Climate change is seriously impacting Africa’s most important sector: agriculture. It is becoming increasingly difficult for farmers to prosper in the already challenging environments of East and Southern Africa. Over the last 25 years, average annual temperatures have increased by 1–2 degrees Celsius, and this is expected to increase further over the next 30 years. Farmers need to adapt their practices to changing weather patterns whilst coping with a lack of access to agricultural inputs, information, finance, and markets. Drought is widespread and may become more frequent and unpredictable. An increase in rainfall intensity is also expected, which is likely to lead to more erosion and flooding.
The unfavourable environmental situation disproportionately affects women living in rural areas, who are often marginalised from agricultural markets.
With these challenges in mind, Vuna – a DFID-funded regional climate-smart agriculture programme – worked to drive transformative change in the agriculture sector by building the climate resilience of smallholder farmers in East and Southern Africa. Vuna worked with private sector grantees to help them develop and trial innovation models such as seed systems, outgrower schemes, and livestock.
The programme was rolled out in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe from 2015 to 2018 and paid particular attention to improving gender equality by applying the community-led gender action learning system (GALS).
Changing behaviour to empower women and girls
Vuna’s gender strategy involved several project interventions to overcome gender-related issues in farming communities across the focus countries. Challenges faced by women in these communities are not unique to where they live. Women everywhere can relate to these hardships, particularly the significant differences in social norms, behaviours, roles, and responsibilities of men and women in communities. For instance, women are expected to hold multiple roles in any given society (e.g., mother, wife, carer, and earner), whereas it is acceptable for men to have just one.
We chose GALS the approach because it enables households, communities and grantees to reflect on their current situation in relation to the opportunities and barriers faced by women and men and to find and implement solutions through a series of participatory exercises.
Even so, these women face specific challenges including unpaid household and formal labour, as well as limited access to opportunities and male-dominated markets. This is compounded by the fact that women are often denied ownership of productive assets receive little if any support to advance economically, and have curbed decision-making ability in different areas, including household finances.
Vuna aspired to improve the quality of life for these women and give them more control over their lives by focusing on gender equality, transformative change, and women’s economic empowerment. The project applied the GALS methodology, which is part of an emerging set of community-led empowerment and behavioural change philosophies for gender justice that can be adapted to a range of different development programmes to boost women’s employment across Africa.
How does GALS work?
GALS is a household methodology most often used by farmer organisations and development agencies to help farmers build more collaborative intra-household decision-making processes. It is a community-led empowerment methodology adaptable to different cultural and organisational contexts and works with women and men to work collectively to develop their visions for change, address gender inequalities within the family and community, as well as in livelihoods, decision-making, access and control of resources, benefits and power relations. Through this, GALS encourages the implementation of peer-learning mechanisms and structures for ongoing scale-ups and action learning in communities. It provides the user with mechanisms to integrate GALS sustainably in a range of organisations or interventions such as financial services, business development and agricultural extension. For instance, in Zambia and Zimbabwe, gender transformation was seen through the development of women-managed/dominated value chains.
Our role in GALS
ASI contracted LTS, part of the NIRAS group, to conduct an impact assessment and research study of GALS’s projects to identify initial outcomes and enhance Vuna’s evidence base on women’s economic empowerment, gender productivity gaps, and food and nutrition security. LTS used the GALS framework to conduct action research in order to enhance the evidence base about the impact of CSA delivery mechanisms on women’s economic empowerment and reduced gender productivity gaps in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The research study was performed using the GALS methodology to produce rigorous qualitative data in the research domains. In order to help male and female farmers build more collaborative intra-household decision-making processes, we provided them with analytic tools for long-term planning.
In January 2018, we went on to conduct a further research study with our partners in collaboration with beneficiary farmers, grantee companies, extension workers, and other relevant stakeholders in sex-disaggregated groups (in nearly all cases). We used focus group discussions, checklists, key informant interviews, and community profiles to gather high-quality data, which was then triangulated by cross-referencing with information obtained through GALS, the impact study, references to project documentation, and national data.
Through developing self-motivated structures for pyramid peer sharing and integrating into existing activities of implementing public or private agencies it can empower many thousands of people to improve their lives and communities at relatively low cost.
Our findings from GALS
Our key finding from the impact assessment and research study was that the GALS programme immediately showed signs of fostering collaboration in intra-household decision-making, even though it was only in operation for a short time.
GALS participants were able to learn the tools rapidly and share them with others. From the research point of view, the tools provided valuable baseline data in each site.
Since GALS provides action-learning tools, the participants used them to develop action plans for their own lives. Unfortunately, this led to a potential reduction in the formation of male and female partnerships to tackle opportunities and challenges together (e.g. male takeover of women-led value chains). We also found that gender-equitable adoption of climate-smart agri practices is strongly influenced by cultural norms and that gender productivity gaps in male-headed households can be large and harm overall household prosperity (Tanzania). For instance, people in the same household don't always eat equally.
On a more positive note, training in GALS in all five projects resulted in far-ranging discussions between participants about gender norms, challenges to livelihoods, and how gender roles and responsibilities impact the ability of farmers to achieve their goals. Additionally, we noted that women-led businesses have high potential in value chains where women are already active (legumes in Zambia) and smaller companies may be more willing to make investments in producers and in gender equality (Musoma food company in Tanzania as opposed to Export Trading Group in Mozambique)