“If women in rural areas had the same access to productive activities as men, agricultural and farming production would increase and we could feed approximately 150 million more people.” (FAO, 2011).
This demonstrates that the role of women is key in agricultural production and in food security. Women are the primary farmers and producers in a large part of the world; however, their work continues to go largely unrecognized. In fact, in developing countries women comprise approximately 43% of the agricultural work force.
There are many voices defending the promotion of the rights of women and their participation in the rural world, arguing that these should be understood within the context of sustainable development.
In spite of this, women’s position has barely advanced; they continue to be in charge of field work and housework in rural areas. Furthermore, due to women’s limited access to training and the rapid technological changes in the sector, coupled with the devastating effects of climate change, natural disasters, or violent conflicts pose an even greater challenge with respect to leveling the playing field for women in agriculture.
Why should we invest in agriculture with a focus on gender? For two principal reasons: efficiency and equity.
- Efficiency: Gender is crucial form the point of view of economic efficiency. In the agricultural sector, inequalities in areas of control of and access to resources between men and women generate massive inefficiencies in production, which, if resolved, could improve food production on a worldwide level. An FAO study suggests that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, the production of their farms would increase by 20-30%. This, in turn, would increase agricultural production in developing countries by 2.5-4% and decrease the number of hungry people by 12%.
- Equity: Women in rural areas have less access to financial services, production activities, technologies, and education compared to men (FAO). A focus on gender can help us reduce inequity in resource distribution, which has historically been negatively influenced by differing social roles of men and women. According to the FAO, it is poverty and not the availability of food that is the principal factor in food insecurity. In other words, although there is plenty of food, people don’t have sufficient financial resources to access it.
Nevertheless, food security isn’t just a question of availability of food, nor of the financial resources to access it. People must also have consistent access to quality, nutritious foods in order to ensure food security. Evidence shows that gender inequalities both in and outside the home endanger not only the ability to obtain food, but also the nutritional security of that food, which is so central to the health of women and children.
Unfortunately, in the agriculture sector, there is gender inequality with respect to control and access to productive resources, which limits the sector’s development enormously. Furthermore, the social roles of men and women also generate disparities in the distribution of goods within the home have a powerful impact on food security and the well-being of families.
For this reason, the growth of the agriculture and livestock sector in Latin America and the Caribbean must be inclusive of women in order to achieve sustainable development and nutritional and food security. It’s estimated that women produce approximately 60-80% of food in the world and they represent 20% of the agricultural labor force in the region. Furthermore, they produce, process and prepare the majority of available foods, and are thus key with respect to food security in their families and communities. Nevertheless, their contribution to food production is unrecognized and, as a consequence, women benefit less from outreach and training services.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately ¼ of the current adult population is considered obese, and it’s estimated that chronic malnutrition, anemia, obesity, and overweight are costing Latin American countries some 3% of their GDP. Thus, in addition to shouldering the responsibilities of the home, it’s crucial to improve and recognize the role of women as agricultural producers, since they are key to impacting agricultural development and food and nutritional security.
And how can we achieve this?
- Empowering women via participatory spaces that allow them to identify specific actions to promote and recognize their roles in agriculture.
- Improving access to productive activities for women, mainly via land access. This can be achieved through projects that incentivize extending land titles to women and implementing awareness campaigns directed at women to inform them about their rights and responsibilities with respect to land ownership.
- Developing best practices with respect to gender in agriculture and farming, and identifying schedules and specific actions so that women can actively participate in trainings and other spaces.
- Incentivizing the adoption of advanced technologies >among female producers.
- Identifying lines of action with respect to agricultural innovation that benefit women and reduce the burden of labor.
- Enabling the participation of women in government settings, agricultural production associations, and commissions.
- Collecting data regarding access to productive resources and use of time that are filtered by gender in order to better understand the role of women in agriculture and to quantify their work.
The Inter-American Development Bank works actively in the implementation of projects in the agriculture and farming sector that promote equitable access to technologies, studies that benefit women directly, that increase their participation and access to and provision of services from the agricultural extension, and which decrease the gender gap with respect to access to land ownership rights.
As an example, the program PRONAREC in Bolivia seeks to increase agricultural productivity via financing of irrigation infrastructure. The program managed –as a condition of its existence – to convene a board of directors whose membership is 30% female. In addition, they included other activities such as technical assistance with a gender focus, contracting a gender specialist for the executive board, and measuring product indicators and results by gender. Also in Bolivia, the program CRIAR seeks to increase the adoption of agriculture and farming technologies among women via training and technical programs that have a gender focus.
In Haiti, the IDB is promoting the adoption of farming and agricultural technologies among women, along with studies that are specifically focused on benefiting this segment of the population. These studies are dedicated specifically to developing new technologies that reduce climate change vulnerability and increase productivity of crops, which are mainly grown by women.
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In a few weeks, this blog will transform into a new blog that will tackle themes of agriculture and food security, climate change, ecosystems and biodiversity, infrastructure and sustainable countries, and responsible production and consumption: “Let’s talk about sustainability and climate change.”