Are women better custodians of biodiversity?

Some of the women farmers in the project sites

The Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi (AgFor) project works for improved, sustainable and gender-equitable use of agroforestry and forestry products. Improving smallholder systems and markets through projects emphasizing the productivity and sustainability of forestry and agroforestry, is a key focus of the CGIAR’s Collaborative Research Project 6 on Trees, Forests and Agroforestry—of which the World Agroforestry Centre is a key partner. AgFor project sites are located in Bantaeng and Bulukumba districts, South Sulawesi, and Konawe and Kolaka districts in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Gender is a highly relevant issue within the AgFor project, which stresses the empowerment of women. Men and women have different strategies for managing natural resources, leading to different problems and different solutions. A study was conducted prior to inception—to understand overall gender issues in Sulawesi and to develop criteria and indicators for project implementation. This study covered gender roles and needs, and differences in access and control to natural resources. The main objective was to gauge equality and equity, and to identify factors that encourage the integration of women into natural resource management.

Data was gathered through discussions, interviews and workshops. Gender gaps were determined at district and provincial levels using the Gender Development Index (GDI), Human Development Index (HDI) and Gender Empowerment Index (GEI). HDI is a simple or composite measurement describing levels of human development. It demonstrates the progress of development of three basic human capabilities: life expectancy, education enrolment, and standard of living. GDI describes development progress for women and men, showing  gaps between them. GDI has the same dimensions as HDI: life expectancy, education, and income, but uses an equally distributed index which disaggregates women and men. However, GDI is not specifically a measure of gender inequality. In 2012, there were 42% provinces of Indonesia with HDI and GDI below the national level, including South and Southeast Sulawesi, indicating that gender gaps are relatively high. Women’s involvement must, therefore, be promoted at community level and meso level, so that they can be more involved in the parliamentary and decision-making processes within the home and community.

The study uncovered gender differences in livelihood sources, household roles, farming activities, land use and ownership, market dynamics and poverty dynamics. Women were mostly responsible for domestic tasks and maintaining land located close to the settlement area. Men were mostly responsible for earning income from working in the public domain, were fully responsible for maintaining the land that is located far from the settlement area, and for physically heavy work. Women are more knowledgeable about land use values in regards  to environmental issues related with biodiversity, while men are more aware of conservation or protecting the environment. Biodiversity in this context related to medicinal plants. Women were also known to possess more knowledge about the use of medicinal plants.

The links between gender and land were explored. Women are still under-acknowledged as land holders as most land certificates are under male names. Providing more conducive conditions for women to become land owners and legalized in land certificates would increase equity in terms of land rights and ownership. The data in the two provinces clearly shows that women and men have different roles in natural resource management. Women are more knowledgeable about land use values in regards to environmental issues related with biodiversity, while men are more aware of conservation or protecting the environment. Biodiversity in this context related to medicinal plants. Women were also known to possess more knowledge about the use of medicinal plants. Therefore, increasing women’s involvment in land-use management will help to maintain biodiversity and also enhance the role of  women.

The study found that female participation in decision making was very low and contribution to community income was also much lower than men. However, in reality, at the community level, women’s contributions to decision-making, and household and community income was potentially high in conducive situations. Women were more involved in the marketing of commodities such as coffee, cacao, candlenut, vegetables, maize and cloves than men. Men’s roles in marketing timber, firewood, and rubber latex were higher than women’s. Women’s roles in farming were relatively high in the areas of harvesting, post-harvesting, and marketing, with men’s roles high in clearing and preparing the land.

The authors recommend developing situations that allow women, particularly in female-headed households, to become legal landowners. Also, providing opportunities for women to be involved in public, extension services, technical assistance, credit and other activities. A program to target the livelihood source preferred by both women and men, such as mixed-gardens, irrigated paddy fields and maize production in South Sulawesi is also recommended; and in relation to gender and the market—women’s knowledge of cacao, coffee and clove products should be increased, so that their bargaining skills improve, with resultant increases in income and their position within the market chain.

Read the full paper: Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi series; Gender, livelihoods and land in South and Southeast Sulawesi. By Mulyoutami E; Martini E, Khususiyah N, Isnurdiansyah, Suyanto.'

Rebecca Selvarajah

Rebecca is a science writer, manager of publishing projects, trainer in science writing, and novelist — working partly from Nairobi, Kenya and partly from Morwell, Australia. With over 15 years of experience in writing, advertising/marketing, publishing and social media, she takes on varied assignments, travelling, if needed, to conduct relevant research and interviews. Originally from Sri Lanka, Rebecca holds a BA honours in Psychology, with minors in Gender Studies and Sociology. Email Rebecca on

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