Gender, assets, and market-oriented agriculture: learning from high-value crop and livestock projects in Africa and Asia

Strengthening the abilities of smallholder farmers in developing countries, particularly women farmers, to produce for both home and the market is currently a development priority. In many contexts, ownership of assets is strongly gendered, reflecting existing gender norms and limiting women’s ability to invest in more profitable livelihood strategies such as market-oriented agriculture. Yet the intersection between women’s asset endowments and their ability to participate in and benefit from agricultural interventions receives minimal attention. This paper explores changes in gender relations and women’s assets in four agricultural interventions that promoted high value agriculture with different degrees of market-orientation. Findings suggest that these dairy and horticulture projects can successfully involve women and increase production, income and the stock of household assets. In some cases, women were able to increase their control over production, income and assets; however in most cases men’s incomes increased more than women’s and the gender-asset gap did not decrease. Gender- and asset-based barriers to participation in projects as well as gender norms that limit women’s ability to accumulate and retain control over assets both contributed to the results. Comparing experiences across the four projects, especially where projects implemented adaptive measures to encourage gender-equitable outcomes, provides lessons for gender-responsive projects targeting existing and emerging value chains for high value products. Other targeted support to women farmers may also be needed to promote their acquisition of the physical assets required to expand production or enter other nodes of the value chain.

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