Women's advances in agriculture
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CTA. 1998. Women's advances in agriculture. Spore 76. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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the sky must not fallWomen hold up half the sky, according to the Chinese proverb. Women also sustain more than half of ACP agriculture. In recent decades, much has been achieved in empowering women within the agricultural sector. However, recent...
Women hold up half the sky, according to the Chinese proverb. Women also sustain more than half of ACP agriculture. In recent decades, much has been achieved in empowering women within the agricultural sector. However, recent structural adjustments, and the associated drive towards increased cash crop productivity and exports, point to the need to address broader issues when considering matters affecting women farmers. Recent advances by women are threatened with erosion and need safeguarding, but beyond that, a new series of advances is needed for them to gain better access to male-dominated domains: credit, land and technology. The expression 'The African farmer and her husband' has appeared in several publications recently, including Spore (see issue 67). It draws attention to the fact that two-thirds of the agricultural labour force in some African countries is made up of women. Women typically work longer hours than men when producing food. On average, they work 13 hours more than men each week in Asia and Africa. In Uganda, they work more than twice as long: 50 hours a week, compared to 23 hours for men. While men tend to produce cash crops, or hire out their labour, women produce the bulk of the food for local and family consumption. In sub-Saharan Africa, they grow and sell 80 to 90% of this food, and in the Caribbean 45%. In tropical Africa, Asia and the Pacific, up to 80% of all fish and shellfish caught by local fisherfolk are cleaned, dried, smoked and marketed by women and children. Caretakers of the food supply The key role played by women in agricultural production is not yet adequately reflected in national and international policies. Less than 1% of the projects of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) actually include strategies for reaching women; in the United Nations system as a whole, less than 4% of projects benefit women. The gap is clear. 'Men receive most of the agricultural extension services, new technologies and credit, and women are the caretakers of the food supply' stated the report 'Women: the Key to Food Security' by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), based in Washington. 'If women were given the same resources as men, developing countries would see significant increases in agricultural productivity'. Most investment in women's agriculture has focused on income-generation strategies, and labour-saving devices. Thus every self-respecting village association, women's group, and non-governmental organisation in every country have projects to increase the productivity of home-plot gardening, using simple methods to increase soil fertility and to improve pest control and product storage. Within the limits of the local market, these approaches have doubtless generated income for women farmers, and have increased nutritional standards. The last few decades have also seen an upsurge in appropriate village technologies for the cultivation and processing of small volumes of produce. From the hoe, the solar fruit drier and the hand-held nut sheller, to the small bottling plant operated by a women's group, there are countless examples of low-cost technologies which have removed part of the drudgery experienced by women who farm and process food. These techniques and technologies have been developed by women's groups and village craftspeople (notably blacksmiths); they have been financed both by the communities themselves and external sources (from small NGOs to international agencies). They have led to innovations in technology transfer, with experience and equipment being shared between villages, countries and even continents. Limits to growth? These programs aimed at improving the way women farm, have clearly had their impact on the income and material quality of their lives, and on agricultural production. However, their contribution towards gender equality is less clear: many would argue that they have led to no significant changes. It is argued that because these programs concentrate on income-generation and the elimination of drudgery in the subsistence sector, instead of micro-enterprise development or cash crop production (projects which usually target men), these approaches tacitly accept the notion that women's productive work is less important than men's, and, hence, that lower standards for women are acceptable. The growing commercialisation of agriculture has led to an increasing focus on the optimisation of production and on conquering markets ? indeed these are two of CTA's priority information themes. These strategies are intended to provide and maintain food security, and thus meet part of the material needs of all people regardless of gender. However, there is a risk that given their initial male bias they will exclude women and thus slow down, hinder, or even halt, the long walk of women towards empowerment. Traditionally, in most ACP States and elsewhere, it is men who have access to land, technology and credit at the levels required for profitable cash crop and livestock production. If no deliberate attempts are made to protect and promote women's rights in agriculture, the danger of commercialisation strategies is that subsistence farming will suffer. Tracy Doig, of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, argues that women may still be expected to perform their traditional agricultural role, as well as take on the extra burden of looking after their husband's cash crops. Dr Jessy Kwesiga, of Uganda's Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA), emphasises the importance of strategies which improve property rights security for women. He explains that, in Uganda, laws about land ownership are gender blind, and that nowhere in the constitution does it say that women cannot own land. In practice, he points out, the majority of rural women have access to land but lack control or ownership of it ? that remains in the hands of male kin. Unless property rights can change, 'we risk having a deliberate policy of intensifying the burden of women, in the name of ensuring increased agricultural production.' If it's not appropriate to women As well as a need for land, there is a need for technology. Access to technology, for both women and men, requires education, information and finance. 'Under-investment in women's education has high costs in terms of lost agricultural output and income', reports IFPRI. Credit is crucial for land and equipment purchase. A recent report on food processing in Ghana welcomed the emergence of women's groups cooperating to acquire (or hire) equipment for postharvest processing and food production. Demand from the urban market for processed foods is growing fast (see article on pages 4 and 5). The local and regional demand for items such as canned and bottled traditional sauces is fuelling a small industrial revolution. Yet early attempts by women's cooperatives to build up businesses around this trend were thwarted by lack of access to credit. The reluctance of most banks to invest in women's enterprises, which have little or no collateral, reflects that seen in the field. In some African countries, according to the International Women's Network, women farmers receive less than 10% of the total credit allocated to small farmers, and only 1% of the total credit allocated to agriculture. Beyond credit? An alternative to credit that is now being developed in several women's agricultural and small enterprise programmes is 'income-smoothing'. Instead of taking out a loan, other financial services are exploited, such as savings and/or insurance. By paying small amounts beforehand, a borrower can have access later to lump sums at crucial moments ? to bridge a crisis or purchase at the most opportune moment. This approach gives a greater number of women access to finance than a simple credit scheme because their ability to repay a loan on a go-with-the-cash-flow basis is replaced by their ability to save securely. Furthermore, it is probable that the solidarity of a women's group based on savings is greater than that based on debt. In the short-term, making more material resources available to women for land, credit and technology, and ensuring their proper role in agricultural development, is mostly a question of putting existing policies into practice. There are sufficient budget lines and credit funds available for massive, if not radical, changes to take place in the rural economy and for women's farming to flourish, equitably. The relentless process of genderisation of development policies has made sure of that. The United Nations Agenda 21 packs the message into a few powerful words: 'facilitate better access to all forms of credit, particularly in the informal sector, taking measures towards ensuring women's access to property rights as well as agricultural implements'. In the long-term, there is an essential change required in education and training, and in sustaining mechanisms to promote the advancement of women. At the micro-level, through access to credit and equipment, for example, change is possible and probable. At the macro-level, through changes in gender balance at all levels of power structures resulting in more women becoming presidents, agricultural researchers or bankers, change is coming slowly. After all, five African countries are among the top 15 in the world as regards the percentage of women in their national parliaments, ranking ahead of Canada and the United Kingdom. Eleven African countries surpass the 11.7% women mark of the United States House of Representatives. If progress in the empowerment of rural women is to be sustained and advanced, then major changes in attitude must come from the people who hold up the other half of the sky: the men. It takes two to tango. For more information: No longer 'the farmer's wife!'. By J Brew, The Courrier, issue 170, July - August 1998, p. 69. Available from the European Commission, 200 rue de la loi, 1049 Brussels, Belgium. African Centre for Women, Economic Commission for Africa, P O Box 3001, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Fax: +251 1 512785 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://www.un.org/depts/eca/divis/acw UNIFEM, United Nations Development Fund for Women, 304 East 45th Street, 6th floor, New York, NY 10017, USA. Fax: +1 212 906 6705 Email: email@example.com Website: http://www.unifem.undp.org Women's World Banking, 8 West 40th St, New York, NY 10018, USA. Fax: +1 212 768 8519 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org See the Books section: 'Women and sustainability'.
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