What women want

Female farmers produce more than half of all food worldwide and currently account for 43% of the global agricultural labour force according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Smallholder farming is dependent on many of these women and yet their roles often go unrecognised and unsupported. For example the majority of collective action interventions in agricultural markets have favoured men meanwhile few female smallholders are paid for their work. Societal norms can also men that women are limited in their access to land ownership, farm equipment and credit – important factors in productivity, income generation and food security.

Photo Credit: Anna Ridout/Oxfam

Photo Credit: Anna Ridout/Oxfam

By closing the gender gap that exists between men and women in smallholder farming overall production could increase, food and nutrition security could be improved and the health and well-being of households and communities could be bettered.  Providing equal access to existing resources and opportunities in farming could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100 to 150 million people.

Oxfam have supported the Aaroh campaign in 71 districts in Uttar Pradesh, a state where only 6% of women own land, less than 1% have participated in government training programs, 4% have access to institutional credit and only 8% have control over agricultural income. Led by local NGOs, Pani Sansthan, Vinoba Seva Ashram, Samarpan Jan Kalyan Samiti and Disha Samajik Sansthan, the main aim of the campaign is to “help women gain recognition as farmers so that they own agricultural land and access institutional credit, new technologies and government programs”. After several years there is an increase in the number of women who own agricultural land and some 8,000 husbands have shown their willingness in writing for joint land titling. But despite progress women are still struggling to access land and bank credit without the presence of a male family member or husband.

Photo Credit: COLEACP PIP/Aurélien Chauvaud

Photo Credit: COLEACP PIP/Aurélien Chauvaud

Oxfam also initiated their Researching Women’s Collective Action project in 2009, running for three years, which sought to address knowledge gaps and links between gender and collective action in selected agricultural markets in Ethiopia, Mali and Tanzania. They found that women were more able to prioritise the nutrition, health and education of their children if they had a degree of financial independence. The project also investigated the common barriers women face in engaging with collective action projects – “access to formal groups, being overlooked by extension services and the need to provide the support women require and in a way that works for women.”

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) has been investigating for more than 30 years how inequalities between women and men affect agricultural productivity and food security. Their research aims to guide development organizations and policymakers in finding practical ways women’s roles in agricultural production and trade can be supported. This research suggests that “improving women’s access to resources, technology, markets and property rights will increase farm productivity, raise income and improve household nutrition”, as they explain in their video. [Read more…]

Foreign investment in developing country agriculture – evidence for inclusivity

ID-10052509Evidence that investing in agriculture in developing countries as a way of tackling poverty and hunger is growing. Given the sheer number of people working in the agricultural sector, investments can have benefits on a large-scale but there are also risks and big investments can, in some cases, harm the rural sector, taking land and resources away from local people. Aiming to illustrate these risks and benefits are a couple of recent reports.

A paper from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Impacts of foreign agricultural investment on developing countries: evidence from case studies, brings together FAO case studies on “the impacts of foreign agricultural investment on host communities and countries”. These studies show that large-scale land acquisitions, particularly where land rights are tenuous and governance poor, can have detrimental consequences for local communities, depleting natural resources and harming livelihoods, factors which increase rather than reduce poverty. Such investments will also generate conflict between investors and inhabitants. More inclusive investment models, which involve local people in business decisions and are respectful of existing land rights are found to be more likely to yield positive impacts for both businesses and societies alike. Factors required for an inclusive business model are stated as “strong external support for supporting farmers and facilitating the investor-farmers relationship” and “patient capital”, understanding that returns on investment may take time. The enabling environment in the recipient country is also critical, comprising a strong and fair legal and institutional framework. As such building this enabling environment through “strengthening the governance and capacity of institutions in host developing countries” is vital if foreign agricultural investment is to have the proposed developmental impacts.

Despite evidence that foreign investment in developing countries can be beneficial, when done responsibly, there remains much polarity in debates around its utility. On the one hand, hoping to spur large-scale economic development as investment opportunities in agriculture increase. On the other, a sense that these money-making opportunities are a new form of colonialism, particularly where natural resources of a country are purchased with little concern for people’s rights. To help promote inclusive investments in developing countries, the Inter-Agency Working Group of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the World Bank have the aim of creating “a body of empirical knowledge” that will guide investments to being more responsible. A recent joint UNCTAD-World Bank report, The Practice of Responsible Investment Principles in Larger Scale Agricultural Investments, summarises a field-based survey conducted, which looked at the agricultural investment approaches of 39 large agribusinesses in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia, and in particular their attitude to social, economic and environmental concerns.

The results show that investments have generated both positive and negative impacts. The positive being job creation, market creation, the introduction of new technologies, increased rural incomes, and, in some cases, the provision of rural services such as education, healthcare, infrastructure, and access to finance. On the negative, poor outcomes for environmental resources and conflict over land was significant, particularly where formal land rights were conferred to investors despite existing claims to informal land rights. Lack of communication, unclear processes of land acquisition and rights, and poor consultation with inhabitants underlie these conflicts and resettlement was rarely a fair deal for local people. Investments did vary in their impact, however, as well as with regards to their profitability. A clear message from the report is that investments with positive economic, social and environmental benefits are possible, and indeed those that were positive for the local area were more likely to be successful. [Read more…]

New books for 2014

ID-10031308Here we bring you some of the latest books addressing topics such as food policy, global food security, African political change, gender mainstreaming and permaculture.

Frontiers in Food Policy: Perspectives on Sub-Saharan Africa edited by Walter Falcon and Rosamond Naylor.

This volume is a compilation of papers from the Center on Food Security and the Environment’s Global Food Policy and Food Security Symposium series discussing such topics as food price volatility, agricultural R&D and climate change.

Crop yields and global food security: will yield increase continue to feed the world? By Tony Fischer, Derek Byerlee and Greg Edmeades.

This is an reference book discusses the opportunities for crop yield increase to feed the world to 2050. Aimed at agricultural scientists and economists, decision-makers in the food production industry, concerned citizens and tertiary students, it includes information on crop area and yield change for wheat, rice, maize, soybean and 20 other important crops; a detailed tour of the key breadbasket regions of the world; a discussion on ways for achieving the target yields without a substantial increase in cultivated lands; and implications of further yield increase for resource use, agricultural sustainability and the environment.

Farmageddon: The true cost of cheap meat by Philip Lymbery, Compassion in World Farming

Over three years, the author has travelled the world bearing witness to the hidden cost of cheap meat and the devastating impact of factory farming – on people, animals and our planet. The result – Farmageddon – is a wake-up call, exposing factory farming as one of the most pressing issues of our time; responsible for unparalleled food waste, damage to our health and the countryside, and the biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet.

Global Food Futures: Feeding the World in 2050 by Brian Gardner

By 2050 the world will be faced with the enormous challenge of feeding 9 billion people despite being affected by climate change, rising energy costs and pressure on food growing land and other major resources. How will the world produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed a projected extra 2.3 billion people? What will be the impact of food shortages and high prices on areas in crisis such as sub-Sahara Africa? Where will future production growth come from? And how do we balance the need for environmental protection with sustainable agricultural production methods. This text presents a scholarly, balanced approach to the contentious area of food production and supply up to 2050 – tackling the global food situation in all its totality, from agricultural production, technological advance, dietary concerns, population changes, income trends, environmental issues, government food and agriculture policy, trade, financial markets, macroeconomics and food security. [Read more…]

Big data: big hope or big risk?

ID-100236071Hailed as the latest technological advance that could revolutionise development and agriculture (along with other sectors), “big data” has been the focus of several recent articles, most notably a series of articles published by SciDev.Net. In June 2013 a UN High level panel called for a “data revolution” emphasising the need for better data to track progress towards development goals. But what is big data and how can it aid poverty and hunger eradication?

Big data is not just large amounts of information but rather it’s about integrating infrastructure to collect data at every step of the development process and designing new data collection methods that can track development goals effectively. In particular, big data is being hailed as the big fix for the lack of reliable official statistics in developing countries. But there is no clear (agreed upon) definition of big data, one article stating “it is data generated through our increasing use of digital devices and web-supported tools and platforms in our daily lives”. Due to our increasingly digital society, the amount of data (from social media platforms, mobile phones, online financial services etc.) has grown enormously. A much quoted statistic states that up to 90% of the world’s data was created over just two years (2010–2012). The aim for big data is to use this sizeable knowledge source to add value to society. Driving interest in evidence-based policy making, big data is also being termed a movement, one that aims to turn data into decision making.

In May 2012 Global Pulse published a White Paper entitled Big Data for Development: Opportunities & Challenges, which highlighted the opportunities big data provides. In particular they explore the role of big data in describing what is happening, predicting what may happen and explore the reasons behind why things happen.

For agriculture, big data means information can be collected along the whole supply chain including from supermarkets, weather sensing equipment, digital images, and research papers. These data sets can then be transformed through analytics into actionable information. But this conversion is rife with complexities in terms of managing, processing, sharing and using huge amounts of data. [Read more…]

ODI research: Climate change mitigation is development

cover-zero-poverty-stripes-blueIn 2015 the international community will come together to discuss action that needs to be taken to address climate change and global development. The Overseas Development Institute has undertaken research on the impacts climate change will likely have on development efforts and the news is not good.

 
The progress the world has made in reducing poverty and hunger, improving access to water and health is at risk of being reversed. Between 1990 and 2010 the number of people in poverty declined by 700 million but many face the risk of falling back into poverty under conditions of climate change. As sea levels rise, temperatures increase and more frequent extreme events occur crops yields will decline and whole areas important for agriculture, many heavily populated, such as deltas in Bangladesh, will be lost. In Africa, crop yields are projected to be reduced by some 90% by 2080 and wheat production will disappear altogether. These changes to agricultural productivity are estimated to increase food prices, increase hunger (by an estimated 250 million people) and exacerbate poverty. Meeting the needs of a growing global population is an urgent challenge made significantly harder by these projected productivity declines. A 55% increase in global crop production would be required to meet increasing global population demand by 2030. By 2050 to 2100, an additional 165,000 to 250,000 children could die each year compared to a world without climate change.

 
Access to drinking water, which has been improved for some 2.1 billion people in the world in the last 20 years, will become more of a challenge. In Africa 350 million to 600 million people will be exposed to water stress by 2050. An extra 2.5 billion people will be at risk of dengue fever and an extra 40 to 60 million people in Africa alone will be at risk of malaria under climate change. Migration will also increase and by 2100, it’s estimated that climate change will cause annual economic of losses of between 5 and 20% of global GDP.

 

Much hope for the future rests on agreements met by the international community at the next Conference of the Parties in Peru of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last Friday, and in the Post-2015 development agenda. Mitigation is urgently needed if temperatures are kept below a 2C threshold, we are currently on a trajectory that will see far higher temperature increases, as too is adaptation, since we are committed to some degree of impacts of climate change.

 

A recent report explored options for how climate change could be included in the post-2015 agenda, in particular through mainstreaming climate change amongst all development goals or having a standalone climate change goal. How climate change will be addressed is important. That it will be addressed is vital, to the health, wealth, welfare and survival of people around the world.

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Status of development, regulation and adoption of GM agriculture in Africa: Views and positions of stakeholder groups, Adenle, A., Morris, E.J., Parayil, G.

Investing in people and evidence for sustainable farming, SciDev.net

World Food Day: New Ranking Tool to Guide Investment in Biofortified Crops Launched, HarvestPlus

Past environmental pressures affect current biodiversity loss, European Commission

Commentary – Innovation for Sustainable Intensification in Africa, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Global Hunger Index Calls for Greater Resilience-Building Efforts to Boost Food and Nutrition Security, IFPRI

Report Finds Major Challenges to Meeting Global Food and Nutrition Needs by 2050, Digital Journal [Read more…]

A landscape approach to reconcile competing land uses

LandscapeA “landscape approach” to rural development is gaining in traction in international policy and now a new set of guidelines published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sheds light on the practicalities of implementing resource management plans across whole landscapes.

The idea behind the landscape approach is that multiple benefits from and pressures on an area can be balanced. Resource extraction, agriculture, conservation, and activities contributing to local livelihoods are all considered in an integrated manner. For each landscape there are multiple users and uses, each of which impact on each other. For example, chemicals used on agricultural land may run off into waterways, impacting the habitats of aquatic species and fish catch. As Terry Sunderland, a principal scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research and co-author of the paper published in PNAS, states, “People do not live in sectors or in departments, they live holistically. It is important that we collectively visualize how a landscape will look, for whom it needs to work and how it needs to function”.

The approach is yet to be ingrained in development activities perhaps because of the various definitions of what a landscape is. Often considered in physical terms, the paper in PNAS authored by Sayer et al, defines a landscape as, “an arena in which entities, including humans, interact according to rules (physical, biological, and social) that determine their relationships”. People are at the heart of this definition and the idea of multi-functional landscapes has been embraced in environmental management. [Read more…]