UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs,
with support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)

Women, Pop. & Environment in Agricultural and Rural Dev. (FAO)


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: jacques.duguerny@fao.org


                                                     July 1994



Zoran Roca, FAO*



     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


     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.,


     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,


     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


     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


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


-    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


-    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,


-    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


     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.


     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.

     Conceptual and practical country- and region-specific policy

guidelines and manuals need to be developed on the integration of

rural women's contributions and needs into national and local

efforts to reduce environmental degradation, population growth and

out-migration.  These guidelines and manuals should provide the

basis for awareness and skill creation among policy-makers, and

planners, as well as programme and project formulators and

implementors aiming to develop gender-responsive population and

environmental polices, programmes and projects as an integral part

of efforts towards sustainability of agricultural and rural



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