Gender and Cotton

Women in the cotton sector

Cotton is a significant cash crop and the fourth largest agricultural export after tobacco, sugar, and tea. Cotton requires considerable amount of inputs, thereby restricting the ability of low-income smallholders, including women farmers, to engage in the sector. It is estimated that approximately 20% to 30% of cotton farmers are female, although many more are working as labourers on their husband’s cotton farms, or are employed as casual workers on farms, in ginneries, spinning and weaving factories, oil processing plants, or seed de-linting plants.
Although women carry out a greal deal of farm labour in the cotton sector, most frequently it is men who take the cotton to the ginners and so control the proceeds. In addition, evidence from across Sub-Saharan Africa suggests that women are frequently responsible for applying pesticide to the crop, frequently without appropriate protective gear. This is particularly harmful for pregnant or nursing women.
In order to address some of these constraints, MOST is supporting the training and deployment of Spray Service Providers (SSPs) who are appropriately equipped and trained to apply pesticides. Farmers can hire the SSPs, including female SSPs, to apply pesticides  to apply pesticides for them.. The service has so far proven popular, including among female cotton farmers. The affirmative action to include female SSPs has even started to have some transformational impact, as it is changing perceptions of the kind of work women are capable of. For instance, case studies show that the original resistance to female SSPs has been replaced by acceptance, even encouragement, by farmers, village chiefs, and other prominent members of the community.