The Global Water Initiative (GWI) was an action-research and advocacy programme that ran from 2008-17. The project is now closed. This site is no longer being updated, but allows access to GWI outputs until 1 October 2020 when it will also close. After that date, information about the project and core GWI technical publications will continue to be available from the IIED website and Publications Library.

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Women farmers

Rice farming in West Africa is traditionally an activity undertaken by women, along with young people, despite this, irrigated land is almost always allocated to men. Women do not usually own or inherit land generally, and they tend not to participate fully in public processes.


The role of women in rice production

Our research on smallholder rice farming in areas irrigated by large dams in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal shows that women want more economic and social autonomy. To achieve this they need to be able to diversify their sources of income and play a greater role in decision-making by local producer and community organisations. This, in turn, cannot be done without addressing the social and cultural barriers to women’s independence and empowerment.

Recent research by the World Bank states that “even though women make up a large share of Africa’s farmers, they tend to be locked out of land ownership, access to credit and productive farm inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and farming tools, support from extension services, and access to markets and other factors essential to their productivity”.

To enable women to be more autonomous and enhance not just their own livelihoods, but also contribute to the wider economy, the specific needs of women smallholders have to be taken into account by policy makers and local farmer organisations.

What do women farmers want?

In Mali, local women in the irrigated perimeter of the Sélingué dam are earning money from rice steaming (‘étuvage’). They want access to markets, credit and the space to carry out their work.

In Burkina Faso, in the areas irrigated by the Bagré dam, women want access to their own land to grow more rice, improve their livelihoods, and in turn be able to afford the fertiliser and equipment needed to produce more and better.

Our work: GWI West Africa has been working with women smallholders in Burkina Faso in the irrigated perimeter of the Bagré dam using participatory video-making. The women’s opinions, hopes and concerns have been documented through this process, viewed and debated with the wider community and shared with decision-makers.

We are also researching the links between different types of farmers, plot sizes and production systems – including a focus on women’s roles in the rice production value chain.

Find out more about our work on Empowering smallholders.