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Regional themes > Gender Last update: 2020-11-27  


Feminization of agriculture: Trends and driving forces1

Susana Lastarria-Cornhiel2


November 2006

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Executive summary

Women’s work in agriculture has become more visible over the last few decades. In part, this is due to research and data collection that has attempted to more accurately measure women’s activities in rural areas. But, more importantly, women have broadened and deepened their involvement in agricultural production over the last few decades as they increasingly shoulder the responsibility for household survival and respond to economic opportunities in commercial agriculture. This trend has been called the feminization of agriculture. This paper will describe how women have increased their labor in two types of agricultural production—smallholder production and agro-export agriculture—and the economic and socio-cultural forces that are driving this trend.

In smallholder agriculture, the traditional gender segregation of tasks in agricultural and livestock production is becoming blurred. Women are taking over more of the agricultural tasks once done only by men such as land preparation, and they are investing more work in cash crop production. Off the farm, large-scale production of nontraditional agricultural exports (or high value agricultural exports) offers wage-work opportunities in fieldwork, processing, and packing. Much of this work, in contrast to traditional agricultural export production, is done by women who are generally employed for limited periods of time. There is a strong gender segregation of tasks in the fields, processing plants, and packing plants. Women do the labor-intensive tasks and men do those tasks that entail strength or involve machinery. In addition, men predominate in the limited number of permanent positions and in supervision and management.

While women have increased their work time in agricultural production, there has been little change in the gender division of labor within the household with regard to reproductive work: men are not assuming reproductive and domestic tasks, even as women are increasing their participation in on-farm and off-farm productive activities.

The work conditions in high-value agricultural exports are strongly influence by gender relations. The high levels of women employed in this industry and their segregation into certain tasks and occupations reduces production costs because women’s wages are lower than men’s and their employment is highly temporary.

Finally, this paper examines whether women’s participation in income-producing activities, whether as wage workers or as family workers in cash cropping, contributes to empowerment and improves their status within the household.

  1. This document is part of a series of contributions by Rimisp-Latin American Center for Rural Development ( to the preparation of the World Development Report 2008 “Agriculture for Development”. This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada ( The contents of this document are the exclusive responsibility of the authors.
  2. University of Wisconsin-Madison. E-mail:

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