UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs,
with support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)
******************************************************************* This document is being made available by the Population Information Network (POPIN) Gopher of the United Nations Population Division, Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis, in collaboration with the Population Programme Service, Sustainable Development Department, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. For further information, please contact: Mr. Jacques du Guerny, email: firstname.lastname@example.org ******************************************************************* July 1994 WOMEN, POPULATION AND ENVIRONMENT IN AGRICULTURAL AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT - POLICY CHALLENGES AND RESPONSES Zoran Roca, FAO* Introduction Many developing countries are faced with the challenge of achieving a balance between population size, structures and distribution in relation to natural resource potentials on which food production and food security largely depend. In most cases, unless substantial reductions in fertility levels take place as a response to, inter alia, the shrinking availability of land and deteriorating environmental conditions for food production, the realization of sustainable agriculture and rural development will be increasingly difficult to realize. It has been well documented that rural women's socio-economic status and productive and reproductive roles have a decisive impact on population dynamics, and on fertility levels in particular (FAO, 1979, 1984; McNicoll & Cain, 1990; Sadik, 1990; FAO 1991, 1991b; Palmer 1991). The same is also true of women's status and roles in relation to environmental conditions (FAO, 1991a,c; UNFPA, 1991, Jacobson 1992; UNEP/IBRD, 1993). However, it should also be recognized that rural women have become a very important "closing link" between population dynamics and environmental change: as important natural resource users and managers in providing food and securing overall family welfare, and sometimes indeed as the backbone of smallholder agricultural production, rural women actually hold the key to changes in reproductive behaviour and fertility levels, and, ultimately, to population growth, structures, and distribution. This paper illustrates the above argument by, first, focusing on the need for gender- responsive population policies and programmes conducive to the goals of sustainable agriculture and rural development, and, second, by articulating a conceptual framework for such policies and programmes. While pointing to the determinants of high fertility levels and large family size (especially the social and economic value of children to women) in rural societies with prevailing smallholders' agricultural production, the impact of specific development interventions on women's status, as well as possible fertility-related consequences, are highlighted. As an example from a concrete socio-economic and geographical context, socio-demographic effects of some agricultural and rural development policies and interventions in South East Asia are also presented. Labour demands, environmental stress, and the value of children to women The historical mainstay of many of the world's viable agro-ecological systems have been women. The relationship between women and the environment revolves around their concerns for providing family food security, fuel, water, and health care. Whether reference is made to Sub-Saharan Africa or the Caribbean, where women produce 60-80 percent of the supply of basic foodstuffs, or to the Indian subcontinent where between 70 and 80 percent of food crops grown are produced by women, or to Asia where they perform over 50 percent of the labour involved in intensive rice cultivation, or to Indonesia or Central and South America, where their home gardens represent some of the most complex agro-silvopastoral systems known, women hold a vast amount of responsibility for, and knowledge of, sustainable agricultural systems (FAO, 1992a). Rural women's productive contributions tend to be undermined and ever more difficult to carry out in the context of population pressure - manifested through high natural increase, high agricultural densities, high dependency ratios, low labour productivity, etc. - on limited, marginal, and increasingly degraded agricultural land and other natural resource base. In particular, levels of time and human energy inputs required in women's farm- and home-based productive and reproductive chores are raising. Furthermore, women are normally worst hit by generally low and sometimes worsening health and nutrition conditions, persistent overall poverty, as well as by growing labour shortages due to male out-migration in search of wage employment. In various parts of the developing world women are increasingly becoming the sole decision-makers for the household. For example, it is estimated that in many African countries at least a third of rural households are maintained by women. All these are but some of the major aspects of socio-economic features that have been contributing to the growing burden of rural women's responsibilities in maintaining their families in virtually all parts of the developing world (South Commission, 1990; FAO 1990, 1991b; Palmer, 1991; Spring, 1991; UNFPA, 1991; Jacobson, 1992). Though important natural resource users and managers, producers of food and other products, and indeed major contributors to the family wellbeing, women have been normally "invisible" to development policy-makers, programme planners and researchers. Consequently, women tend to remain without adequate social and institutional support from the family and local community level, to that of the state. Faced with the gender- asymmetries that disfavour them in social, economic, technological and legal conditions for sustenance of family food supply and overall family welfare, many rural women in the developing world consider a large family to be essential in enabling them to cope with the situation of continuous and often increasing social and economic insecurity (Caldwell and Caldwell, 1987; FAO, 1984, 1992; Joekes et al., 1994). Having a sufficiently large number of children has indeed been a way for women to ensure the availability of a network of people who may assist them economically, both immediately, as well as in the long-term (i.e., anticipated support in the old age). With insufficient cash incomes to satisfy their family needs, and in the absence of labour-saving technologies, the chances for stable food production and sustenance of family welfare have often been strengthened through having a sufficient number of children capable of providing additional labour and who thus serve as a "technological solution" available to women farmers (Oppong, 1988; Youssef, 1988; Palmer, 1991; FAO, 1984, 1992; Rodda, 1991, Jacobson, 1992; Cleaver and Schreiber, 1992). The high economic value placed on children, and on child labour in particular, is reinforced especially when farm activities are affected by labour shortages coupled by adverse environmental conditions. Increasing workload in smallholder agricultural production is more acute in the poorest and most ecologically fragile regions. The most affected are women agricultural producers on overworked, degraded, shrinking and ever more distant cultivable land. While they do not have access to modern, labour-saving or environmentally sound farming techniques, increasingly hard and time-consuming work is required on their plots, which are often the most susceptible to erosion, desertification and other forms of land degradation. Child labour is also highly valuable in domestic chores, especially in those most affected by the depletion of natural resources and by environmental degradation. For example, in rural Africa, 60 to 80 percent of all domestic fuel supplies are gathered from forests by women and girls. Collecting and transporting firewood and other forest products can typically take up several hours per day, and with the contraction of forest areas, time requirements are increasing drastically. This extra time needed is one of the important reasons why children - especially girls - are taken out of school to help their mothers (FAO, 1987, 1991b; Rodda, 1991). Furthermore, to fetch water for domestic use - one of the most time demanding and physically onerous of all women's daily household tasks - often means that several hours a day may be taken away from other productive and reproductive chores, including child care. Girls are introduced to this task at a very young age as a concrete sign and proof of their socialization (i.e., admission to the women's tasks). Their role increases as mothers' time needed for other home and farm chores becomes more and more demanded. Also, girls normally share the fate of their mothers' lower status in the family: they tend to have access to less and lower quality food and health care than boys, and their mortality rate in the critical period between infancy and age five is often higher than that for boys (FAO, 1991b; Rodda, 1991; UNFPA, 1991, Jacobson, 1992). Where soil fertility has been drastically reduced due to overcropping, deforestation, overgrazing, erosion and so forth, or where there is a lack of firewood and potable water, women are often forced to change the dietary practices and standards of their families. Sometimes this means reducing the number of hot meals per day, and substantially lowering family levels of nutrition, as some staple foods cannot be digested without prolonged cooking. In turn, it is quite possible that the incidence of high infant and child mortality due to poor diet quality or under-nutrition may revive the once important "biological justification" for maintaining high fertility levels. To that same effect may also serve the resurgence of mortality caused by environmentally and poverty-related diseases such as malaria, Bilharzia, or Tuberculosis, as well as by increasing incidence of STDs, especially AIDS (Rodda, 1991; Smyke, 1991; FAO, 1991b; UNFPA 1991; UN Secretariat, 1992). Women's subordinate socio-economic and legal status is often reinforced through "gender-neutral" (but, in fact, most usually male-biased) agricultural and rural development strategies, especially those geared by structural adjustment policies. For example, policy measures emphasizing the production of export crops contribute to an increase in competition for arable land and in land values. Where the allocation of land held under usufruct rights is controlled by senior males in a lineage, adjustment-induced shifts into more profitable crops often result in men taking over land previously cultivated by women for domestic consumption. In other cases, women only have access to much smaller and more distant plots, whose soil tends to become less fertile through overuse and erosion. Women's access to land becomes even more difficult as population growth puts pressure on such scarce and deteriorating natural resources. Again, children (male in particular) often represent women's most reliable key to land rights, and thus to their economic security and social recognition (South Commission, 1990; FAO, 1991b; Spring and Wilde, 1991; Palmer, 1991; Jacobson 1992; Agarwal, 1992). A region-case example: socio-demographic effects of environmental problems and rural development interventions in South East Asia In major parts of South East Asia, the safe limits of horizontal expansion of agriculture have already been reached, meaning that future food and agriculture needs in the region can only be met by intensification, an option that will not be easy due to widespread land degradation. A major cause of degradation is erosion due to water and wind. Only a very limited area is free from soil-related constraints on agricultural production. These constraints include steeply sloping land, severe fertility limitations, and mining of soil nutrients. Successes in food and agricultural production in some parts of the region have had some major drawbacks: monoculture has led to deteriorating soil fertility, high incidence of pest and diseases and mining of the land. The widespread adoption of hybrids has given rise to genetic erosion of the predominant crops. Pesticide use has risen sharply, and problems of pesticide poisoning, health hazards, environmental pollution and pest resistance are now widespread. However, the most serious environmental threat is probably the rapid loss of forest cover. In general, the higher the population growth and density, the more severe the deforestation. Generally, widespread environmental deterioration in the region largely coincides with high population growth and densities, combined with other factors such as: the breakdown of traditional systems of resource management that used to be kept in balance by social regulation of fertility, mortality, marriage and migration; the impact of commercial demand on traditional cultural attitudes of indigenous populations; and, unequal access to land and other resources, as well a fragmentation of holdings. Farming systems are increasingly becoming unsustainable, either because of commercial over-exploitation of resources or because of mere attempts at survival by subsistence farmers. Women represent a significant proportion of the agricultural labour force in most of the South East Asian countries; for example, 35 percent in the Philippines and Malaysia, 54 percent in Indonesia, and over 60 percent in Thailand. In addition to their contribution to the formal agricultural labour, women are actively involved in subsistence farming, retail trading, and in the marketing and distribution of agricultural and non-farm products (FAO, 1991). Women farmers are increasingly affected by male (and, recently also by young female) outmigration from the rural areas, by environmental degradation, by an overall decline in technical and vocational education, and by the growth of agro-industries and large- scale high-tech farms. Above all, however, women farmers are affected by mainstream agriculture and rural development policies and plans that are based on mistaken assumptions as to who "the" farmers are - assumptions that result in programmes directing technical training and resources to men only. Male out-migration from rural areas in the region is both a cause and an effect of population pressure and poverty, reaching epidemic proportions in some countries such as Thailand. Women left on small farms are increasingly taking over agricultural tasks traditionally performed by men. This is especially true when temporary migration becomes long-term or permanent. In such cases, de facto female-heads of households are farmers in their own right, but encounter a variety of constraints that frustrate their capacity to produce. Aside from the direct effects on the social and economic position of rural women, rural out- migration has been contributing to a worsening health status not only of women but also of the entire present and future rural population. Namely, it has been reported in a growing number of instances that returning rural-urban migrants are increasingly transmitting contagious diseases, including AIDS, to rural areas. This might seriously undermine remarkable results in reducing maternal and infant mortality rates, and thus jeopardize considerable efforts made in reducing fertility levels and population pressure in rural areas. While the origins of environmental problems such as deforestation, erosion, diminishing soil fertility, and depletion of natural reserves of potable water are, to a certain degree, attributable to unbalanced population growth and distribution, and largely inter- related to rural poverty, there are also threats to sustainability of the natural resource base that are increasingly associated with inappropriate introduction of modern technology in the quest for higher and more frequent yields. For instance, mining of the soil has caused increased incidence of sulphur and zinc deficiency to the extent that it has become a clear sign and warning of serious, hard-to-repair loss in soil fertility in some countries in the region. Unless environmentally sound farming practices are introduced on a large scale, the growth of the agriculture sector will be short-term only. The worst hit, however, will be subsistence food producers, that is, the majority of the population in the region. Among them, the most affected will continue to be the women. The complexity of linkages between environmental degradation, rural women's status and population dynamics in the context of specific farming systems, and the associated food agricultural and rural development problems provoked by macro-development policies in South East Asia, is presented in Figure 1. Figure 1 The agricultural development policies and programmes have largely favoured monoculture agro-industries that require high-tech farming with high inputs and high outputs, while there has been scant regard for the environment, and for the subsistence needs of smallholder producers. One result of high technology farming is increased production; another result is increased inequality between rich and poor. A striking feature of the agrarian structure in most of the countries of the region is the skewed distribution of production assets such as land. While small-scale farmers constitute around 70 percent of farming households, they account for about 25 percent or less of the cultivated land. Thus, a pressing issue in the region is the growing gap between the large landowners and small- scale farmers. Policy measures for improving agricultural productivity and raising the food security and incomes of small-scale farmers in South-East Asian countries cannot be fully efficient unless they include increasing rural women's labour productivity and expanding the prospects for their own and their families overall wellbeing. This could have a decisive positive impact on fostering the agricultural sector as a national development priority of these countries. To this end, however, gender-related demographic and environment concerns should be integrated into agricultural and rural development policy design, planning and programming. A country-case example: effects of deforestation and environmental degradation on households, women and population in irrigated rice production in the Philippines The forest cover in the Philippines has been disappearing very fast: the country is estimated to be losing about 119,000 hectares of forests each year. Population pressure, poverty and survival needs, as well as various economic activities have contributed to this rapidly decreasing forest cover. Apart from commercial logging, the most serious cause of forest denudation is subsistence shifting cultivation and excessive fuel harvesting. The forest denudation causes flooding, soil erosion, salinization, decreasing soil fertility and loss of genetic resources. Studies have indicated that the upper watershed degradation has negative effect on lowlands productivity, especially in terms of sediment flow affecting irrigation infrastructure. Evidence was also found regarding the significant negative effects on wet season irrigated areas caused by forest extraction. In the Philippines as a whole, upper watershed degradation leads to an incremental loss of 4,200 hectares per year of wet season irrigated land and 2,700 hectares per year of dry season irrigated land. This amounts to an incremental production loss of approximately 24,000 tons of rice per year. The effects of forest denudation on the lowland irrigated rice farms and farmers, especially women, are shown in Figure 2. Figure 2 Due to unemployment and the inability of rice farming and post harvest processing activities to absorb the available labour force and the higher wages/greater opportunities from non-farm employment, men migrate to the cities, particularly during the dry season. Unless there are technologies to increase crop productivity and cropping intensity by growing drought tolerant crops, male migration will continue leaving women as managers of their animals, and minor crops, and household responsibilities. The low family income and lack of capital leads to increased indebtedness of the households to meet the high input requirements of rice cultivation and the daily livelihood needs. Limited access to formal credit forces women to borrow cash or paddy from private money lenders at excessively high interest rates. To repay their debt, women then seek other income opportunities, which are quite limited in villages. They often resort to buying and selling, selling rice delicacies (adding value to raw product), working as hired labourers in other farms and gleaning rice from the output of big mechanical threshers. Most of them take care of swine and poultry in their own backyards, which are important sources of immediate cash. A recent study has shown that rice production is characterized by long-term stagnation or decline of yield under intensive irrigated rice production. The degradation of the paddy environment can occur due to one or more causes such as: increased pest pressure, rapid depletion of micro-nutrients and changes in soil chemistry brought about by intensive cropping and increased reliance on low quality of irrigation water. In another recent study, the harmful effects of high pesticide use on the health of rice farmers were explained. Although women may not be directly exposed to pesticides, they are affected by the misuses and mishandling of pesticide containers, which also affect their children's health. The high pesticide use also affect the natural habitat. Fish in ponds, edible frogs, weeds which are important indigenous food of poor farmers, etc. are disappearing fast. Families have to resort to buying food or borrowing money to buy food. Rural women who don't have access to alternative and remunerative employment in the village, have to work as hired labourers in transplanting and harvesting operations where they are paid either in cash or in kind (share in terms of paddy). Their wages depend on their skills, speed in performing the operation and labour competition. In transplanting work, greater competition results in smaller take home wages. These women suffer from low returns for their labour and low self-esteem, while maintaining family food security. Low incomes, lack of employment opportunities, increased indebtedness, diminishing sources of home produced foods lead to less available food for a family with an average of six children. The poor quality of food and less mother's time in food preparation lead to child malnutrition and high infant mortality. Mothers spending more time outside their home leads to neglect of childcare, less time for breast-feeding and poor feeding habits. Under the circumstances of worsening status and overall living conditions, with less time available at home, and lacking labour-saving technologies, it is hard to expect rural women to change their conviction that a sufficiently large family does offer better survival chances for all. However, introducing time and labour saving agricultural technologies do not necessarily mean that their effects on the socio-economic status and, ultimately, on fertility will be the same for all rural women. As shown in Figures 3 and 4, the introduction of wet- seeding/direct-seeding technology, using High-Yield Varieties (HYV) in rice cultivation, which reduces the demand for pulling/seeding & transplanting (tasks normally performed by women), has had opposite effects on women smallholder farmers and on the landless women, whose only source of income is their own labour and who are the poorest members of rural communities. Towards gender-responsive population and rural development policies A large body of evidence from rural subsistence economies throughout the developing world indicates that high fertility levels (largely related to the ignored, or heavily under- estimated, women's role as producers and managers of family livelihood resources) ultimately contribute to: - the reinforcement of the vicious circle between rural poverty, environmental degradation and unbalanced population growth and distribution; and, - the widening of the gap between, on the one hand, individual and group survival strategies locally, and, on the other hand, national goals to attain sustainable agricultural and rural development (FAO 1984, 1992; IFAD, 1992; Joekes, 1994). In this context, it seems that the micro-economics of sustainable production systems, family labour availability and the perceived needs of the rural poor in general, and of women in particular, should become at the local level the starting point for national strategy and policy formulation and for guiding those components of the producer support systems that will have to be initiated largely at the central level. In fact, understanding the smallholder households' decision-making process regarding their food production and survival strategies is a pre-condition for agricultural and rural development strategy and policy formulation. This is especially relevant in view of the linkages between rural women's status and fertility levels. If mounting demographic pressure, or a particular dimension of it (e.g., unbalanced rural population growth and distribution in relation to available productive resources, massive rural out-migration, urban congestion, or unemployment) is considered a problem, national population policies, programmes, as well as their instruments (e.g., MCH/FP, IEC, etc) should become an integral part of agricultural and rural development policies and programmes in order to slow it down or otherwise influence it. The attention to how specific development policies and interventions can pursue, for example, changes in fertility levels (which, as is known, tend to determine the course of the entire socio-demographic development) should be in the rural development planner's own interest, rather than just a "favour" to the population planner. In order to be able to make appropriate policy decisions, both population and agricultural and rural development planners must become aware of the multitude of ways in which changes to rural women's status and roles, resulting from various development interventions, can have fertility consequences. This in turn requires the formulation of a framework for linking primary consequences of development interventions on rural women's status and roles, with secondary consequences on their fertility and, ultimately, on socio- demographic change generally. In this context it is worthwhile considering the findings of FAO's comprehensive, cross-cultural analysis of linkages between the status and roles of women, fertility levels, and agricultural and rural (under)development, which are summarized hereunder. Rural fertility determinants Fertility-related variables that can be classified as most common, and often vital, in the context of agricultural and rural development are the following: - The value of children: in rural circumstances the "net" value of children (children's present economic value plus anticipated support in old age, minus the cost to raise them) to their parents, and especially to women, is most often positive, i.e., it would be irrational to practice fertility control at the individual family level. It is only in urban situations, or when development has reached a stage where the "costs" of children (especially the cost to educate them) outweigh their "utility", and when "quality" of children (educated, healthy, etc.) is substituted for "quantity" that it becomes rational to have smaller families; - High infant mortality is almost invariably associated with high fertility. Declining infant mortality may not be accompanied by declining fertility: the "lag" time may be short, or it may be considerable. High fertility may be considered as a "response" to high mortality, though usually only one quarter to one half of deceased children are "replaced" by additional births. Or, high fertility may be seen as advance "insurance" against possible future losses. The reverse is also observable: high infant mortality as a means to "correct" for high, unwanted fertility (too many, too close, of the "wrong" gender, etc.). Extreme neglect, or outright infanticide, are apparent in widely varying settings. Declines in infant mortality generally lead to short-term increases in population growth, until fertility declines catch up, eventually resulting in decreases in population growth. - Malnutrition must be severe before it adversely affects natural fecundity, and thus fertility, but nutrition levels can influence fertility also through an effect on infant and child mortality and survival. It had been widely recorded that even minor improvements in women's status, i.e., in their increased control over family livelihood resources, most usually has positive effects on the quality of nutrition; - Prolonged breastfeeding has a strong and consistent negative impact on fertility, both through its role in postponing the mother's return to fecund status and through its role in promoting infant survival. (In addition, it is sometimes accompanied by abstinence from intercourse); - Education for women (more so than men's education) is strongly and consistently found to be related to lower fertility. Threshold levels of education at which fertility begins to fall vary by culture (e.g., literacy, or completion of primary school, or secondary school, etc.); - Female labour force participation is related to lower fertility only in the modern, urban sector. Agricultural labour force participation has no impact, or a positive impact on fertility. However, off-farm rural employment in small scale industry has been found as a key factor in lower fertility in the few instances in which it exists and has been studied; - Although richer societies, and classes within societies, generally have lower fertility than poorer societies and classes, there are two useful observations regarding income: - at low levels of income, an increase in income is initially associated with a rise in fertility, followed later by declines, and - income distribution, or equity in social services (education, health) is more closely associated with declines in fertility than is increase in per capita income; - Although size of land holdings has consistently been found to be positively related to family size, research also indicates that land owners have smaller families than tenants (attributed to the old-age security offered by ownership, substituting for children's support of parents); - Delayed age at marriage for females is usually associated with lower fertility, whether through fewer years of exposure to conception, or through a longer pre-marital period for education, skills training, employment broadening influences, growth in self-esteem, etc. Effects of development interventions The word "farmer" tends to imply a male farmer, and agricultural and rural development policy statements which do not specifically include women farmers typically exclude them. Consequently, programmes and projects often do not address the specific needs of women farmers, and of the female rural population generally. Development interventions that have been identified as typically having adverse consequences for rural women's status and productive/reproductive roles are as follows: - changes in cropping patterns, or crop mix, emphasizing cash crops for export, de-emphasizing subsistence crops; - new technologies whose introduction displaces more women than men, and whose use by men only widens the productivity gap between women and men; - changes in access to land, from communal ownership in which women had secure access to land, to private property in which only male heads of households can hold title; and - provision of agricultural extension services, credit, technical assistance, cooperatives formation and management to men only, which also widens the male-female productivity gap, marginalizing women still further. The most usual adverse consequences of the above development interventions, both individually and combined, are the following: - increased labour inputs by women; - decreased, or lack of increase in, access to income and/or to its control; - decreased, or lack of increase in, access to credit; and - loss of social prestige and personal self-esteem. All such consequences, in turn, can ultimately lead to: - reduced labour productivity, - worsened family nutrition, - increased infant and child mortality, worsened women's health, and - decreased, increased, or unchanged (high) fertility. The ways in which the above-mentioned four development interventions can adversely affect women's status are shown in Figures 5-8. It is important to note that the presented linkages are necessarily simplifications; that is, they depict only a very generalized summary of world-wide empirical records. Furthermore, it should be borne in mind that this sort of "consolidated evidence" (i.e., from numerous macro and micro data, well-researched data, quasi-experimental data, untested but plausible hypotheses, etc.) is concealing vastly different social, economic, environmental and other circumstances and varying historical experiences (e.g., colonialism, changes in development paradigms and strategies, recent structural adjustments, etc.). Notwithstanding important limitations, the presented linkages could be considered as a "testing instrument" in identifying fertility-related consequences of agricultural and rural development interventions in concrete geographical, economic, and cultural settings. Once the linkages between rural women's status, development interventions and possible fertility- related outcomes are identified, alternative policy solutions could be formulated. Ultimately, this could prove instrumental in building up integrated gender-responsive population and rural development country and/or regional policies and programmes. Whether or not fertility decline is the desired goal, the fertility consequences of measures "beyond family planning" that are already being undertaken for other reasons (such as gender equity, increased agricultural productivity, improved educational attainment, etc.) should be recognized so that they can be maximized or minimized, according to the desired outcome. For example, while female education and off-farm rural employment for women can be seen as measures that can delay the age at marriage, enhance the value of daughters (in relation to sons), make wives less economically dependent on husbands, and raise female personal self-esteem - all possible routes to reducing fertility - other approaches to fertility reduction concern raising the cost of children. The cost of children may be raised, for instance, through education for children (resulting in their reduced time to provide labour as well as direct costs of the education itself), job skills training for women and subsequent employment (resulting in opportunity costs of childbearing), and the introduction of technology that can substitute for child labour - thus reducing the value of child labour and raising the net cost of children. Long-term decreases in fertility are probable if deliberate policy measures and instruments are put into effect to enhance women's legal status and social recognition, to increase assistance to women in subsistence food production, to integrate women into cash cropping, and to provide income-generating schemes for women in food production, processing and marketing, crafts, etc. Programmes and projects that reduce time and labour requirements, if executed in conjunction with measures to promote legal incentives and skills for environmentally sound management of natural resources in their farm and domestic tasks, could indeed motivate women towards a greater appreciation of family size and structure that would be more in balance with the available productive resources, food security and rural development. Conclusions The women/population/environment nexus should be addressed by policy-makers, planners and programmers in the context of gender-asymmetries in social, economic and technological conditions in agricultural production and rural livelihood prospects. This calls for replacing single-sectoral approaches in development policies with cross-sectoral ones, designed for and applied in areas suffering from environmental degradation and diminishing productive resources, aimed at fostering: - a more balanced population growth and migration patterns, and - regulation of family size as a desired socio-cultural and economic-technological option relegated to women. The gender-differentials characterizing the linkages between population dynamics, natural resource management and environmental conditions should be identified in the context of development objectives and the various socio-cultural, economic, structural and geographic circumstances of individual or groups of countries. This should facilitate effective assessment of requirements for: - agricultural and rural development programmes aimed at socially (including gender-wise), economically and environmentally sustainable smallholder agriculture production, especially in areas marked by high population growth and/or rural out-migration; and - advancing economic, technological and legal conditions for, and social recognition of, rural women's productive and reproductive roles as central in adjusting child spacing and family size and/or offsetting rural out-migration. In national development policies, especially those involving population- and environment-related issues, an explicit goal should be to empower and encourage rural women to become more active and self-determined agents of population change. This could be enhanced, for example, through: - integrating gender-aspects of socio-demographic concerns (i.e., trends in population size, distribution and structures, patterns of natural increase, migration streams, etc.) in agricultural and rural development policies and programmes; - focusing on gender-differentials in (i) assigning social and economic value to children, (ii) attitudes and practice regarding family size and reproductive behaviour, (iii) management of family living resources, etc., in population-messages delivered through family-life and population education programmes and projects, information/communication campaigns, MCH/FP services, etc.; - linking natural resource management and environmental protection concerns with gender-related population issues; and - making environmental impact assessment concepts and techniques responsive to gender-related social and economic costs and benefits involved in food and agricultural production, and in rural livelihood prospects generally. 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