One of the great ironies of the last 40 years is that sub-Saharan Africa, a continent of ‘female farming par excellence’ (Boserup 1970), became populated, at least within much development discourse, by rural women represented as either ‘cardboard victims or heroines’ (Cornwall et al. 2004:1). How did this disjuncture come about? What have been its implications for agricultural development policy and practice? How can more nuanced understandings of gender and social relations be fruitfully brought into agricultural research and policy processes?