Gender and forest- and agroforestry-product value chains

Forest, tree and agroforestry value chains encompass the full range of activities involved in bringing a timber- or non-timber product from a forest or agroforest to the final consumer. Such value chains vary in geographic scope and scale – from harvesting firewood for the local market to the production, processing, transportation and trade of global export goods such as palm oil, timber and shea nuts. Value-adding activities along the value chain include activities such as harvesting, cleaning, transporting, processing, packaging, marketing and distribution, and involve a wide range of actors (Haverhals et. al. 2014).

The  importance of gender in forest, tree and agroforestry value chains has received increasing attention over the last decades (Ingram et al 2016). Gender norms, ideologies and power relations on multiple levels tend to shape value chain dynamics. For example, this could be by stipulating what is socially acceptable ‘male’ and ‘female’ work (including reproductive responsibilities); mediating access to and control over productive assets (Quisumbing et al 2015); and defining who has decision-making power (e.g. Sunderland et al 2014; Ingram et al 2016). While dynamics vary across contexts, gender inequalities shape the nature and extent of women and men’s participation in forest, tree and agroforestry value chains and their accrued benefits. Gender differences are influenced by intersecting social factors such as ethnicity, marital status and age (Ingram et al 2016). But as  a general trend, women – relative to men – tend to be confined in less profitable value chains (Ingram et al 2014), occupy less remunerative nodes in a given value chain (such as harvesting and retailing), and run smaller businesses (Ingram et al 2016). Women also tend to be underrepresented in forest management and producer associations (Mai et al 2011). As multiple forest, tree and agroforestry resources can often be found on the same parcel of land, gender biases in decision-making bodies may result in rules and restrictions being biased towards traditionally male-coded products, such as timber, at the expense of female-coded products, including various non-timber forest products and firewood (see e.g. Agarwal 2001, Mai et al 2011).

As forest, tree and agroforestry value chains become integrated into national and global economies, various political, economic and environmental shifts influencing  the availability and profitability of forest, tree and agroforestry products are shaping the gendered dynamics and distribution of benefits along the chain. These may enhance opportunities for women, such as the growing demand for charcoal in Zambia that has opened up spaces for women to participate in the traditionally male-dominated value chain (Gumbo et al 2013). Women’s increased participation may serve to challenge unequal gender relations by altering perceptions about men and women’s work and enhancing women’s economic empowerment (Barrientos 2001). For this reason, interventions aiming to promote value chains dominated by women producers, such as those based on shea nuts or other non-timber forest products, have become increasingly popular among development agencies (Elias and Arora-Jonsson 2016, Westholm 2017).

Nevertheless, the globalization of FTA value chains introduces gendered inequalities and risks. Ingram et al (2014) and Turner (2014) note the risk of elite or corporate appropriation of traditionally female products or value chains as their profitability increases. Even in more formalized value chains, such as oil palm and furniture value chains in Indonesia, women are relegated to being ‘shadow workers’ as their unpaid contributions to the production processes are not recognized (Sijapati et al. 2016). Where women’s work is visible, they tend to be confined to low-skilled jobs, have less secure contracts and receive lower wages than their male counterparts (Nansereko 2010, Li 2015, Arwida et al 2017). The casualization of women workers thereby means that in the event of financial shocks, such as the 2008 financial crisis, women workers are often disproportionately affected (Hurst et al 2010).

A wide range of state, non-state and plural institutions at national, regional and global levels have emerged to respond to growing criticism that the expansion of forest, tree and agroforestry products is contributing to the destruction of the environment and infringement of rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. This includes zero deforestation pledges, moratoriums, certification standards, jurisdictional approaches, roundtables and global/regional trade regimes. There has been limited research thus far on whether and how these engage with gender issues, and their implications for the rights and livelihoods of women and men along the forest, tree and agroforestry chains remain unaddressed (Sijapati Basnett et al. 2016, Sexsmith 2017).

Forest, tree and agroforestry research on this topic seeks to understand gendered dynamics of value chains in order to identify opportunities for lifting structural barriers and enhancing opportunities for gender equitable forest, tree and agroforestry value chains.

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