Regina Laub and Johanna Schmidt, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
In recent years, the commercialization of agriculture, global trade liberalization, technological advancement and other major trends have deeply changed the agricultural sector and broader food systems.
While these trends have created opportunities and positive results, such as opening up new markets and creating successful linkages between farmers and markets, they also pose challenges for rural many actors, especially smallholder farmers, in accessing and benefitting from local, national and global markets.
Rural women in particular, experience difficulties in participating in and benefitting equally from agri-food value chains. Women’s productive and entrepreneurial potential is often constrained by their limited access to assets, services and productive resources. As a result, women remain overrepresented in the low-paid, low-skilled nodes of the chain, and excluded from more promising market and business opportunities that might be emerging from value chain development.
Moreover, evidence shows that this gender gap in agriculture, not only hinders women’s economic potential, but also affects the overall performance of agri-food value chains, and as such represents a missed opportunity in achieving zero hunger and improving food security and nutrition for all. Eliminating gender-based constraints in agri-food value chains, will therefore not only improve women’s opportunities for economic empowerment, but it will also contribute to value addition, reduce food losses and improve the lives of rural women and men and their families.
The current issue of the Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security focuses on the intersection of gender, agricultural productivity, value chains and nutrition and contains papers from research carried out across the globe including in Cameroon, the Himalayas, Ethiopia, India and Malawi.
Nathalie Me-Nsope and Michelle Larkins, both of Michigan State University discuss the gender based constraints and opportunities along the pigeon pea value chain, their implications for legume adoption/expansion, for income gains, and for the food security status of legume producing/selling households. They find that due to their culturally prescribed role as heads of households, men are mostly responsible for legume cultivation decisions at the farm level and across all regions of the country. Cultural restrictions on women’s mobility and gender disparities in transportation assets exclude women from participating in markets, thereby giving men more access to pigeon pea sales revenue. Men’s predominant role in pigeon pea marketing and their power to make major decisions on the allocation of crop revenue creates a disincentive among women to expand the legume at the farm level, especially since women make major labor contributions towards the cultivation and post-harvest handling of the legume. Our results indicate that income from pigeon pea sales may not always translate to improvements in household food security, especially when intra-household gender differences in market participation, consumption needs and preferences are considered. The authors recommend that development efforts targeting increases in household food security through the promotion of pigeon pea must take into considerations and address these gender barriers.
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Hannah E. Payne from Brigham Young University, the USA and her co-authors from Freedom from Hunger and the Indian Institute of Health Management Research University in Jaipur India address the critical issue of food insecurity among women and children and describe the associated factors in rural Rajasthan, India. By surveying pregnant women and women with young children belonging to self-help groups the authors find that factors associated with food insecurity for both women and children include increased poverty, low dietary diversity, belonging to a tribe, and failing to save money to cover food expenses. For women, using more coping strategies and having a husband who made decisions about how money the woman earned was used were associated with food insecurity, while not having received food from an Integrated Child Development Service center was associated with food insecurity in children. These findings suggest that actions for improving food security may include facilitating saving for food needs, improving decision-making power among women, and increasing ties to organizations that cater to child development needs.
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For social scientists working on gender research in international and national agriculture research centres, creating a balance between strategic gender research and mainstreaming gender into existing programs is walking a tight rope.
In research programmes gender mainstreaming refers to the the way in which research programmes incorporate gender perspectives so that the overall research framework, approach and methodologies employed to conduct the research are clearly gender sensitive. Gender mainstreaming is important because it incorporates the fundamental principle that women and men experience different conditions and opportunities in life, have different interests and needs, and are affected in different ways by social, political and economic processes, as a direct result of their gender.
The business case for gender has dominated much of the recent discourse on gender in agriculture. The idea that addressing gender inequalities in agriculture will lead to increased productivity, improved food and nutrition security, economic growth and a reduction in poverty is appealing to managers of organizations who have these as their core mandate.