Putting Gender on the Map in Sub-Saharan Africa

New Tool Focuses on the Role of Women in Agriculture
March 26, 2012

No stone should go unturned in efforts to boost agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet researchers have only begun to give serious attention to one crucial aspect of this complex challenge: gender.

On World Water Day, IFPRI and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) launched an innovative mapping tool that gathers and displays information about gender-defined farming roles—including those related to water management—in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite misconceptions about the role that women play in farming households in the region, mothers and daughters don’t just prepare and cook food—they also grow it. In fact, women in the region carry out half of all agriculture-related labor, whether it’s planting seeds, watering fields, harvesting crops, or selling food in markets. Women also manage key resources, including land and water, but they often have less secure control over their resources, and are often excluded by programs that aim to improve land and water use.

“Both men and women in Sub-Saharan Africa are active farmers who need support to grow bountiful crops. But, depending on the way in which gender roles are defined in their particular cultures, men and women face a different set of obstacles to overcome in their efforts to become productive, profitable farmers,” said Ruth Meinzen-Dick, a senior research at IFPRI.

In some regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, men make decisions about the purchase of seeds, farming equipment and other purchases without consulting their wives. In other regions, men and women either make these decisions together or make separate decisions about their own, separate plots.

But there is a dearth of information about these differences in specific geographic areas. “If we don’t learn more about how gender differences play out on farms in specific regions, opportunities to effectively help farmers increase production and sustainably use their land and water resources in those regions could be lost,” she said.

“For example, when irrigation programs are introduced, are women’s plots being served as well as men’s?”

To learn more ways in which gender impacts farming in Sub-Saharan Africa, IFPRI and IWMI designed the Gender Mapper. This interactive, map-based tool is designed to collect information from gender and farming experts in the field to identify gender-related farming patterns in particular geographical areas. Available to anyone with a web browser, the gender mapper displays this data via interactive maps.

View the Gender Mapper here. Or learn more about the gender mapper by reading the IFPRI discussion paper, Putting gender on the map: Methods for mapping gendered farm management systems in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Gender Mapper was funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.