How much labour is done by women in African agriculture: telling fact from myth?

Image courtesy of [africa] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of [africa] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What if what we thought to be true about African agriculture was wrong? So often we turn to well used statistics and commonly-held beliefs when we describe the challenges African farmers face: low access to credit and inputs, high post-harvest losses and imperfect markets. We rely on conventional wisdom to characterise agriculture across the whole continent, in part to make up for the lack of sound evidence on which to base our characterisations.

Now a new project entitled “Agriculture in Africa– Telling Facts from Myths” aims to test the validity of common wisdom and update our understanding of farming in Africa. An update desperately needed due to our reliance on outdated knowledge and rapid socio-economic and physical changes happening in Africa. Initiated by the Chief Economist’s Office of the World Bank Africa Region, the project is a collaboration with the African Development Bank, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Cornell University, the Food and Agriculture Organization, London School of Economics, Maastricht School of Management, University of Pretoria, University of Rome Tor Vergata, University of Trento, and Yale University.

The commonly accepted wisdoms the project aims to challenge are:

  1. Use of modern inputs remains dismally low
  2. Land, labour and capital markets remain largely incomplete
  3. Land is abundant and land markets are poorly developed
  4. Access to credit is limited
  5. Labour productivity in agriculture is low
  6. Women perform the bulk of Africa’s agricultural tasks
  7. Agroforestry is gaining traction
  8. African agriculture is intensifying
  9. Seasonality continues to permeate rural livelihoods
  10. The majority of rural households are net food buyers
  11. Post harvest losses are large
  12. Droughts dominate Africa’s risk environment
  13. African farmers are increasingly diversifying their incomes
  14. The young are leaving agriculture
  15. Household enterprises operate mainly in survival mode
  16. Agricultural commercialisation improves nutritional outcomes

The project uses data collected under the Living Standards Measurement Study-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) initiative. These surveys, on both agricultural and non-agricultural facets of people’s lives, have been conducted in Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda from 2008 onwards and participants will be visited four times in total by 2020, and represent 40% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa. Although still in the early phase of the project, initial findings can be found here, for instance post harvest losses are being reported at levels less than figures reported by the FAO on which many publications rely.

Looking to number 6 in the list, one belief is that women contribute a higher share of the labour on farms than men in Africa. It is commonly cited that women’s labour contribution in African farming is between 60 to 80% but is this true? The 2010-2011 State of Food and Agriculture report from the FAO, the theme of which was women in agriculture, was a key publication in shedding light on this gender gap and reported that women make up around 50% of the agricultural labour force in Africa. A paper by Palacios-Lopez et al (2015) calculated that women contribute some 40% of agricultural labour hours to crop production, lower than commonly used estimates. [Read more…]

Regional free trade agreements: secrecy, safety and sovereignty

ID-100223935New global trade deals are currently being negotiated, in part arising from the failings of the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Round. Proposals include the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). There are, however, many questions on what these agreements will include and what they will mean for those excluded, particularly poorer, developing countries.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States that could be finalised by the end of 2014. On the one hand such an agreement could boost multilateral economic growth while on the other it could increase corporate power perhaps at the expense of public benefit.

Although the EU released a document in July entitled, State of Play of TTIP negotiations ahead of the 6th round of the negotiations, the content of negotiations has been criticised as being opaque and shrouded in secrecy. Governments involved have stated they will not publish draft text. A recent factsheet released by the Office of the US Trade Representative, laid out the US’s objectives with regard to the TTIP, largely revolving around increasing market access, mainstreaming regulations and standards and removing non-tariff trade barriers, for example:

“We seek to eliminate all tariffs and other duties and charges on trade in agricultural, industrial and consumer products between the United States and the EU, with substantial duty elimination on entry into force of the agreement, transition periods where necessary for sensitive products, and appropriate safeguard mechanisms to be applied if and where necessary.”

“We seek to ensure that U.S. investors receive treatment as favorable as that accorded to EU investors or other foreign investors in the EU, and seek to reduce or eliminate artificial or trade-distorting barriers to the establishment and operation of U.S. investment in the EU.”

The TTIP will have impacts across a range of sectors such as energy, agriculture and environment, as well as different rights relating to, for example intellectual property and labour. John Hilary, Executive Director of War on Want, explains what the TTIP is and why it is potentially damaging in this booklet. On the issue of food safety, in aiming to create a framework that allows freer trade, both the US and EU may have to reduce current restrictions. In the EU’s case this may be in relaxing standards on genetically modified organisms, on banned veterinary growth hormones or on other meat and poultry products. For the US, this may mean removing limits on European imported beef in response to Mad Cow Disease. Reluctances to lower food standards, in particular on hormone beef and GM, could in fact threaten the TTIP but if not, many fear countries and its citizens will lose control over what can be grown, how food is produced and how safe it is. Other areas of contention could include the EU’s desire to protect Geographical Indications, foods such as Parma ham or Roquefort cheese, to prevent usage by other producers and differing approaches to agri-environment schemes.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy also released a report documenting the “Promises and Perils of the TTIP”. Controversial criticisms of the TTIP include the threat it poses to the UK’s National Health Service and the so-called investor-state dispute settlement, which could allow corporations to sue governments outside of domestic courts. Such a mechanism in other trade agreements has allowed, for example, mining companies to sue governments trying to keep them out of protected areas and banks to fight against national financial regulations, as George Monbiot explains in The Guardian.

As more details of the TTIP are coming to light, many of the benefits of such a partnership are being questioned while the risks are seemingly very real. In particular the secrecy of negotiations and large role played by corporations in these negotiations is of concern. The potential risks most talked about are in the EU and US themselves with little said about the broader impacts. The German aid organisation Brot für die Welt, however, warns against an EU-US free trade agreement saying it “will undermine local support for smallholders in developing countries and exacerbate the global food crisis” while others believe the TTIP will do little for environmental sustainability and other global challenges.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is also a free trade agreement currently being negotiated and will cover twelve countries in the Asia-Pacific region: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Negotiations for what could be the largest regional free trade agreement in history have been ongoing since 2005, and although expected to be concluded in 2012, disagreement around issues such as agriculture, intellectual property, and services and investments have delayed the process. [Read more…]