photo of farm with rainbow, Unique Challenges of Working with LGBTIQ+ Populations in Agriculture and Market System Programs

Unique Challenges of Working with LGBTIQ+ Populations in Agriculture and Market System Programs

In many parts of the world, LGBTIQ+ populations are unable to fully participate in society because of discrimination, structural violence, and lack of equal employment and education opportunities. These structural issues are also reflected in agriculture and market systems, with discrimination leading to lost productivity and economic growth, and overall under-investment in human capital.

USAID’s Advancing Women’s Empowerment (AWE) program, implemented by EnCompass LLC, recently led a discussion with the USAID Bureau for Resilience and Food Security to help better understand how agriculture and market systems programs can support the unique needs of LGBTIQ+ people and advance their rights. The session, led by AWE’s Dr. Jenn Williamson, addressed the challenges and opportunities of working with LGBTIQ+ populations in agriculture and market systems development (MSD) programs and provided suggestions for opportunities to incorporate work with and for LGBTIQ+ populations in development programming.

Challenges and entry points

Agriculture and MSD programs face unique challenges in working with LGBTIQ+ populations. Unlike programs focusing on health or advocacy, which have actively worked with this population for years, agriculture programs don’t collect basic data on the needs of LGBTIQ+ populations in the agriculture and market systems contexts nor on identifying local LGBTIQ+ organizations that work on these issues in the areas where programs are implemented. This gap in data includes information on how LGBTIQ+ populations do or do not participate in rural value chains and agriculture systems, how their workforce and employment situations differ from those of other groups in agricultural societies, and how they are uniquely affected by violence. The data gap is caused in part by a lack of data collection tools and processes to safely and privately collect data on sexual identity, funding to address the issues, lack of staff knowledge and capacity to identify unique needs for this population, and lack of knowledge of how agriculture and MSD programs can support the rights of local LGBTIQ+ populations or strengthen local LGBTIQ+ organizations.

Despite these challenges, there are several entry points for LGBTIQ+ inclusion in agriculture and MSD programs.

Program design

When designing programs, development practitioners have the opportunity to do gender and social inclusion analysis to understand the unique cultural characteristics of these populations in the local context and how development investments could exacerbate existing negative patterns or take advantage of opportunities to strengthen rights and positive cultural norms. Gender analysis can include questions such as: How does the local culture define LGBTIQ+ populations? How are they reached and who is reaching them? What attitudes/behaviors/rules/norms influence LGBTIQ+ exclusion/inclusion in agriculture and MSD? What kind of vulnerabilities and risks does this population face? Is this population at a higher risk of forced migration, unemployment, discrimination, or lack of social services? If so, why and how? What challenges might LGBTIQ+ entrepreneurs face in accessing investment and business development services that may be different from other population groups? Answers to these questions can provide a broader view of the local situation and allow investments to focus on addressing them.


Partnership includes partnering with and/or funding local LGBTIQ+ organizations. For this entry point, some important questions to keep in mind are: Can rights-focused LGBTIQ+ organizations be linked to market actors and other stakeholders? If so, how? What partnership tools can be used to broaden the scope of market actors to champion LGBTIQ+ inclusion? In addition, it is important to set expectations with partners or key stakeholders to build capacity and promote inclusion.

Build capacity

Building capacity focuses on including LGBTIQ+ issues in staff/partner gender equality and social inclusion training, including non-tolerance for LGBTIQ+ discrimination in policies, hiring LGBTIQ+ staff and experts in addition to gender advisors, and building capacity and processes for safe data collection and use. Understanding if and how LGBTIQ+, gender, and agriculture, MSD, and economic growth experts can collaborate and share knowledge and understanding of the issues can be very useful in developing more inclusive programming. Other capacity-building areas can include training on how LGBTIQ+ data are collected, shared, and discussed within a team in relation to value chains, sectors, or program goals. How are LGBTIQ+ participants being portrayed in strategies, communications products, and training materials? Being able to understand how LGBTIQ+ populations are defined locally, understanding their issues and differentiated needs, and building capacity for staff and partners is crucial for stronger, more inclusive development.

Using rights-based approaches

One potential approach for LGBTIQ+ inclusion in agriculture and MSD programs is a rights-based approach. This approach is based on international human rights standards and operations to promote and protect human rights. The approach seeks to analyze inequalities that lie at the heart of development problems and redress discriminatory practices and unjust distributions of power that hinder development and often result in groups of people being left behind.

One example of a rights-based approach is the USAID/Guatemala Mas Riego Program, funded by USAID and completed in partnership with the Barbara Ford Pace Center, University of California Davis, University of Kansas, and Zamorano University. The goal of this program was to increase household incomes by increasing productivity, promoting use of drip irrigation systems, mulching, crop diversification, sequencing, and crop rotation, and reducing tillage. The Mas Riego Program worked with populations that were marginalized, excluded, and discriminated against, and used a rights-based approach to training. The program’s technical agriculture and irrigation training sessions included information about the rights and responsibilities of all citizens, including marginalized groups such as LGBTIQ+ populations. During training, program staff, local farmers, agriculture associations, students, and members of local governing boards learned about the unique challenges of marginalized populations and how, as a community, discriminatory practices toward these populations can hinder the community’s development, growth, and right to live in violence-free environments. Ultimately, 6,595 people were trained through this program.


When designing or implementing agriculture and MSD programs, development practitioners have an opportunity to support LGBTIQ+ populations by learning how they are defined in local contexts, how their unique challenges cross paths with production, value chain development, and other economic growth issues, by creating partnerships with organizations that work with and for them, and by training staff to promote respect for diversity and inclusion. These actions lead to stronger, more inclusive development that has the potential to become truly transformative.


Natalie Petrulla and Samantha Croasdaile contributed to this post. Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

EnCompass Staff

EnCompass offers innovative solutions for organizational excellence.  We seek to enhance the impact and capacity of government and multilateral agencies, corporations, and nonprofits around the world through customized services in organizational and leadership development, training, technical assistance, and evaluation.

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