Agriculture and Enterprise Skills for Women Smallholder Farmers

Women play a vital, but often ignored, role in addressing hunger. Whilst a large proportion of farmers in the developing world are female, many lack voice and organisation.  To boost women smallholders’ productivity and reduce their vulnerability to various challenges, women need to be able to access and apply appropriate training for rural livelihoods.

A recent project – Training for Rural Development – highlights the many challenges that women marginal farmers face on a daily basis in their efforts to produce food for their families and communities and focuses on how training can contribute to improved livelihoods for women in the developing world. The research project was conducted by City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development, a not-for-profit research and development organisation that spent January to August 2009 researching and reviewing past and present international projects helping women farmers.

Having evaluated the success of various training schemes in different contexts and different countries, the project’s report offers six key findings:

  1. Enterprise training is valuable in helping women branch out into small business.
  2. To improve women smallholders’ access to training, their particular situations – including their level of literacy and domestic chores – need to be taken into account.
  3. A systematic approach to training for women should be taken, whereby the whole community is involved, to improve women’s positions.
  4. Groups are particularly important in enabling access to training for women, and helping to disseminate information from that training.
  5. Increasing technology use helps to improve agricultural yields whilst reducing the amount of work needed to go into production.
  6. Training programmes needs to be coordinated with improving women farmers’ access to resources to purchase inputs and technologies, and building strong rural infrastructure links to enable women to access training.

After the review phase, the project held four field trials over two countries; Ghana and India. Using lessons from these case studies, the project draws out four recommendations in reaching and supporting women farmers:

  1. Projects must engage with the women and their current challenges through providing a long-term commitment to the community.
  2. Projects must use existing community structures, for example engaging with community leaders, to make training more effective.
  3. Changes need to be introduced in stages that women can manage themselves. Including managerial skills in training programmes can help to support them in this.
  4. Projects can secure longer-term change by engaging effectively with local government structures.

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