The Role of Women in Agriculture
9 - 12
Students will investigate the number of women farmers globally and identify these farmers’ impacts on contemporary agriculture. Grades 9-12
Two to three 50-minute class periods
- The Important Role of Women in Feeding the World's Population video
- World Map printed at 125% on legal paper, 1 per student
- The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 (FAO) Report (also attached as PDF under Essential Files)
- World Regions: Female Share of Economically Active in Agriculture handout, 1 per student
- Colored pencils
- Evolving Role of Women in Agriculture PowerPoint slides
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
economically active: defined as the labor force—the number of all employed and unemployed seeking work
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): an agency that combats global hunger and promotes rural development
gender: the relations between men and women, both perceptual and material; gender is not determined biologically, as a result of sexual characteristics of either women or men, but is constructed socially; it is a central organizing principle of societies, and often governs the processes of production and reproduction, consumption, and distribution (as defined by the FAO)
gender gap: differences in the outcomes that men and women achieve in the labor market
Gender Inequality Index (GII): an index for measurement of gender disparity that was introduced in 2010 by the United Nations Development Programme; includes indices such as empowerment, labor, and reproductive health
gender roles: distribution of responsibilities and resources between men and women, shaped by ideological, religious, ethnic, economic, and cultural factors
Human Development Index (HDI): a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development including living a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable, and having a decent standard of living
Labor Force Participation Rate: a measure of the active portion of an economy's labor force; the participation rate refers to the proportion of the population ages 15 and older who are economically active
Millennium Development Goals: endorsed by the United Nations in September 2000, eight measurable goals were declared as a commitment to build a safer, more prosperous, and equitable world with a target date of 2015
principal farm operator: the person in charge of a farm’s day-to-day operations
smallholder farmers: the definition of smallholders differs between countries and between agro-ecological zones; farmers with a low asset base, operating less than 2 hectares (approx. 5 acres) of cropland (as defined by the World Bank)
subsistence farming: the practice of small-scale agriculture for direct consumption by individuals, families, and small communities
Sustainable Development Goals: adopted in September 2015, this set of 17 goals seeks to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda; each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years
Did You Know? (Ag Facts)
- Female farmers are 8% of the world’s population; male farmers are 11%.1
- Women make up 20% of the agricultural labor force in Latin America and nearly 50% in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.1
- The agricultural yield gap between men and women averages 20-30%. Closing the gender gap could increase agricultural yields in developing countries by up to 4%.1
- Closing the gender gap, and therefore increasing agricultural yields, could reduce the number of undernourished people by 130 million, or 15%.1
Background Agricultural Connections
In many areas of the world, women farmers are positively influencing their communities. They come from diverse backgrounds in regards to social status, land ownership, education, political climate, and access to technology. Regardless of whether these farmers are raising turkeys in Minnesota, growing fresh-cut flowers in Colombia, or producing coffee beans in Uganda, women farmers “make crucial contributions in agriculture and rural enterprises in all developing country regions as farmers, workers and entrepreneurs.”2
The contributions of women farmers to global agriculture are documented by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in its 2010-2011 report The State of Food and Agriculture. The FAO is an organization that combats global hunger and promotes rural development, and therefore, provides information regarding gender—the relations between men and women—and their gender roles—the distribution of responsibilities and resources between men and women. In this report, the gender gap—differences in accessing resources, markets, and services between men and women—in agriculture is analyzed. This report also details the percentage of females who are economically active in agriculture (employed or seeking work in agriculture).
The aforementioned disparity is quantified by indexes such as the Gender Inequality Index (GII)—an index for measurement of gender disparity that was introduced in 2010 by the United Nations Development Programme and includes indices such as empowerment, labor, and reproductive health. The higher the GII, the greater is the inequality between men and women. Another index used is the Human Development Index (HDI)—a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development, including living a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable, and having a decent standard of living. The highest possible HDI is 100%. This index examines the health and prosperity of people and is not based on gender. However, it is interesting to compare the HDI to the female labor force participation rate—the percentage of women holding full-time jobs outside the home. According to the World Bank, females comprised 40% of the world labor force in 2014. In general, women in developed countries represent a higher percentage of the labor force than women in developing countries. Interestingly, “in sub-Saharan Africa—the region with the lowest HDI—the [labor force participation] ratio is the world’s highest, with 77 women for every 100 men in the labor force.”3 Additionally, women in this region hold jobs in agriculture even while having the world’s highest fertility rates.
Women working in agriculture have varied responsibilities on and ownership of the farms on which they labor. According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, women comprise 30% of all farm operators and 14% of principal farm operators in charge of a farm's daily operations in the United States. That percentage is higher globally; the United Nations reports that 43% of the world’s farmers are women. Many of the world’s female farmers are smallholder farmers engaged in subsistence farming. These farmers work fewer than five acres of land and produce small-scale agriculture for direct consumption by individuals, families, and small communities.
Because women grow most of the world’s crops for domestic consumption and are primarily responsible for preparing, storing, and processing food, women play an instrumental role in both household and national food security.4
In 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were developed by a United Nations initiative to address extreme poverty and its global impacts. With a target date of 2015, two of the goals included eradicating extreme poverty and hunger (achieving productive employment for women), and promoting gender equality and empowering women. The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015, states that significant improvements were achieved in all eight goals which has saved millions of lives and improved living conditions for many more. However, this same report concludes that global gender inequality still persists. “Women continue to face discrimination in access to work, economic assets and participation in private and public decision-making. Women are also more likely to live in poverty than men.”5 Additionally, women are disadvantaged in the global labor market, earning 24% less than men.
In 2015, countries around the world adopted a new set of goals that built on the MDGs. These Sustainable Development Goals, with a target date of 2030, address ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring prosperity for all. Again, gender equality is included to provide females with “equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes.”5
The Evolving Role of Women in Agriculture PowerPoint that accompanies this lesson describes the “state of the planet” in regards to women’s roles in agriculture and the positive impacts that eliminating gender discrimination can provide in regards to Extension services, education, financial credit, and income.
Interest Approach - Engagement
- Ask students the following questions:
- What is the agricultural share of the economically active US population?
- According to CIA World Factbook: 1.6%
- What is the female share of the economically active US population in agriculture?
- According to 2012 Census of Agriculture: 30%; 14% are principal operators
- What is the agricultural share of the economically active world population?
- According to The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 (FAO) Report: 40%
- What is the female share of the economically active world population in agriculture?
- According to The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 (FAO) Report: 43%
- What is the agricultural share of the economically active US population?
- Are the numbers regarding female farmers—both domestic and global—surprising? Why or why not?
- Show the video The Important Role of Women in Feeding the World's Population (narrated by Matt Damon; 3:33 minutes). Instruct students to write down any statistics they learn. After the viewing, ask students to share the statistics they wrote down so that each student has a complete set of notes. Have a brief discussion about what students find most interesting or surprising about this information.
- Using the provided World Map and Table A4 (beginning on page 111) of The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 (FAO) report, instruct students to complete the table on the World Regions: Female Share of Economically Active in Agriculture handout. Students should determine colors for the map legend.
- Using their map legends, instruct students to use colored pencils to outline each of the world regions and label the regions’ percentages of “female share of economically active in agriculture.” Instruct students to add the legends to their maps.
- As a class, make a list of Key Factors that might impact and explain the different global percentages of the female share of economically active workers in agriculture (e.g., social status, land ownership, education, political climate, access to technology, etc.).
- Divide the students into seven groups. Each group needs access to The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 report, pages 23-36. Assign one group to each of the seven topics in the report: land, livestock, farm labor, education, information and extension, financial services, and technology. Instruct each group of students to read their assigned section, make notes on the key information contained in the report, and be prepared to share that information with the class.
- Ask a member of each group to share the key information from their assigned topic in the report. As a class, add to the list of Key Factors originally created in Step #4.
- Review the key messages in The Evolving Role of Women in Agriculture PowerPoint with the students.
- Using the maps created in Step 3, instruct students to make notes on their maps indicating the aforementioned Key Factors that can be linked to specific regions or countries.
- Divide the class into groups and assign each group a specific group of women farmers (including suggested resources) from the Women in Agriculture Resource List. Using any available means (textbooks, Internet, etc.), each group will research women farmers and compile information on the farmers’ demographics, geographic locations, types of agriculture produced (crops, livestock), financial resources, and limitations (lack of technology, education, financial resources, etc.). Consider recommending the CIA World Factbook as a resource, as well as other resources listed below and in the Suggested Companion Resources sections of this lesson.
- Instruct each group to prepare a “weather report” using the Bob, the Weather Guy Moment (described in the FFA e-Moments document). The reports should summarize their research from Step 1, include a “forecast” of what the future holds for women farmers in the students’ assigned resource, and fit a predetermined length (e.g., 30-second report).
- Have each group present their report to the class.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Production and distribution of food is affected by the relationships between geography, politics, and economics.
- Both developed and underdeveloped countries face economic challenges that affect agriculture and food security.
- Women play an important and changing role in food production around the world.
Either individually or in teams, instruct students to create Venn Diagrams or other graphic organizers that compare and contrast women’s roles in food production and consumption in developing and developed countries.
Instruct students to create infographics using their research from Activity 2. Use the infographics from National Geographic's article International Women's Day 2014: Revealing the Gap Between Men and Women Farmers, the FAO Female Face of Farming Infographic, and the USDA Women in Agriculture Factsheets as examples. Piktochart and easel.ly are free, easy-to-use, software programs for creating engaging infographics.
- Rubenstein, J. (2014). The cultural landscape: An introduction to human geography. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Doug Andersen (UT), Nancy Anderson (UT), Paul Gray (AR), Ken Keller (GA), Lisa Sanders (MN), Sharon Shelerud (MN), Allison Smith (UT), Kelly Swanson (MN)
Sue Knott, Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom
Suggested Companion Resources
National Agriculture in the Classroom