Studies have shown that female farmers make less use of agricultural inputs (Rs 2,923/month) than male farmers (Rs 5,449/month), the World Bank (WB) in a publication titled ‘Exploring the Sources of the Agricultural Productivity Gender Gap Evidence from Sri Lanka’ said.
But, they are also less likely to receive subsidies (18 per cent) than male farmers (38.9 per cent) and conditional on receipt, the amount received by women (Rs 658/month) is smaller than for male farmers (Rs 935/month), it said.
Nonetheless, Sri Lanka’s land laws may discriminate against women who opt to be governed by personal laws, the WB said. Women who marry under the Thesawalami law cannot gain control of property without their husband’s consent, it said. Also, under the Land Development Ordinance of 1935 and its subsequent amendments, the grant of state land in agricultural settlement schemes continues to favour men over women because grants are generally made to the male head of the household, it further said.
Further disadvantages include lower access to finance (proxied by whether the farmer had a loan); less access to paid agricultural family labour and a lower degree of mechanization (proxied by tractor ownership), the WB said. Female farmers also have fewer opportunities for nonfarm activities relative to male farmers: while 44.9 per cent of male farmers are engaged in nonfarm labour activities and drew 29.7 per cent of their income from these sources, only 19.3 per cent of female farmers have access to nonfarm labour opportunities which comprise only 10.3 per cent of their income, the WB said.
“Meanwhile, women working in agriculture spend significantly less time on paid employment and more time on unpaid domestic work, whether compared to male workers in agriculture or to their counterparts working outside agriculture,” the WB said. Thus, interventions that could ease women’s household responsibilities for instance are likely to help increase women’s agricultural productivity and generate more crop income, it said.
However, agriculture productivity measured by yields, defined as output value per acre, is higher among female farmers than male farmers, the WB recently said. “The average value of crop output per acre is higher for female farmers (Rs 19,809/acre) than male farmers (Rs 15,976/acre), resulting in a productivity advantage for female farmers.”
They attributed this to two reasons. They are that female farmers generally grow export-oriented crops like tea, whereas male farmers tend to grow low -value crops like paddy catering to the domestic market and the relatively smaller size of female farmer plots compared to those of males.
Among male farmers, about 45 per cent of land was accounted for by paddy, which is more than twice as much as the share among female farmers (20 per cent), the WB said. In addition, the crop mix of female farmers tends to skew toward export-oriented crops: for example, an average of 31 per cent of land area was dedicated to tea cultivation among female farmers whereas the share was only 14 per cent for male farmers, it said.
Meanwhile, the average land area cultivated by female farmers (1.04 acres) is only about half of that of male farmers (1.95 acres), the WB said. “We find that the leading contributor to this productivity gap in favour of women is the smaller size of the plots that women cultivate, reflecting the inverse relationship between farm size and agricultural productivity,” it said.
“However, this female productivity advantage does not translate into higher incomes among female farmers as smaller plots are associated with lower crop income,” the WB warned. Thus, policies designed to promote equitable land rights for women and men could help address this gap, it said.
But on the whole, improving productivity of paddy can contribute to food security while releasing land and labour for the cultivation of higher-value crops, within agro-climatic constraints, the WB said. However, the Sri Lankan Government’s import substitution strategy which favours import competing commodities such as paddy, along with a fertiliser subsidy programme mainly focused on paddy cultivation is likely to discourage a shift toward high-value agriculture, the WB warned.
By Paneetha Ameresekere