Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Krista Jacobs on the Role of Gender in Responsive Agriculture Programs and the Barriers to Equality

Krista Jacobs is the Senior Gender Advisor for USAID’s Bureau for Food Security. This Feed the Future Week, Agrilinks sat down with Krista to discuss her role as a leader, the women who inspire her and the most critical barriers to women’s progress in the agriculture sector. Krista will be taking over Agrilinks Twitter handle for the Feed the Future week Twitter chat on 9/18 at 11 a.m. EST. Join us by following #HerImpact on Twitter!

Agrilinks: As a leader, you are the Senior Gender Advisor for USAID’s Bureau for Food Security. What motivates you to work on the cross-section of gender and agriculture?

Krista Jacobs (KJ): A big part of my role is thinking about and helping my colleagues to think about the people in agriculture. Who are those people, what are their resources, their incentives and their power? What’s going on in people’s lives in addition to agriculture affects agriculture. Women’s and men’s roles and responsibilities and norms about what women do and what men do affect what crops and animals are raised and how, who goes to market, what information and inputs people access, how income is spent, and who eats what. The more we understand the gender and social dynamics, the more relevant and responsive we can make our programs.

Agrilinks: The 2019 Feed the Future week is all about female inspirers in agriculture. Who influences and inspires you?

KJ: So many people! In my last couple trips abroad, I got to meet two young women who were working as agriculture extension providers, a role that is typically done by men. They had studied agriculture – something rare for young women to do – and were now traveling around – something not seen as typical for women to do where they are – making visits to their farmers and giving advice on row-planting and managing disease. That’s leadership to me.

Agrilinks: How gender impacts agriculture and projects can be subtle and not initially obvious. How do you encourage your staff to think carefully about the impact of gender in their ag projects?

KJ: I try to use a mix of evidence, questions, and what people in projects already see. Regarding evidence, for every project I’m working with, I need to understand the gender dynamics of the people and institutions in the mix and how they might interact with what the project is actually about. Where are women and men already in the value chain or institution and where are they not? Why not? Who is making what decisions? What resources do they have? What’s important to end users? For example, if a project is about small-scale irrigation in Uganda, I’m not going to lecture on gender dynamics throughout that country. But I will come to the project with data on what crops women and men grow, what the crops are for, decision-making over income and cultivation and gendered asset ownership and access to finance. I’ll ask questions about current watering practices and irrigation use, portability of irrigation, potential relevance of the planned equipment for women’s and men’s crops, earnings, and workloads. Then, ideally, I’ll talk with the project on which of the challenges or opportunities are most important and options for how they could address them in the project.

Just as important in helping people see where gender dynamics are at work is helping the project team come to some sort of prioritization (which requires an understanding of both the agriculture issues and the gender issues) and also providing resources, tools, or support to respond to gender-related challenges and opportunities. (One of the fun things about my job is that I get to learn about all sorts of things that Feed the Future works in – sorghum varieties in Ethiopia, aquaculture and fish processing, agricultural machinery in Ghana, and more.)

Agrilinks: Feed the Future has begun to tackle many of the barriers hindering women’s progress, increasing their access to credit and loans, reducing their workload, and so much more. What are some barriers you think we’ve made significant progress on?

KJ: A few of the barriers we’ve made progress on are reaching women with our programming, credit, and data. Since Feed the Future started, our agricultural training in the field has consistently reached similar numbers of women and men. Working through groups, like farmer cooperatives and village savings and loans, has been one helpful channel in reaching both women and men. In 2017 alone, Feed the Future worked with over 9,000 women’s groups. Since 2011, over $630 million in loans have been unlocked for women and their business. In areas where we work, more than 2.5 million more women have access to credit and make decisions on what to do with it. And we know this because Feed the Future collects sex-disaggregated data and uses the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index to track progress and adjust course as needed.

Agrilinks: What do you believe are the most critical barriers that prevent women’s progress in the agriculture sector?

KJ: Gender norms about what women and men can do and should do. Norms affect how women spend their time and who decides how they spend their time – and women’s high workloads are already a barrier to progress. But norms also affect what crops women cultivate, how big they grow their farms and their businesses, whether they own livestock or land, and whether or how they’re part of household, community, or policy decisions.

In so many places where I’ve had the privilege to work, there is an underlying theme of: It’s good for women to earn a little extra money, but not too much money, because then there won’t be harmony in the home – women will forget their responsibilities, or men will become suspicious. Changing power dynamics and roles can be risky and scary for everyone. We need to help both women and men be willing and able to navigate those dynamics to make it easier for women to be as successful and visible as their talents and efforts will take them.

Agrilinks: What are the most helpful tools for women working in the ag sector?

KJ: That’s a big question. One of the factors I’ve seen make a difference is organizing. Whether it’s being a part of cooperatives or community groups, being able to learn with and from other women is where I’ve seen women collectively change minds and change how the local system works. From local government commitments to pastoral land rights and governance, women standing collectively for their needs, contributions, and values is powerful.   

Hear more from Krista Jacobs during Agrilinks' October webinar and theme month on gender and agriculture. Sign up for our mailing list to stay up to date with Agrilinks theme months and webinars!

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