How gender equality can be promoted through climate-smart agriculture


In May 2017, Louise Anten from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs visited a project site of SNV’s ‘Enhancing Opportunities for Women’s Enterprises’ (EOWE) programme in Binh Dinh province. During her time in Binh Dinh, Louise had the opportunity to meet rice and mushroom farmers as well as cooperative leaders. The visit also enabled her to learn more about SNV’s Balancing Benefits approach to accelerate women’s economic empowerment and gender equality. In the below guest blog, Louise shares her experiences and learnings of her visit to the EOWE project site.

‘How gender equality can be promoted through climate-smart agriculture’

‘I had a higher rice yield due to the improved techniques, so my income increased. I wanted to spend that income on a small television, and my children wanted that too because there is a lot of news and education on television. But my husband, who works in town, wanted to buy a new motorcycle. We talked about it and in the end we bought the new television.’ A Vietnamese female farmer told this story when we attended a meeting of the Phue Son I farmers’ cooperative in Binh Dinh province. The cooperative works with SNV to promote women’s enterprises through improved and climate-smart agriculture. The project is funded by the Dutch programme ‘Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women’ (FLOW) 2016-2020. The quote illustrates that the project enhances women’s voice in decision-making. As such it is an interesting case of promoting gender equality through agricultural development.

How and why is gender being integrated into improved and climate-smart agriculture?
SNV’s ‘Enhancing Opportunities for Women’s Enterprises’ (EOWE) project introduces improved, climate smart farming techniques to rice-cultivating families organized in cooperatives. These techniques increase rice yields and reduce risks of crop failure, while also reducing water use, pesticide use and greenhouse gas emissions. The approach to agricultural development is comprehensive, supporting farmers, cooperatives and government services. The project also helps farmers to diversify from rice production to high value crops such as mushrooms and asparagus and to access new markets. In short, fairly standard good practices for agricultural development.

But the approach entails more. Early on SNV recognized the potential to create more equality between men and women. Traditionally in rural Vietnam, the women are responsible for the selection of rice varieties, cleaning the rice field and sowing. Increasingly they are also in charge of irrigation, fertilisation and pesticide spraying as husbands seek work in nearby towns. So the project logically worked mainly with women to improve agricultural practices. Does that automatically improve the position of women? Apparently not, since women traditionally have little say over the spending of increased incomes or decision-making in farmer cooperatives, and continue to be held back by household and care tasks. The innovative feature of the project is that these gender issues are now at the heart of all activities: women’s access to leadership and entrepreneurship, reduction of unpaid care work, and decision-making on household expenditures. The woman cited at the start of this blog has evidently gained in confidence to discuss household expenditures with her husband.

Louise and SNV staff at Phue Son I farmers’ cooperative in Binh Dinh

Louise - 2nd from left - listening to Director of Agriculture Extension Centre

Benefits for the government, communities, families and husbands
The approach seems to be well accepted, because it takes due account of the interest of many stakeholders. The Vietnamese government is supportive because it recognizes its policy priorities: economic development, intensification and market-orientation of agriculture, climate, and gender equality. Communities benefit from increased contributions, confidence and leadership capacities of women. Families benefit, as women tend to invest a larger share of their incomes in health and education of children. And husbands, as long as they are involved in the project and their positions are respected, tend to appreciate and respect their wives for their economic achievements and contributions to the household.

The cooperative Phue Son I is one of many in Vietnam. They provide us with great lessons. Agricultural improvements are very acceptable if main stakeholders agree on their importance. Where women are key to implementation, the agricultural innovations will succeed even better if the main constraints for women are addressed. As a result, women gain in income, respect and negotiating power, leading to more equal gender relations.

Written by Louise Anten, Policy Advisor Gender and Private Sector Development at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.