Women and Postharvest Loss

Women and Postharvest Loss

by Grace Kenney, Project Assistant, ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss

Women are highly engaged in postharvest activities. Therefore, it is important to understand how efforts to reduce postharvest loss (PHL) can affect their welfare. Understanding how to bridge the gender gap and provide appropriate interventions can help to effectively reduce PHL and improve communal well-being. With support of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Food Waste and Spoilage Initiative, we have reviewed prior work on women’s issues in development and PHL reduction. This blog provides key insights from that work.

 The Gleaner by Jean-Francois Millet documents the traditional involvement of women in in PHL activities. Source: Wikimedia

The Gleaner by Jean-Francois Millet documents the traditional involvement of women in PHL activities. Source: Wikimedia

Women and Postharvest

Our review documents that women’s involvement in harvesting, drying, threshing, processing, storing, and marketing is extensive. Specific examples are documented in Women’s farm roles by activity in postharvest [PDF].

Of course, the responsibilities of women do differ by country and crop. For example, in Bangladesh, women may provide 5% of the labor in harvesting and threshing for rice, while in Assam, India, women provide 60%. For other postharvest activities, Bangladeshi women provide 51% of the labor, while women in Assam provide 90%. In Cambodia, women may provide 40% of the labor input for postharvest activities[1]. All three countries are in Asia; however, the distribution of responsibilities differs and requires careful localized assessment.

Dynamics of PHL Involvement for Women

Postharvest activities influence farm productivity and efficiency. When postharvest activities are conducted manually, they tend to be time and energy consuming and can affect the physical well-being of farmers. When technology is introduced to replace manual activities, roles held by women may be replaced, with impacts that can be positive and/or negative. Below we look at four likely effects of postharvest activities on women:

Drudgery – Postharvest activities tend to be time-consuming, repetitive, and arduous[2]. The woman’s role as mother also is affected by drudgery – such tasks take a toll on her body and the well-being of her children[3].

Employment – Postharvest activities can result in women not being able to participate in additional income-generating activities. The nature of women’s home and farm responsibilities can require them to stay close to home[4] and work longer hours than men[5]. Interventions that reduce PHL and free up time can provide opportunities to generate additional income.

Changing roles – Technology introduction may displace women in traditional roles, as men often control assets, such as machinery[6], and in some cultures women are limited in the kind of work they may perform[7]. Outmigration of men can put women in the decision-making position on the farm, increasing their workload[8].

Health impacts – Mycotoxins in grain for household consumption can be greatly affected by postharvest practices, as low-grade grains tend to be retained rather than sold[9].  In addition, malnutrition resulting from lack of home storage is particularly relevant for women — who often eat last and least[10].

Effective Strategies

Fortunately, experience provides a set of practices likely to be useful in addressing women’s issues. In this section, we’ll address 10 such activities.


  • Planning with gender in mind – Gender-specific activities that are helpful in planning effective programs are: conducting a gender analysis, creating gender checklists and milestones, creating an approach to incorporate gender into a project’s development, and utilization of gender experts[11].
  • Understanding the local context – Women and men often control different crops, and have differing responsibilities across postharvest stages. Understanding who is in control, if certain activities are allowed for women, and other societal constraints can help development workers understand what may work in a community[12].
  • Conducting participatory research – Involving women in research allows scientists and development workers to find methods and technologies that can be broadly adopted[13].
  • Conducting a barrier analysis – Conducting a barrier analysis can allow development workers to identify cultural perceptions of acceptable practices. This can help development workers understand how to create a Behavior Change Strategy to assist farmers in adopting improved practices[14].


  • Providing training and support – Trained women can minimize PHL by incorporation of improved practices. Where technology demonstrations are provided, women may be more likely to adopt helpful technologies.[15] Also helpful are information disseminated via radio or access to women-only meetings[16].
  • Ensuring access to resources and services – Farms that are jointly managed may have more access to training, extension agents, and loans than those managed solely by females[17]. Training about joint ownership and decision-making is helpful in promoting equal access[18].
  • Approaching women’s groups – At times, interacting with women’s groups is more effective than working with individual women farmers, as they may have better access to resources[19]. Disseminating technologies to women’s groups often is more effective than disseminating technologies to households, where assets may be controlled solely by men[20].
  • Including men in training– Keeping men involved in training experiences can help to change existing behaviors, allow women to participate in income-generating activities, and create more respect for females in the household[21].
  • Creating and disseminating appropriate technologies –Technologies that do not marginalize women or prevent them from acquiring income are necessary[22]. Technologies that can be used by both men and women for their respective responsibilities can lead to better adoption and even an increase of male participation in labor-intensive duties held by women[23].
  • Training in agribusiness models and enterprise development – Teaching women entrepreneurship skills and establishing agribusiness models can help sustain technology adoption. Women trained in how to use and have some control over technology can help reduce PHL and increase income[24].


Planning for women’s inclusion in projects striving to reduce PHL is important. Understanding the local culture is necessary to help development workers know what will or will not work with the proposed targets. Women do have particular obstacles that must be faced. Fortunately, there are effective practices which have helped to empower women in their roles, reduce PHL, and improve the well-being of their families.

Click here for a complete list of references (PDF)

The ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss is currently working on a learning assessment of global food loss as part of a grant supported by the Rockefeller Foundation for the Waste and Spoilage Initiative. For more information on this project, please click here.

This blog post is part of series that highlights outcomes and learnings of the Global Learning Assessment project. This is the third post in this series. Read the prior posts: Post 1 and Post 2 

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *