20 June 2008

Would a green revolution in Africa be bad for women?

Most people would probably say 'no'. After all, most African women are farmers and so a green revolution should raise their incomes.

But what if improvements in farming technology shift control over food production (and hence income) from women to men?

The much-maligned Food and Agriculture Organization has a focus piece on this, which concludes that the Green Revolution in Asia benefited richer farmers more than poorer farmers and men more than women. Richer farmers, because not everyone could afford high-yielding seeds and fertiliser. Men, because
women lost the income they used to get from threshing and pounding grain when they were replaced by male-operated mills.

This is an important lesson for me, because I've been keen to see rice mills and other low-tech devices spread throughout Africa. I suspect the conclusion is less applicable to Africa, because wage labour is already rare among rural women and rice mills like the one in the picture employ women too. But it's a salutary reminder that we ignore the gender dimension of development at our peril.

Overall, I feel that any kind of agricultural development would be better for women than, say, a rural economy based around mining. My colleagues Emily Stanger and Molly Kinder just won an award for a paper that makes this point in the Liberian context.

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