Food security goes far beyond having enough food. Food security refers to “the situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO, 2006). That is, being able to access food of high nutritional quality regularly, without worrying about not having food on the table. Therefore, when we talk about food security we must consider four dimensions: availability, access, utilization, and stability. Availability refers to having an adequate food supply, access refers to the household’s ability to obtain food, utilization refers to the quality of the food (i.e. nutrients, safety), and stability indicates a constant food supply. In rural areas, agricultural and livestock production play a crucial role in food security because they can be used to increase home consumption (availability), income (access) and food diversity (utilization).
However, there is an additional factor that influences food security and we rarely consider the women’s empowerment in the agricultural sector. Women are key players in the food systems, from their participation in the agricultural workforce to making decisions on how to distribute income and ensuring proper nutrition for all household members. However, there are still significant gaps regarding access to productive resources and asset ownership by women, which often negatively affects women’s empowerment and, consequently, household food security.
The Agrifood Support Program (APAGRO) implemented in Nicaragua focuses on empowering women to improve household food security through livestock transfers. This program provided a livestock package and specialized technical assistance in management, commercialization, associativity and financial education. These transfers were implemented through non-reimbursable vouchers, giving the beneficiaries the power to choose the livestock package according to their needs and the size of their farms, as well as to select the most suitable type of technical assistance.
The main objective of the program was to improve food security through increased livestock production and agricultural income. However, given that more than 90% of APAGRO beneficiaries were women, we also evaluated the impact of the program on empowerment. Thus, we present an integrated analysis of the program, both on the different dimensions of food security and on women’s empowerment. For this analysis, we conducted a rigorous impact evaluation using two rounds of data to a sample of 1,200 agricultural producers (600 beneficiaries and 600 control farmers), collected before and after the implementation of the program, in the years 2011 and 2014.
Surprisingly, the results show that the program improved all aspects of food security. It had positive impacts on food availability, improving agricultural productivity (38%), mainly through the increase in livestock production (187%). At the same time, food access increased due to higher income from livestock sales (133%) and home consumption, while food use improved due to higher protein intake (12%). Finally, beneficiary households managed to diversify their agricultural production, contributing to food stability.
Additionally, we observe that the results are better for the group of beneficiaries who received technical assistance. In fact, the results intensify as the beneficiaries receive more training, reaching a peak in the third year.
But how is this connected with women’s empowerment? APAGRO encouraged the creation of farmer groups to receive joint training sessions. Thus, women began to integrate more into their community. In fact, even after the program finalized, they continued to organize themselves to maintain training and technical assistance activities. A key factor in the improvement of women’s empowerment is precisely due to associativity as it increases the possibilities for a stronger leadership role within the community.
An innovative measure that captures women’s empowerment is the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) created by IFPRI, which includes five dimensions of empowerment: decisions about agricultural production, access and decisions over productive resources, control over use of income, leadership (measured with participation in groups or associations) and time use. With information collected for APAGRO’s evaluation, we managed to build a “proxy” indicator that included the first four dimensions. It turned out that program participation reduced the probability of women being disempowered by 5% and the disempowerment score by 17%. Moreover, the probability of facing a gender gap within the household was reduced by 18% and the difference in empowerment between men and women within the household was reduced by 10%.
The analysis also confirms that the main driver for greater women’s empowerment was the leadership dimension, measured by the participation in community groups, which shows that the training groups fostered by the program led women’s empowerment.
Thus, this study confirms that agricultural programs are not only a channel to improve productivity and food security but also a channel through which we could promote women’s empowerment
Check out the infographic https://publications.iadb.org/en/publication/agrifood-support-program-apagro