News: Rekha Mehra and David Kauck, ICRW, on issues facing women’s farmers

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Rekha Mehra, director economic development, and David Kauck, senior gender and agriculture specialist, provide an insightful analysis on practical measures needed to address critical issues facing women farmers (particularly given the release of the new US govt. hunger and food security initiative) at the Katrine Chronicals Blog Go to the post or read the text (pasted below)

Source: Katrine Chronicals Blog

“Most notable about Feed the Future, the US government’s recent initiative to tackle global hunger and food security, is its emphasis on women – unprecedented in the US and timely. More than three decades of work on women and agriculture at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) suggests that improving women farmers’ access to appropriate resources, technologies, markets and land will pay multiple dividends in the form of increased agricultural productivity and, ultimately, improved household nutrition. In fact, according to the US state department’s, Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative consultation document, economic output could be increased by 15%-40% and under-nutrition reduced by 15 million children by providing women with assets equal to those of men.

Women are crucial to the health and wellbeing of their families and communities, and national economic growth. Take, for example, India’s economic transformation: according to the World Bank, Indian states with the highest percentage of women in the labour force grew the fastest and had the largest reductions in poverty. However, the barriers are considerable – women in Africa constitute the majority of farmers, yet they receive less than 10% of small farm credit and own just 1% of land.

It is then an exceptional opportunity that the US government has stated explicitly that not only will consideration of gender be a cross-cutting priority in all of its investments and activities, but also that it will help partner countries and implementing agencies strengthen their ability to address the negative impact of unequal access to and control over assets that affect women at all stages of the agriculture value chain. It is time to use the momentum and turn rhetoric into an action plan for implementation.

The critical next steps to consider in addressing gender issues and ending global hunger are three-fold: how to practically improve women’s access to agricultural resources such as seeds, fertilisers, credit; how to improve women’s access to agricultural information, services and training and how to help women farmers become better integrated into wider commercial markets.

ICRW has ideas and recommendations about the “how to” based on our research and through talking directly with women farmers in developing countries. Here are our six recommendations:

1. Public and private sector initiatives must embrace women as economic agents of change
Clear signals that gender is a priority must be sent by governments and implementing organisations such as NGOs to managers and field staff. Plans should be developed that secure the notion of women as economic agents in agriculture – as farmers and wage workers who grow both food and economies. Donors, policymakers, development practitioners and agri-businesses must significantly shift their thinking about women, food security, agriculture and the global marketplace.

2. Commit dedicated financial resources to address the needs of women farmers
Dedicated financial resources to accomplish gender goals should match the commitment to women farmers. Staff will need to be trained to ensure they know how to reach out to women farmers and deliver the support they need to enhance their productivity.

3. Address the obstacle of property rights
Access to land is a major impediment in many developing countries for women farmers. It is a critical asset, not only for production, but also as a means of securing access to credit and other resources. Women’s access to land continues to flow through their male relatives, irrespective of the formal legal framework in many developing countries. This must be changed or alternatives developed.

4. Provide access to material and financial resources to women farmers
Field research conducted by ICRW shows that while women provide much of the labour on crop production they have limited access to productivity-enhancing resources, such as credit and agricultural extension information provided either by government or private companies. ICRW found that women farmers were keen to learn better production methods, obtain credit and earn income.

5. Encourage women farmers’ leadership and build farmer associations that include or are dedicated to women farmers
Ways to deliver services to women include designating them as lead farmers on whose plots extension agents can demonstrate new techniques and altering farmer association rules to ensure that women are full-fledged members and can access the benefits of membership such as training and credit.

6. Introduce innovations to improve the productivity of women farmers and control income from their sales
Many women farmers are highly innovative entrepreneurs. Given access to resources, technologies and information they can be catalysts of economic growth. Women farmers in Kenya, for example, not only expressed a desire to learn more about successful efforts to improve crop yields and earnings, but also led innovation efforts, such as adoption of low-cost water harvesting techniques and value addition and marketing of crops like strawberries and bananas. Ways to allow for women’s control over their earnings include innovations such as mobile banking services like “smart cards” that allow women to deposit earnings directly into their own accounts.

The Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative should be applauded for bringing women front and centre in its strategic approach to end hunger. But the promise will be fully realised only when governments, development agencies and the private sector take practical on-the-ground measures to address the critical issues facing women farmers.”

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