Off-farm employment increases women’s empowerment: Evidence from rice farms in the Philippines

 Rio Maligalig, Matty Demont, Wendy Umberger, and Alexandra Peralta   |  

Women were slightly more empowered in farm household decision-making if they were engaged in off-farm employment and were less experienced in farming. Off-farm employment is likely to provide women with an opportunity to add to household income, gain knowledge and new information, which can increase their bargaining power in the household. This suggests that the expansion of women’s portfolio of economic options outside the farm–rather than increasing their participation and experience in on-farm activities–may empower them in on-farm decision-making.

Women make significant contributions to the agriculture sector in many developing countries. Until recently, the common belief was that women in rural areas of developing countries are disadvantaged as they do not have equal access to resources and opportunities compared to men. However, this may not be the case in four Southeast Asian countries: Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

For example, a recent study revealed that compared to men, women in these countries actually have the same level of access to resources, including land and production inputs. Further, the authors found that women, may, in fact, have greater control over household income. As a result, they may have relatively higher participation and more influence in household decisions compared to women in other developing countries.

Farming households, like other households, are faced with multiple decisions. One particular area of decision-making in farm production relates to which agricultural technologies to adopt. A key area that has been examined in the adoption literature is farmer preferences for technology attributes. Numerous empirical studies focus on this as adoption decisions are influenced not only by socio-economic, demographic, or institutional factors but also by how farmers perceive the specific traits of the technology.

Most of the studies that have been conducted on farmer preferences for varietal traits have elicited preferences of the household head, either male or female, implicitly assuming that his or her preferences represent that of the whole household.

In some previous studies, preferences for varietal traits were elicited from both male and female farmers. For example, in previous studies on Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS) programs, female farmers were specifically invited to test and evaluate selected varieties in their own fields. The aim was to better understand women’s preferences in order to develop interventions that could help them make more informed decisions.

Despite common assumptions, empirical evidence from previous studies suggests that farm production decisions, including adoption, are decided within a household with the participation of both the husband and the wife. However, the adoption literature rarely examines the intrahousehold dynamics and the process of decision-making in technology design and adoption.

The main objective of this paper is to answer the following question: What are the factors that empower women in intrahousehold decision making on investment in public rice breeding, more specifically on the choice of the rice varietal trait improvements (VTIs) that are needed to improve the farm household’s livelihood? To answer this question, we conducted a framed field experiment using the Investment Game Application (IGA) with selected rice farming households in Nueva Ecija, Philippines (Demont et al., 2015).

We examined farm household decision-making related to investment in plant breeding research. To do this, we conducted a framed field experiment with 122 rice farming households in Nueva Ecija, Philippines. Both the husbands and wives of these households were invited to participate in the experiment, and they were asked to indicate their preferences for investment in VTIs, relative to a preferred replacement variety, both as individuals and jointly as a household.

We found that WIDMP is normally distributed and that, on average, women had almost equal (48%) decision-making power as men (52%), revealing almost perfect gender equity in investment decision making in rice breeding. These findings are in line with The Global Gender Gap Report 2018, which ranked (no. 8) the Philippines as one of the most gender-equal countries. It has closed about 80% of its overall gender gap in terms of four thematic dimensions: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

We only found a few factors that can further improve WIDMP and the marginal effects are quite small. Remarkably, husbands’ individual characteristics and attitudes did not significantly affect WIDMP and, hence, their own decision-making power in the household (MIDMP). The factors that had some marginal influence on WIDMP were women’s off-farm employment, future perspective, time preference, and farming experience.

Women were slightly more empowered in farm household decision-making if they were engaged in off-farm employment and were less experienced in farming. Off-farm employment is likely to provide women with an opportunity to add to household income, gain knowledge and new information, which can increase their bargaining power in the household. This suggests that the expansion of women’s portfolio of economic options outside the farm – rather than increasing their participation and experience in on-farm activities – may empower them in on-farm decision making, in this case on investment in future rice varieties through rice breeding.

This finding is consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals, which implicitly prioritize off-farm income generation over farm work in women empowerment.

More empowered women also tended to have a higher discount factor and base their investment decisions on anticipated future trends, rather than current or past experience like men. This is somewhat consistent with women’s farming experience being negatively correlated to WIDMP. Since the same variables of their husbands were non-significant, this may suggest that wives’ forward-looking arguments and perception of urgency tended to significantly persuade their husbands to converge in terms of VTI portfolio choice. These skills may have been developed because of her role in budgeting household expenses, or possibly as a result of involvement in economic and social activities outside of the farm.

Our finding that wives were able to participate, and influence household decision-making and even had greater control over household income is consistent with recent work on women empowerment in four Southeast Asian countries. For example, decisions regarding rice farming are made jointly by husband and wife, and wives have greater control over household income. Follow-up research is required to see whether our findings can be reproduced in other Southeast and South Asian countries (similar analyses are being conducted in Cambodia, India, and Bangladesh).

Our study provides valuable insights on the importance of considering gender and intrahousehold dynamics when undertaking research on agricultural technology preferences and adoption decisions. Our methodology further demonstrates that experimental approaches can be used to efficiently elicit intrahousehold decision-making behavior, which can be captured, measured, and analyzed. In particular, participatory “gamification” approaches combined with interactive tablet applications such as IGA are powerful methods for eliciting preferences and intrahousehold decision-making processes, while stimulating cognitive efforts of participants through a novel, exciting and engaging exercise.

The findings reveal broader implications in terms of women empowerment programs. Our evidence suggests that education and training programs alone could be insufficient for increasing women’s bargaining power in the household; they need to be accompanied by investment programs generating off-farm employment opportunities for women in rural labor markets to absorb the skilled labor, as implied by the Sustainable Development Goals. Further research needs to be conducted, however, to validate our measure of WIDMP and assess how it correlates to other indicators of women empowerment in agriculture.

Our study, however, has limitations regarding its sample selection of rice farmers in a single region of the Philippines. This means that the generalization of the findings to a larger population is also limited. Specifically, variety choice is site-specific and it is recommended that similar research is done in other major rice-growing areas to help in the development of rice variety product profiles that better target their preferences and needs. Furthermore, this research could be extended to consider other agricultural commodity sectors where significant public dollars are invested globally in the research and development of new crop varieties.

Read the study:
Maligalig R, Demont M, Umberger WJ, Peralta A (2019) Off-farm employment increases women’s empowerment: evidence from rice farms in the Philippines. J. Rural Stud., 71: 62-72

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