01 Dec

Why study Gender and GM crops?

One item that was raised towards the end the conference at Dalhousie University in September 2015, was unanswered questions surrounding the impact that gender could play on the success of GM technology, and more specifically what outcomes these new agricultural technologies could pose for women farmers. Women are key players in developing economy agriculture yet men often dominate decision making and often occupy more advantageous roles. Women tend to have less land security relative to men, and significantly less access to inputs and resources such as credit. These differences may impact or even determine their ability or decision to adopt new agricultural technologies like GM crops (Doss, 2001). As women make up at least 40% to 50% of the agricultural workforce in sub-Saharan Africa (Palacios-Lopez et al., 2015), and hold different rights, role and responsibilities relative to men it is crucial to investigate underlying social inequities between men and women that could play a critical role in shaping the outcomes associated with the introduction of GM crops.

Currently, there is scant empirical evidence that attempts to assess the impacts of GM crops on gendered dynamics. Just as farmer preferences largely shape their likelihood of adopting GM crops, some evidence suggests adoptions rates of GM crops may vary between male and female farmers, in part because women lacked access to information on proper cultivation techniques. Other evidence suggests the introduction of GM technology may also have important impacts on labour. But these cumulative findings demonstrate that the outcomes are highly contextual. For example in India (Subramanian & Qaim, 2010), Uganda (Addison & Schnurr, 2016) and Pakistan (Kouser et al., 2017) the introduction of GM crops increased the time and labour burdens for women farmers. In the case of Pakistan, Kouser et al. (2017) framed this increased demand as advantageous as additional employment income was available for the poor and women farmers, whereas Schnurr and Addison (2016) suggest this increased demand may lead to intensifying unpaid family labour instead of hiring new labourers. Conversely, research in Colombia (Zambrano, et al., 2011), Burkina Faso (Falck-Zapeda & Zambrano, 2013) and South Africa (Gouse et al., 2016) found that GM technology actually reduced labour demands for women. These differing and limited accounts indicate significantly more research is needed to understand the evolving relationship between gender and GM crops.

We’d love to hear comments about how best go about addressing this crucial gap.



Addison, L., & Schnurr, M. (2016). Growing burdens? Disease-resistant genetically modified bananas and the potential gendered implications for labor in Uganda. Agriculture and Human Values, 33(4), 967-978.

Doss, C. (2001). Designing agricultural technology for African women farmers: Lessons from 25 years of experience. World Development, 29(12), 2075-2092.

Falck-Zapeda, J.B. & Zambrano, P. (2013). Gender Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops in Developing Countries. Final Technical Paper. Washington, DC: International Development Research Centre.

Gouse, M., Sengupta, D., Zambrano, P., & Zepeda, J.F. (2016). Genetically Modified Maize: Less Drudgery for Her, More Maize for Him? Evidence from Smallholder Maize Farmers in South Africa. World Development, 83, 27-38.

Kouser, Abedullah, & Qaim. (2017). Bt cotton and employment effects for female agricultural laborers in Pakistan. New Biotechnology. Volume 34 (25), 40–46.

Palacios-Lopez, A., Christiaensen, L., & Kilic, T. (2015). How much of the labor in African agriculture is provided by women? Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group.

Subramanian, A., & Qaim, M. (2010). The Impact of Bt Cotton on Poor Households in Rural India. The Journal of Development Studies, 46(2), 295-311.

Zambrano, P., Maldonado, J.H., Mendoza, S.L., Ruiz, L., Fonseca, L.A., Cardona, I. (2011). Women Cotton Farmers Their Perceptions and Experiences with Transgenic Varieties A Case Study for Colombia. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute.