Earth Day 2021: Understanding the role of gender in building healthier soils

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Maintaining healthy soils is crucial to long-term agricultural sustainability and food security—yet soils face major stresses worldwide. In 2015, the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils rated one third of land worldwide as moderately to highly degraded. The impacts are especially serious in Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia, where smallholder farmers must contend with the challenges posed by growing populations and nutrient-depleted soils.

Who protects the soil? As we observe Earth Day 2021 (April 22) we must consider who the soil managers are, what guides their actions, and what resources they have to work with. In particular, gender plays a crucial role in the way soil is managed because it shapes knowledge, perceptions, preferences, and use of assets which can strengthen—or deplete—soil health.

Our paper “Soil Health and Gender: Why and How to Identify the Linkages,” published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, outlines a conceptual framework for understanding these issues. Drawing upon a structured literature review focused on Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia, the paper makes recommendations on how to better design soil health interventions by considering gender, and shows how such initiatives can lead to greater gender equality.

Photo credit: Wei Zhang/IFPRI

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