How To Transform the Rural Agrifood System

5 key insights on system change from two conferences
Dairy Farmers in Kwale county⎮© Hanna Ewell, GIZ

I was lucky to visit two conferences in October — both helping me reflect on gender transformative approaches in the agri-food and rural development sectors.

The first one was the CGIAR GENDER Platform Science Exchange, a forum for researchers from across the world to come together and hold presentations on diverse topics. It highlighted the need for impact and transformative solutions as part of the new CGIAR Impact Platform’s mandate of closing gender gaps, creating opportunities for youth in food, land, and water systems, and social inclusion.

The second was the joint SNRD Africa working group on gender transformative approaches and the department for agriculture and rural development (G500) conference Rural Development Goes Feminist.

What stood out to me is that both conferences highlighted five issues:

  1. The need to involve men as key enablers for transformation
  2. The role of intersectionality – identity and its relationship to power – in ensuring that innovations are available to and feasible for uptake from vulnerable groups
  3. The power of co-creation and demand-led processes – listening to all voices
  4. Understanding the impacts on those whose livelihoods are supposed to be improvee, necessitating gender-disaggregated data collection – for evidence-based programming
  5. Integrating gender early in the project design cycle, not as a “tick-box exercise” at the very last stage of proposal writing, but rather as an integral component of planning and ex-ante assessment

Gender is by default about norms and relations

Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment will not be possible without men as allies and champions for women’s rights. The very definition and aspiration of gender-transformative approaches to transform gender relations means that men — especially male leaders who act as gatekeepers in communities — must be part of this important change process. At the same time, we as development practitioners acknowledge that men are not just allies but can also be beneficiaries of empowering gender transformative approaches. Gender norms and structural inequalities can negatively affect all people, including men.

But important is also to apply an intersectional lens. Women are not a homogenous group. Neither are marginalized groups or men and boys across different geographies and cultures. Factors such as age, socio-economic status, ethnic background and disability, among others, matter. This also means that priorities and needs across different groups will be different. Applying supply-driven, top-down approaches for scaling innovations won’t work.

For effective program and policy design, ALL voices need to be heard and programs set up in a way that really meets demand. Context-specific solutions that work for different groups. Stakeholders should be met at eye level and be able to voice their concerns and needs, and yes, sit at the right tables. But indeed, we as develoment practioners need to “smash the table” and develop new ways of working. Perhaps the question is rather bringing those that often sit at the table down to engage with realities on the ground. Importantly, projects and programs should be designed in a participatory manner that takes various stakeholders into account and are geared toward the end-users or final beneficiaries’ needs and not “the perfect solution” according to euro-centric values. This means not rushing the design phase and facilitating expectation management with our donors regarding “quick results”.

To do this we also need to look in the mirror – we cannot preach for transformation, and not change our own perceptions and standards, becoming aware of our biases and privileges, or fail to question the current development agenda setting, to break away from colonial, top-down methods.

So, let’s transform our own systems, and affect gender transformative change!

To get this right, we need to think as if there is no box. We need to forge unconventional and inter-sectoral alliances in research, academia and development to address the wicked challenges we face in agriculture and food systems today. Strengthening our own capacity—and that of our partners—to ensure uptake at scale of our cutting-edge, evidence-based [gender-responsible] solutions will be crucial to achieving equitable, sustainable, productive and climate-resilient food systems.

— Ranjitha Puskur leads gender and youth research at the
International Rice Research Institute and is a socio-economist.


Hanna Ewell (, Fund International Agricultural Research (FIA)

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!