Growing up on a farm taught me to appreciate all of the hard work that goes into producing food. While my dad and brothers were responsible for the livestock and field crops, my mom, sisters and I planted, weeded, harvested, and processed vegetable gardens that would then help feed our family for the coming year. In the north the work is condensed into a few months. In other parts of the world the work never stops and more and more the burden of it is falling onto the shoulders of women.
Feminization of agriculture refers to the growing predominant role women are having in food production and food security; a trend seen most notably in Africa. Here, Liberalization policies in the 1990’s cut government support in all areas of life forcing male-out migration to paying jobs in the city. Women were left behind to farm alone.
In sub-Saharan Africa women are responsible for 60-80% of food production . In Asia it is around 50%. In the Pacific women dominate fisheries and food markets as well as work in the labour intensive crops of palm oil, vanilla, and cocoa. The numbers in the Middle East even become significant when unpaid and seasonal labour are taken into account. Here lies a major issue: much of women’s work in the food chain, whether local or global, is undervalued and often labelled ‘unproductive’ because it is unpaid.
These ‘unproductive’ jobs include: sowing, fertilizing, weeding, harvesting, threshing, cleaning, sorting, grading, bagging, transportation and marketing. In addition to these jobs, the women are usually solely responsible for taking care of the livestock, gathering fuel wood, fetching water, as well as taking care of their family.
Gender discrimination is prevalent in every society. But in the developing world women are even more vulnerable. Local laws and customs in many area are preventing women from the recognition they deserve and the power to make change. In Africa women own less than 1% of the land. Without land to their name, women are unable to get credit and are excluded from rural cooperatives which leads to their low participation at national and international organizations. It is at the higher levels that decision and policy making occur and because of lack of women at these levels you find gender blindness: roles, contributions, and needs of male and female farmers are considered the same.
Gender blindness leads to the assumption that all farmers have access to available resources but the reality is that women farmers receive less than 10% of the agriculture assistance available. This translates to less access to fertilizer, fewer tools, poor quality seeds, less training and less land. Some studies have shown that when women farmers have access to resources their productivity can be as much as 20% higher than men.
Agriculture is the backbone of Africa , yet despite that, it is the region with the highest hunger. Efforts to alleviate poverty and hunger in developing countries will not be successful until the many issues relating to women as producers and providers of food are resolved.
Many organizations are working towards change:
Self Help Africa
Armstrong, Sally. (2013). Ascent of Women. Random House Canada