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

Recognizing Female Agricultural Workers and the Implications for Extension Policy

In this post, Hussain Bux Mallah, Research Associate at the Collective for Social Science Research, shares his perspective on the fundamental issues facing women agricultural workers in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s employment trends from 2013 show that three-fourths of the female labor force is employed in agriculture, and the proportion of women working in agriculture has increased more than 10 percent from 2001-02 to 2012-13. This figure indicates the steady feminization of the agriculture sector in Pakistan, but the agriculture sector is not very friendly to women, especially pregnant and/or lactating mothers. The health status of mothers working in agricultural labor and their children is alarming. According to DHS 2012-13, out of all mothers who are working in the agriculture sector, 29 percent are underweight, 13 percent of their children are wasted and 52 percent are stunted. Women who work in agriculture are far more likely to be underweight (17 percent) and to have children who are wasted (eight percent) and stunted (48 percent) than women who do not work in agriculture — underweight (11 percent), children wasted (11 percent) and children stunted (42 percent).  

In Pakistan, the livestock and agriculture extensions are managed as separate administrative domains and provincial subjects. In Sindh province, the Agriculture Extension and Livestock/Fisheries Departments are engaged in various development projects with the help of domestic and foreign funding. The agriculture extension department is investing in irrigation management at the farm level as well as improvement in seeds’ quality and increasing land fertility quality. The livestock department is working with foreign funders on the maintenance of veterinary hospitals for animal healthcare, breeding and maximizing milk produce. The local field and departmental experts might very well be worse off with gendered norms and feminization phenomenon in those sectors. These departments are functional through predominantly male agriculture and livestock officers and field assistants on lower-level administrative units.

In Pakistan’s typical customary laws, land entitlements mostly concern men, and men are the authorities in handling agriculture business such as water management, decisions on type of crop, purchasing inputs and marketing. Women in sharecropping tenant families often do unpaid work on farm land, and women in laborer families are seldom paid for their wages directly. In Sindh province, the Agriculture Extension and Livestock/Fisheries Departments often advertise field based jobs with no preference for women’s employment. Agricultural policies and programs are often framed for the benefit of male farmers. 

It is a conspicuous fact that women farmers/agricultural workers are not even modestly recognized as stakeholders in the agriculture extension policy realm. I think it is time that the public Agricultural Extension department, in its advisory service capacity, engages with women farmers and workers as key stakeholders so that provincial agricultural extension services can be progressively feminized. Explicit recognition of women farmers/agricultural workers as stakeholders can lead to a rapid changes in the status of women, and this outcome can drive agricultural extension policy paradigm to be more gender and nutrition-sensitive.