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Agriculture

Is There A Better Way For Governments To Fund Agribusiness?

To build sustainable food systems, women need to be formally represented in the process. Too often, responses to the global food crisis reinforce an unjust status quo and widen gender inequality.

Our readers here at CleanTechnica are early adopters. Visionaries. People who want to be part of systemic zero emissions action. In lots of cases, that means delving into new apps, investments, technologies, or products. Topics like the rise of smart cities, Internet of Things (IoT), efficiency personalization, self-driving cars, ubiquitous connectivity, and artificial intelligence (AI) — all of which are fundamentally reshaping how we live and work– appeal to our readers.

Much of this fascination is male in nature — these are topics and themes and discourses that intrigue primarily males. Yes, the clean tech world tends to speak with a subtle sharing structure that prefers male ways of knowing.

Bear with me — consider these studies.

These examples build together and lead to a not-really-surprisingly deduction that the technologies of tomorrow — those that will shape our clean energy world — have been driven largely, although certainly not exclusively, by males. This discussion is not to disrespect males. Rather, it is meant to point out that male ways of knowing are specific, and they may not produce the most efficacious resource delivery in all cases and circumstances.

With this realization, we may be able to draw upon clean tech for better agribusiness delivery. We may be able to step back and objectively identify alternative and non-male methods to accomplish important environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals.

Governmental Agribusiness Funding is Often Misplaced

Climate change is one of several factors that have disproportionately eroded women’s income, savings, and assets. These losses have compounding effects on women’s well-being: whether they can get healthy food or paid work, whether they are building savings, or facing violence.

A commentary in Nature titled “To Ease the World Food Crisis, Focus Resources on Women and Girls” outlines how aid programs tend to favor men. Subsidy and voucher schemes often target male-dominated commercial agriculture over the smaller plots on which women grow food to feed their families and to sell informally. The result is that entrenched power imbalances create obstacles for women who grow and sell crops as a livelihood.

The authors argue that, to build more equitable food systems, responses to the global food crisis must do better than in the past. There is no place for actions that reinforce an unjust status quo and widen gender inequality.

Instead, new approaches to many current crises are urgently needed, even if ensuring gender equity in interventions adds time and complexity. Standard practices that ignore how policies affect people differently, with inequality on the rise, the authors insist, “must stop. This includes providing resources to help women and girls cope with crises in the short term, and challenging the systems that perpetuate inequality.”

Disproportionate Erosion of Many Women’s Well-Being

Food insecurity is higher for women globally, and the gender gap has increased. Recent crises hit women and girls especially hard, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, due to raising prices of food, fuel, and farming supplies. Since Russia declared war on Ukraine, more than $40 billion has been pledged to avert food and humanitarian crises. Yet these massive funds are unlikely to get women and girls the help they need — the investments might even exacerbate inequalities.

Governments that are strapped for cash are often quick to cut social assistance programs designed to benefit women and children. When governments reduce expenditures on education and health, the burden of providing these services is often transferred to households and communities, putting extra pressure on women and reinforcing conventional gender roles.

  • As COVID-19 shutdowns affected urban workers in countries across the world, many men migrated to rural areas to re-enter agribusiness, displacing women in remunerative farming and trade.
  • At the same time, small agribusinesses and informal food markets that women relied on for their livelihoods were forced to close.
  • Higher costs for fuels used in cooking and transport often mean that women have to spend more time gathering firewood and might need to walk, cycle or use public transport to take children to school or travel to markets or jobs.
  • Older girls, in particular, are more likely to be married off or pulled out of school to work at home when budgets are tight.
  • Obtaining subsidies often requires property deeds and digital platforms, both barriers for the most marginalized women. This means that, although plots farmed by men might have sufficient support, those farmed by women end up with even fewer resources.
  • Price hikes also raise the costs of doing and restarting agribusiness.
  • Extension services (government-sponsored advice for farmers) might lack the funds to visit farmers’ fields or villages. Because women are less likely to have access to mobile Internet, they are less able to access this advice remotely for information on coping with shortages of fertilizers, pesticides, and fuel.

Reframing Funding for Equitable Agribusiness

What concrete agricultural strategies can buffer women and girls against short-term hardships and reduce long-term gender inequalities?

The authors of “To Ease the World Food Crisis, Focus Resources on Women and Girls” offer a series of possible solutions for equitable agribusiness. Here are some of their most salient points.

Gather evidence. Gender-responsive approaches require data that are broken down by sex, and this information must be more timely, accessible, and localized than it is now. It’s important to track how crises affect men and women differently; for example, whether agribusinesses that shut down during crises were owned by men or women, or whose assets and savings were used when a shock hit. Whether programs reach and benefit women is also not regularly monitored, but it is important to know whether, for instance, subsidized fertilizer is spread on fields farmed by men or women, or whether extension agents reach women.

Promote women’s leadership. Stakeholders should shift rhetoric away from women as victims and support the ways they are finding to respond to crises: in their homes, fields and businesses. This includes supporting women as leaders. Women often demand a seat at the table. A simple gesture such as making sure that meetings are held at convenient times for childcare and promoting greater access to finance and investment that support female farmers go a long way.

Targeted incentives can help. A systematic review of 32 programs suggests that those supplying fortified food or nutritional supplements can reduce stunting and anemia by targeting women and mothers of young children. These protect the most vulnerable effectively, including women who are pregnant, single mothers, disabled, older or refugees, as well as young children at risk of malnutrition. Expanding these programs should be a priority, especially to women who are not formally in the labor force and those whose businesses were forced to close or are struggling.

Increase opportunities for work. An effective way to help women is to support them to reopen agribusinesses that closed during the pandemic, and to open new ones. Centers that offer training and access to finance can reach rural women best if they are located in the communities where women are most affected. This saves on high fuel costs and aligns with cultural norms.

Support women’s groups. Existing social networks and women’s groups can help governments and NGOs to target training, information, and resources, including agricultural inputs, where they are most needed. Women’s groups also boost resilience by providing a platform for collective action, sharing labor and childcare responsibilities, organizing transport, accessing credit and savings, and disseminating information. Input from such groups and networks is essential to ensure that relief programs address women’s needs in their specific context.

Tailor financial services. Conventional financial products often fail to reach women because they require land or house titles as collateral. Expanding access might mean waiving or reducing registration fees, or accepting non-conventional forms of collateral, while increasing financial literacy. Both the public and private sector should work to provide financial products tailored to women’s needs, such as affordable micro-credit, more asset-based financing, and insurance bundles.

Broaden access to information. Women are less likely to be approached by extension agents and less likely to receive agricultural and market information through mobile phones, television, or radio. Access worsened during the pandemic. Agricultural extension services must, therefore, take care that messages reach women and are useful to them. For instance, women who lose access to expensive agrochemicals are in need of information on farming practices that require fewer inputs and are less labor-intensive. Increasing female ownership of mobile phones and training on how to use them is also essential.

Final Thoughts about Equitable Agribusiness

Research institutes, government agencies, NGOs, and grassroots organizations can collect and analyse data and assist funders and governments to implement, coordinate, and monitor their response to the food crisis. If women are formally represented across this process, programs will be more effective at meeting women’s needs and improving gender equality.

This food crisis is not the last crisis the world will face, the authors of the report remind us, but it should be the last one in which women and girls carry this grossly unequal burden. Now is the time to transform the agribusiness food system to create more opportunities for women and girls, leading to greater gender equality.

 
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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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