, Director of Networked Intelligence for Development

This is a well written paper that asks a number of important questions.  Thank you for making it available for an online discussion.  The empowerment of women - as individuals, as members of family and as community members - are in some senses different scales/dimensions of empowerment in other senses, part of the same continuum. One ActionAid field study assessed women's self-perception of empowerment in relation to their land rights - drawing on experiences from three constituencies: once displaced indigenous rural communities who have occupied farms and reclaimed land in Guatemala; untouchable Dalit women in India facing deeply embedded cultural barriers to their land claims; and women living with HIV in Sierra Leone where their illness compounds their social marginalisation. The research confirms that empowerment is a non-linear process of change rather than a targeted or defined outcome. Its interpretation is subject to complex contexts of culture, values, knowledge, relationships and behaviours; it is constantly negotiated and contested on an individual basis and at household and community levels. (From Marginalisation to Empowerment - 2013 - Actionaid)

The capitalist system of production, and in particular, the plantation economy- continues to place enormous strains on the family unit and this in turn, increases the load of women's multiple responsibilities. In Guyana for instance, the prospect of earning mining income, meant that indigenous women were taking on acai berry harvesting - an activity normally the reserve of men. But with the men now gone, the women had to add this to their range of activities in order to bring in some income.  In Liberia, women head out to oil palm plantations with their children to work for US$5:00 a day spraying nursery trees, essentially taking them away from family farming.  As long as investments in plantation modes of production outstrip investments in family farms, I think the household unit will continue to be stretched to breaking point.

Consuelo Aguinaga Cadena, Proyecto de Desarrollo del Corredor Central. INSTITUTO NACIONAL DE ECONOMÍA POPULAR Y SOLIDARIA  - IEPS

Estos asuntos deben abordarse a través de la puesta en marcha de acciones de corto mediano y largo plazo; todas las acciones de corto plazo deben orientarse al fortalecimiento de la institucionalidad mediante lineamientos de impulso a la política, el desarrollo de mecanismos de coordinación para su implementación, el desarrollo de actividades que tienen que ver con la generación del conocimiento, la producción de información desagregada por sexo e indicadores que den cuenta de las brechas existentes entre hombres y mujeres, así como la elaboración de metodologías, guías; procesos de sensibilización y fortalecimiento y capacitación a las diferentes instancias del sector público; el dar a conocer los derechos que les asisten; la inclusión dentro de los presupuestos acciones positivas que garanticen la de incorporación de género, lo que garantizará que desde el estado haya una atención adecuada a las demandas de las mujeres rurales.    


Es fundamental que en el momento de diseñar acciones concretas de implementación de género haya una identificación de la población objetivo que permita focalizar adecuadamente los apoyos para que se pueda conseguir más fácilmente los objetivos propuestos


Las acciones de mediano plazo, en cambio deben orientarse a disminuir las brechas existentes entre hombres y mujeres, que dificultan el ejercicio de los derechos de las mujeres, el empoderamiento y ejercicio de los derechos de las mujeres garantiza la sostenibilidad de los procesos de inclusión de género por que cuando la mujer ha alcanzado un sitio es muy difícil  que lo vuelva a perder;


y en el largo plazo la política alcanza la transformación cultural erradicando las distintas formas de discriminación fortaleciendo la democracia.

Mpigi G L, (BSc, MSc, MPH, APMG, PhD in view) Development Planning Unit. University College London.

In most cities in Nigeria such as Port Harcourt, women household heads (widow or single mum) that informally purchase land titled such land with the name of "any of his son" no matter how young. 

Reasons for this has been attributed to the fact that most of the locals still see women to belong to the family they are married to and as such her right to land is shared with her husband. They titled the right to land they buy to a male child rather than them (women household head) to wedge all advances that other family members may have towards such piece of land. 

As planners how do we manage these complexities of land ownership when it comes to women and land rights?

Elisabetta Cangelosi, consultant on Women's Land Rights and Gender Justice at the International Land Coalition.


For the francophones here, this interesting link to a radio emission on women and family farming in France has been recently shared.  It might bring a different and interesting approach to our debate.


Esther Angudha, Programmes Coordinator Young Widows Advacement Programme (YWAP)

•    What assumptions are made in discussions of family farming about the structure of families and their internal dynamics and composition? 

Family land in Kenya is a family stay, source of livelihood, identity, status and holds burial rights. The more land ones family have the more secure their status in that community. Because of inter clan, inter-neighbour clashes over land, masculine power is necessary requirement to protect this valuable commodity. Being more masculine men are preferred natural protectors of family land from aggressors and this most often makes them (male members of the family) absolute owners of the family lands and the female members basically workers of the land whose benefits are food, shelter, burial rights and identity.

Most family structures compose a husband, wives (wife) and children. One remains a part of this family unit as long as you ascribe to statutes established by the family head who mostly is the husband though the one with voice is the one who controls the means of support in the family. In other words a man who has a small parcels of land that can probably hold the family homestead only, he has no other source of income but has a wife with plots in the towns, gainfully employed often losses out as head of family. He can work on other peoples’ parcels’ of land to make up or lose out in drinking cheap alcohol while the wife takes over the family head title.

Daughters lose out on family land entitlement as soon as they get old enough to marry as they are weak by nature and are too ashamed to continue benefiting from their fathers family land as free loaders while sons continue to stake claim on the land as co-protectors with their fathers and so rightful inheritors of family land.

It is not surprising that  Kenya Land Adjudication (KLA) ACT 41 1980  Because customary law prescribes that men control land and property but women cannot, the bodies that determine these land rights have not recognized women’s claims: as explained by the KLA, the Acts were “bound to exclude most women from acquiring titles to land since they only had rights of use while men retain those of allocation”42 under customary law.


•    What importance is given to different types of productive and reproductive (unpaid care) work within families?

Women by their reproductive nature as mothers have a strong attachment to the kitchen where family food is produced. Any hungry member of the family looks to her for food. Most often to ensure family food safety she mobilises her children to till the family land for subsistence but also in cases where family agriculture is not sufficient for the family she will offer her labour in other fields to supplement.

The man is often responsible for family needs as children’ education in fees charges, family medical care, family security, shelter, beddings, clothes among other responsibilities.

These roles are taken up willingly without asking to be paid. They are ones family responsibility.

Where the family has domestic animals the sons and fathers mostly tend the animals while poultry has joint ownership between husbands and wives. Women tend poultry as part of family wealth but she is accountable for any sale from poultry to the husband


•    What lessons can we learn from historical experience and from the existing body of knowledge and literature on the complexities of rural households and farming families?

Where the status quo is mentioned, and every member of the family performs their role, the family supports itself as a functioning unit and this support can be extended to family members like daughters even after they are married. When greed, death and treachery happens the strength of this family unit disintegrates and women who are the weaker sex get to bear the wrath of such fall outs. The lose their matrimonial homes to become destitute, yet they must continue to fend for their children bare handed.

In Kenya several pieces of legislation and policies have been developed to address treachery, inheritance and greed in family land transactions. Implementation of these legislations and policies is wanting. Women face serious challenges to access the justice system which is male dominated. Besides women are unaware of existences of these policies and legislations.

•    How can women’s issues be properly addressed in the policy and intervention framework of family farming?

Clementina from Siaya County at 73 years old has spent 24 years of her life trying to get back family land which was in her husband’s name but has been sold over the years in bits by her step-sons and brother in-laws. She says she has been taken round and round from one office to another. She has been to truth and justice commission, chiefs and land boards. Her sons died and left her with young grand children who now will not have land unless a miracle happens. This and other similar stories of land injustices to women because they are women are several in most parts of Kenya but more in Nyanza.

Women cannot present effective claims without advocate representation because they are usually unfamiliar with land laws. Women have traditionally been excluded from decision-making processes regarding land.

The law of succession and procedures requires one to obtain letters of administration from courts a process which is devolved but is expensive and most women are not aware of.

Recently, at our training of chiefs who preside over courts of first instance, the District Commissioner (DO) present ordered the chiefs to mainstream land transfer and property inheritance succession procedures in every public barazas (community public forum) in order to break down the procedure to the grass root women.

Land Control Boards must approve transactions affecting agricultural land, they do not require spousal consent for such transactions. Thus, one spouse may sell the matrimonial home without the other’s knowledge, much less consent. A non-binding presidential decree from the 1980s directs land control boards to take all adult family members’ interests into account, but Boards may disregard the decree, and some husbands present “fake” wives to give their consent to the Boards. This presidential decree has to be enforced for the good of women and the public educated on the existence of this decree.

We also feel that women would be spared a lot of distress if family would be subdivided among sons and other siblings with interest when clan elders are still alive so that not everyone is left at the mercy of one son who registers himself as the sole owner of family land after the family head is dead.

Tools like writing of wills should be introduced and popularised among families to press upon family heads to put their houses in order before they die.


Nidhi Tandon, Director of Networked Intelligence for Development

Thank you for this opportunity to contribute.  While there has been some progress in enabling women to understand the law and to apply it for their individual and family benefits (e.g. through making laws understandable and accessible, or public awareness on wills) there is still a huge need for more. How can agencies, women's national bureaus and para-legal ngos secure the resources (time, people and money) to deliver this kind of public awareness - particularly in areas that are isolated or remote from each other.

At the same time, while land issues can be addressed through legal means, often times the way that land is allocated (to large corporate farming for instance) is not legal, but politicall. The allocations are deterimined by powerful political elites, who can bend legislations to meet the 'economic growth' agenda of the nation state. How can agencies and women's organisations work with women to develop their political capital so that they can hold governments to account for their decisions?

Jeanne Koopman, Boston University African Studies Center

Much of what farmers have taught me, as an economist who has spent 40 years talking with men and women farmers while doing participatory research quantifying rural livelihoods in Cameroon, Tanzania and Senegal, is relevant to the questions posed in the discussion paper and to other issues largely ignored during the International Year of Family Farming.  I’ve learned, for example, that the term ‘family farm’ and the assumptions it evokes about a single farm enterprise are highly misleading.  Basically this is because a traditional farm in Africa is not a single economic unit, but a composite structure, most often made up of one or more family fields that are managed by the household head and farmed by unpaid family labor, as well as several other agricultural or non-farm enterprises under a woman’s or a man’s individual control. Individual enterprises are the basis of separate men’s and women’s incomes and budgets. Men’s and women’s separate fields, livestock, and non-farm enterprises reflect their separate responsibilities for household provisioning.  To produce both household food supplies as well as cash incomes, women typically farm ‘women’s fields’ which can vary from enterprises that produce the full range of food consumed in the household (Cameroon) to smaller horticultural gardens (Senegal). The key point is that all women have their own-account enterprises that both contribute directly to household food security and also form the basis of women’s incomes.

It is important to recognize that women have household provisioning responsibilities for which they are compelled to earn cash incomes. Cash incomes are also essential for investments in women’s own account enterprises.  The time constraints on a woman’s ability to earn a cash income are significant.  Women often spend over eight hours a day cooking food, gathering fuel and water, caring for children, working on male-controlled family or personal fields as well as producing much, if not most of the food the family consumes. These time constraints on women’s ability to earn cash incomes mean that rural women have very little income to invest in improved technology, non-farm enterprises like trading or food processing or renting more land than they have been allocated within their households.

The historical context of women’s access to land has received far too little attention in the International Year of Family Farming. Too often analysts suggest that patriarchal control of inherited land is the major constraint on women’s access to land on which they can farm on their own account. It is, however, essential to recognize that size of male-controlled family land has been shrinking; many years of population growth have forced household heads to divide their traditional land holdings into ever smaller farms, in many cases reducing their size to the point at which a farm may be too small to be the main means of support for a family. Women’s access to family land can be highly vulnerable in these situations. The issue of shrinking family farms and women’s difficulties in accessing land for their own account enterprises is too often ignored by government agencies that want to convince agro-industrial investors that Africa is ‘land-abundant’.    

So what can be done?  One important approach has been developed by a Senegalese run project (Prodam) where rural councils have started distributing 40 hectares of land they officially control to 120-150 young male and female farmers who have formed themselves into legal entities for holding land, managing investments, and marketing their output.[1]. This is an extremely promising approach to getting land to the truly underserved segments of the rural population—women and youth.  The model of developing small group farming enterprises on land that is under local legal jurisdiction rather than individual family control can improve food security without seriously disrupting the traditional farming system.  It has the advantage of being more acceptable to patriarchs who can appreciate that their wives or sons are able to make a larger contribution to the household economy without increasing their claims on household land. 

The model of group farming (or individual plots in a common area) offers additional advantages with respect to women’s autonomy and leadership, especially if women manage and control the farm. In a context of strong patriarchal customs where many women have only a tenuous claim on personal and economic rights and autonomy, I think it is critical that women have the possibility to choose all-women group enterprises. While a woman’s group may hire individual men to help with specific tasks, mixed gender enterprises for married women and men can have inherent problems stemming from patriarchal cultural traditions.  Many African women farmers have told me in no uncertain terms that they prefer to run their own group enterprises. Since local village women are in a position to understand how they can best manage the patriarchal, familial, and larger cultural and class issues affecting group enterprises, they need to be in charge. 

More discussion is also needed on the related issues of women’s limited budgets and their access to improved technologies. As noted above, most women farmers have very low cash earnings along with high demands for spending the relatively little they earn on market-purchased food, school supplies, daily household needs. Even though women farmers have very little cash to invest, they do have critical knowledge about the agro-ecological and soil and water conditions in the areas in which they farm. Governments can build on this by supporting farmer-to-farmer schools focusing on low-cost agro-ecological methods for soil enrichment and pest control.  When more costly technologies for water management, like wells and drip irrigation, are needed but require more investment than women’s budgets can handle, governments that are truly focused on food security should make these investments themselves –and on a wide scale.

Finally, the discussion paper points out that most families experience both conflict and collaboration.  Even though patriarchal power tends to trump women’s rights in Africa, family collaboration across gender-specific enterprises is often realized in ways that increase both food security and household welfare. The complexity of the class and patriarchal power issues affecting projects that aim to benefit women means that project designers are highly unlikely to be able to deal with these issues without serious input from the women involved.  Local women need to evaluate alternative approaches to meeting their needs as farmers and entrepreneurs in the context of their own familial and local cultural configurations.  As the first contributor to this discussion has pointed out, the only way to get this right is to listen carefully to women themselves.  

[1] Ndiaye, Papa Moctar, “Matam vend ses SIPA aux pays de l’UEMOA avec succés”  Sud Quotidien, 3 déc. 2014.


Here there is a link to an interesting discussion on the Future of Family Farming and the role of Female Farmers organized by Food Tank in collaboration with FAO. It could be useful to introduce new ideas to the discussion  and  further stimulate the debate.

Maria Hartl, Technical Adviser on Gender and Social Equity at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Congratulations to ILC for taking the debate on family farming and women’s role forward.  Enjoyed reading the  well written papers that ask a number of important questions  about gender issues in family farming.   Would  like to add a number of  comments from IFAD side. Without attention to family farming at the highest political level, there will be no future for small(er) scale farming.  Farming is a family business, and it will not survive if it is not a family matter. 

Family farming looks at the family as the core business unit.  Just like any family business in the corporate world comprises a certain type of activities and challenges, so do family farms.  To analyse them and their needs, it is important to consider all family members involved in the farming business and their contributions: women and men, young and old, and the identify the particular  issues each one of them is facing. 

Rural farming family and the farming household are a unit of production and livelihoods.  The cultural and social dimensions of family farming define communities.  Given the many risks involved in farming, family farms cannot survive unless they build on diversifying their sources of production, income and expenditures.  Income diversification on  family farm means additional income from off farm employment, from transformation of agricultural products and crafts.  This diversification can act as a shield against the inherent risks of agriculture and farming.  Consequently there is a need for vocational training, for creating employment and business opportunities in the rural areas, in particular for women and young people.  Gender differences in those needs should be taken into account,  depending on who does the farming and who brings in other income, including through temporary or long-term migration.  The unpaid and care work performed mostly by women, including older women should cannot be taken for granted but should  be considered in all discussions related  to social protection, health insurance and old age pensions.  Women’s unpaid work on the family farm also needs to be counted as a contribution to the gross national product.  Inheritance and succession rights can put family farms at risks of survival, just like any other family businesses.  They are continue to be main reasons for migration of young people and women, given the continuous gender discrimination in many places. 

IFAD has invested a lot in gender relations within the household over the last years and the need to involve both men and women actively and in an informed and committed way in the family farming “business”.  In our work on gender equality and social inclusion, we put an emphasis on working not only with women in the family farms, but with men at the same time. We have developed several methodologies that have been successfully applied in IFAD supported operations, such as the household mentoring methodology in Kenya and Uganda, the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) or Cerranda Brecha ín Latina America.  Together with our partners (e.g. Oxfam Novib) , we have pioneered these methods which can serve as good examples at the household levels, while we are promoting at the same time women’s equal rights through our support to the  UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). 


Dear colleagues

Thank you for inviting us on this discussion!!

Thank you Maria Hartle for highlighting the GENDER ACTION LEARNING SYSTEM (GALS) tool developed by IFAD + Oxfam-Novb. I have done an assessment of this for Oxfam-Novib, and the summary report (just 9 pages) has been posted at different websites, and can be viewed from the following:





I have read the summary paper (Women and Family Farming) carefully. I really appreciate the contents. So some of my reflection are the following:

1) INEQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF BENEFITS at household level, particularly in ways that do not reflect the actual contribution of each household members, results in low motivation and incentives to work, or failures in collaboration, and hampers the maximization of capacities of household members, thus seriously constraining not only the individual and economic development of women themselves, but also the entire development of the community. Farnworth (2011) clearly indicated that in rural Uganda where husbands continue to sell coffee without the consent of wives, the latter lost interest in taking care of coffee quality and they also sell un-ripe coffee (without husband’s knowledge!) to fulfil some cash needs.


2) ACHIEVEMENT OF FOOD SECURITY ALONE CAN NOT GUARANTEE GENDER EQUALITY: Indeed, there is increasing evidence that such policies that ensure equal access to land may help women to full fill their immediate and pressing ‘practical needs’ of ensuring food security for themselves and of family members. … However, gender equality advocates (see Naila Kabeer’s work) argue that confining the analysis of gender inequality to these achievements alone serves to convey the impression that women’s disempowerment is largely a matter of poverty.


3) COMMUNITY ATTITUDE NEED TO CHANGE: Policies that guarantee equal access to land between husband and wife may increase women’s ‘bargaining power’ with-in the household, in the sense that the wife can be sure to have a stronger ‘fall back position’ if the ‘cooperation’ with the husband (i.e marriage) breaks down. However, women’s overall wellbeing can still remain vulnerable to community attitude on gender. ….Such vulnerability of women outside the family, has been well illustrated in case of Ethiopian women who have the real access to land (women have equal constitutional right to land), but face divorce….  After the divorce a woman will have two alternatives; either to remain in the community of her husband or to go back to her natal communities (in which case she, according to Peasant Association’s Land Law – which do not provide for ‘non-residential rights’ --  would lose her land rights). If she decides to take the first option [remain in the community of her husband fighting for a share of land – not an easy task!!], she will face many problems. Among other things, she will start to feel an ‘outsider’ amidst relatives of her former husband. People might also start to treat her in that way. Therefore, the woman cannot mobilize the necessary labour, especially male labour, to get her land–share ploughed. People, including her ex-friends, will not positively reply to her calls for help for fear of being thought to take sides against her former husband (IFAD, 2001).

Thanks and Regards


Getaneh Gobezie

E-Mail: getanehg2002@yahoo.com

LinkedIn Profile:



Thanks so much everyone for all the great comments, insights and shared information. This is exactly what we were hoping for. There is still a little time for more contributions before the festive season takes over, and then we will finalise the paper to incorporate all these contributions in the discussion paper by the middle of January. Wishing you all seasons' greetings and a very happy new year.

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