Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Imani Duncan-Price: Towards Gender Equality in Agriculture

Published:Sunday | March 13, 2016 | 3:00 AM
A female farmer
Female farmer Vivienne Ebanks
Imani Duncan-Price
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How is it that 178 years after slavery, women, who make up approximately 51 per cent of the population, only own two per cent of land in Jamaica? This cannot be right! Notwithstanding the significant interventions we have made as a country, especially in the 1970s, with regards to land reform, this is what we have enabled for women.

This has such deleterious implications for further development and economic freedom, given the role that women play in families, that it needs to be an urgent consideration in our Jamaica growth plan. This is just one of the reasons that a deliberate gender lens, a deliberate youth lens, and a deliberate socioeconomic lens are requisite in designing and implementing programmes and policies, if we really want to have more equitable, socially just and inclusive outcomes. The two per cent is neither inclusive nor equitable.

Especially with the recent celebration of International Women's Day, it is particularly timely to focus on rural women, agriculture, and what owning two per cent of land overall really means. In the most basic sense, land is a key resource in farming; if you don't own it, you're at a distinct disadvantage. The fact is that while women in Jamaica have the legal right to own land and may be included on documents as joint or individual landowners, they are seldom landowners. Thirty per cent of private land in Jamaica is held as family land. In fact, most Jamaicans obtain access to land through inheritance, kinship ties, lease, purchase, and informal settlement. This uncertainty is difficult to plan with; women just work with it.

When coupled with the fact that "rural women in Jamaica receive only one per cent of all agricultural credit and only five per cent of all agricultural extension resources are directed to women", as reported by the Bureau of Women's Affairs in 2011, the picture of the two per cent land ownership is even clearer.

For many, it's no big deal as the assumption is made that there are not many women farmers anyway. Not so at all! Our women are out there shoulder to shoulder with our men. As of April 2015, there were 154,324 farmers registered through the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA). Of that number, 54,013 (35 per cent) are women. But not all farmers are registered. Indeed, Norman Grant, president of the Jamaica Agriculture Society (JAS) has indicated that there are 228,000 farmers (registered and unregistered) across the country, and potentially 90,000 are women.

The Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions (2010) indicates that 40 per cent of rural households are led by women and have larger proportions of children and other family members (disabled, elderly, sick). To make matters worse, they survive on only one income. It's no surprise then that women make up the majority of the rural poor. The point is that it all matters. Land ownership, or the lack thereof, and access to support resources affect a significant group.

 

CLOSING THE AGRICULTURE GENDER GAP MAKES A REAL DIFFERENCE

Let's take the two per cent of land ownership, the one per cent of agricultural credit, and the five per cent of all agricultural extension resources for rural women farmers. Now imagine what could be if women received deliberate, targeted support. Studies done by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) show up to 30 per cent yield gaps between men and women farmers.

Let's be clear, many similar studies also show that these differences in yields exist not because women are less skilled, but because they have less access to inputs such as improved seeds, fertilisers and equipment. They further state that "given equal access to resources as men, women would achieve the same yield levels, boosting agricultural output in developing counties by 2.5-4 per cent".

Without a doubt, closing the gender gap in agriculture can improve agricultural productivity.

Closing this gender gap is critical for two main reasons. One, we all - PNP and JLP and no P - agree, Jamaicans standing for Jamaica, that it is better if we can feed ourselves. In fancy terms, it's called 'food security'. It makes perfect sense economically as we don't have to find foreign exchange to import food and further pressure the Jamaican dollar. There would also be possibilities for increased employment opportunities in Jamaica as well. As closing the gender gap in agriculture leads to improved agricultural productivity, it then increases the availability of food and reduces food prices.

The second reason may not find agreement from all sides, but as a principle, it's critical to invest correctly up front rather than pay dearly in the future. As Frederick Douglass said, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." Consequently, if we have a focus now on enabling women farmers - helping them with access to land ownership, agricultural credit and extension resources in order to increase their yield and output - not only does the Jamaican economy benefit but, so, too, will every single one of those families and the children, the elderly and the disabled living in those households. This view doesn't seek to advocate placing more pressure on our national Budget - we must continue to maintain our fiscal commitments - this is more about how we use what we have. We can truly lift a significant part of our population with the right targeted measures.

For research supports the claim that when women have more influence over economic decisions in their families, they allocate more income to food, health, education, children's clothing and children's nutrition. By closing the gender gap in agriculture, we also raise the incomes of female farmers and this generates broader social and economic benefits.

 

GENDER GAP: PERPETUATED BY CULTURAL BIASES AND STRUCTURES

We have to be realistic, though, the persistent gender gap in agriculture in Jamaica today is not primarily because of laws, policies and programmes intended to hold women back. Indeed, FAO studies globally show that access to extension services is limited for women because of cultural attitudes, discrimination and a lack of recognition for their role in food production, and so women enjoy limited to no benefits from extension and training in new crop varieties and technologies. In fact, in 2014 at an FAO conference on access to credit, the RADA executive director conceded that inherent biases exist towards placing male farmers first in the registration process.

In addition to ensuring we address the cultural biases, we need to ensure that structures that are set up to be enabling are not unintentionally exclusionary. For example, we know that we can encourage rural women's participation in farmer organisations and cooperatives to help, both to achieve economies of scale in access to markets, as well as reducing isolation and building confidence, leadership and security. However, these cooperatives must promote a women-friendly and empowering culture. As such, parameters like membership fees need to be properly thought through, for membership criteria such as land ownership would bar landless women (the majority of women) from becoming members.

Similarly, when thinking about improving access to credit, lenders and other financial institutions can look to Grameen Bank for successful examples. They have products designed to strengthen the position of women. Loans for purchasing land or houses require that they be registered in women's names and the loans are offered based on credit (not requiring collateral which is typically property).

We can only hope that, in the spirit of continuity of good ideas, the implementation of the proposed reform of the Cooperatives Law and supporting regulations, which former Senator Norman Grant brought to the Senate in 2015, be actively pursued. I fully supported that motion, with some amendments, to ensure the application of a gender lens in doing the revision, and of course, in the implementation, recommend working with groups like the Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers for greater effectiveness.

"It is in the agricultural sector that the battle for long-term economic development will be won or lost." Gunnar Myrdal, economist and Nobel laureate

- Imani Duncan-Price is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and Development Consultant