The Gender in Agriculture Partnership (GAP) held a successful side event during the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) held from7 to 11 October 2013. The meeting brought together gender experts and stakeholders from all areas of agriculture, to consider women’s roles in delivering both food security and nutritional outcomes. Achieving these requires major changes to ensure gender equity, empower women and address their needs in food systems.
Most people working in development may agree on the need to empower women, but it is not easy to actually achieve such a complex goal. Recognizing that no single institution can meet these challenges by itself, GAP enables stakeholders to work better together in addressing gender and nutrition needs, to ensure that impacts are achieved through to the household level.
The event considered the evidence of: how women’s and girls’ empowerment delivers on food security and nutrition; the costs of failing to invest in women's roles in high-nutrient-value food chains and of ignoring women's triple work burden (household, reproductive and market); and the enabling environment - policies, rights laws, and incentives to empower women to deliver food and nutrition security.
Prof. MS Swaminathan, Chair of the High-Level Panel of Experts of the CFS, and a GAP Patron, chaired the side event. He emphasized that women are the managers of food security at the household level and create and conserve the culinary, cultural and curative diversity of agriculture. Giving women access to land, technology, credit, insurance and support services is essential to maximising their outputs, optimizing their available time and minimising drudgery. Prof. Swaminathan clearly set out the challenge: “Sustainable food security will be only a dream without the participation of women”.
Susan Kaaria, Senior Gender Officer at FAO, presented key findings of The State of Food and Agriculture 2011 report on gender and agriculture. On average women comprise 43% of the world’s agricultural labour force and yet also do around 90% of the work in the household. Combining these data shows that they have huge impact on children’s and their own nutrition.
There are significant disparities between men and women in access to assets, productive resources and opportunities. The disparity in access to land is enormous: in no country do women have more than 25% of landownership, and in some areas the figure can be as low as 3%. Increasing women’s land ownership raises their influence in the community and helps them access financial services. Women farmers typically operate smaller farms of poorer quality land, and typically with less secure tenure. Under these conditions, women cannot achieve the same scale of production as men and have less incentive to invest in soil fertility, so efficiency suffers. Constraints on the access and use of innovative technologies by women is also a key cause of disparity. Women are much less likely to use improved technologies and purchase inputs like fertilizers and seeds. By giving women access to assets and productive resources, food productivity and nutrition security can be increased significantly. Policies and institutions should also be targeted to, and take account of, gender-differentiated needs, constraints and opportunities.
Lynn Brown, Senior Economist, World Bank, provoked debate on the failing of research to take full account of gender and its implications for informing policies. She questioned why agricultural research focused so heavily on production of commodities, rather than the foodstuffs that are produced from them. Characteristics particularly valued by men, such as pest resistance and overall yield, rather than output characteristics like nutritional value and post-harvest processing that are more valued by women, remain the dominant considerations in research processes. Using practical examples, Brown showed how commoditization has created a bias that tends to favour men farmers, who generally raise large livestock, are less involved in time-consuming household activities, and have greater access to inputs. Finally, she spoke of “agriculture’s dirty little secret”: the often high levels of mycotoxins in grains that cause poisoning, cancer and growth stunting. These infections often arise in post-harvest processes determined by women, yet often receive scant research attention. She called for research to focus much more on issues of concern to women and to create the evidence base required for effective policies.
Dr. Saralan Gopalan, President of the India National Institute of Agriculture spoke on behalf of Susan Carlson, Women’s Committee Facilitator, World Farmers’ Organization (WFO). The WFO, through policies and advocacy, calls for increased investments in women farmers. Women are not receiving the equal recognition and investments they need to reduce the gender gap and improve their families’ livelihoods. Gopalan pointed to the need for women’s education to maximize the impact of agricultural investments.
H.E. Mary Mubi, Ambassador of the Republic of Zimbabwe and former Co-Chair of the Women’s Network of Ambassadors to FAO stressed that the importance of women in agriculture is now understood, but is neglected in many countries and research agendas remain gender-blind. This is largely due to a lack of consideration of the cultural context of land entitlement. Evidence-based policies are needed to convince policy makers to address gender issues in agriculture.
Stanlake Samkange, Director of the Policy, Programme and Innovation Division, WFP, underlined the implementation and operational aspects of gender issues. While WFP and an increasing number of organizations have committed to cross-cutting gender policies and processes to enforce them, on the ground the impact is still lagging. Samkange enumerated three main challenges: in the transition from humanitarian aid to programs enabling sustained, long-term impacts, it is essential to build the skills of women farmers and offer them financing options to increase their purchase power. For example, WFP’s “Purchase for Progress” works with local banks to allow crops to be provide collateral for loans. The second challenge is taking these programs to scale to bring food and nutrition security to more people. Finally, he recognized that gender should be considered in the familial context; both men and women stand to benefit from better balancing their roles on the farm and in the household, an aspect that is especially important to consider as we near the Year of Family Farming in 2014.
After questions from the floor, the Chair closed the session, urging that a core coalition of those concerned with gender issues be mobilized to progress gender equity in agriculture and proposing the Gender in Agriculture Partnership as the open platform for triggering collective action on these issues. Better-orienting research toward the needs of women farmers, was identified as a takeaway message for policymakers, challenging all concerned to “walk their talk” on gender and have the courage to establish policies and guidelines that can empower women to deliver on food security and nutrition in a wide range of cultures.