How putting the vulnerable first ultimately benefits all

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

Almost one year after the United Nations adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), delegates are coming together this week in New York for the first High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. The theme of the forum is “ensuring no one is left behind” and provides an opportunity for UN States Members and agencies to reflect on progress thus far on the SDGs, to identify cross-cutting issues, and address new or emerging challenges to achieving the goals.

A previous A4I blog series (part 1/part 2) looked at how agriculture is related to every one of the 17 goals. In the spirit of “ensuring no one is left behind” we’re now looking at how engaging marginalised and vulnerable groups can both contribute to achieving the SDGs and benefit these groups, particularly in the context of the agricultural sector.

Women

2015-03-02 14.39.18SDG 5 demands gender equality, calling for “equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources.” These rights are particularly important for women who live in rural, agricultural areas. It is well documented that rural women are amongst the most likely to face barriers in accessing resources, such as quality seeds, fertilisers and credit, or gaining land rights. As a result of gender-related barriers, female farmers in Africa produce up to 25% less than men do. Yet, if these women could gain the same access to productive resources as their male counterparts, their yields would increase by 20–30% and raise total agricultural output by 2.5–4% annually. This alone would lift a total of 100 – 150 million people out of hunger. [Read more…]

Leaving no one behind: financial inclusion for rural people

By Alice Marks 

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Women in agriculture: A female farmer (left) and agrodealer (right).

As delegates return from last week’s Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3) event in South Africa, the notion that we must “leave no one behind” will be at the forefront of the minds of all of those who attended. This commitment was not only the theme of GCARD3, but it is also a key message in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris agreement. It hopes that everyone, all over the world, can be included on the development agenda, so that each individual can achieve the rights described by the SDGs.

For the agri-food research discussed at GCARD3, an important ingredient for this will be ensuring that farmers, many of whom are women, are able to participate in the processes from which they will benefit, such as research and innovation. For example, participatory research asks farmers what their needs are, and helps to make their ideas a reality – you can find case studies here. Another important ingredient will be using interventions that turn research into impact that is scalable, as well as ensuring there is efficient evaluation to help learn from good and bad experiences and improve interventions in the future.

Young people: risk and opportunity

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Young people from the Aven cooperative who received support Technoserve

Young people in rural areas are a group that is at particular risk of being left out and left behind. Indeed, 60% of unemployed people in Africa are between the ages of 15 and 24. However, because agriculture and agricultural value chains are such important drivers of the economy in developing countries, the sector has the potential to provide many opportunities for employment, better more stable incomes, and potentially more sustainable livelihoods. [Read more…]

“We have a lot of work ahead” – IFPRI’s 2016 Global Food Policy Repot

By Alice Marks

On March 31st the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) published the 2016 Global Food Policy Report. The report highlights the scale of the challenged faced by the global food system, including that 1/3 of people in the world are malnourished, nearly a billion people go to bed hungry each day, and environmental degradation and climate change will only exacerbate these problems by making global food markets increasingly unstable.

In a previous blog series (part 1/part 2) agriculture’s role in underpinning all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was explored. Ahead of the launch of the new report, IFPRI’s director Shenggen Fan explained that to meet the SDG’s by 2030 “We have a lot of work ahead. We must promote and support a new global food system that is efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly in order to ensure that no one goes to sleep hungry.” Looking through the lens of the global food system, IFPRI’s report highlights several challenges and opportunities to achieving the SDGs, including the changing climate, shifts in diets and food waste, and gender inequality.

Gender inequality

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credit: IFPRI, 2016

Women are more vulnerable to food price volatility, climate change, and natural disasters than their male counterparts. The reasons are complex, but in general boil down to a lack of access to resources. For example, try typing “women lack access” into a search engine to see a plethora of issues, including lack of sanitation, safe toilets, clean water, contraception and family planning, business capital, information, education and political participation, to name but a few. [Read more…]

Agriculture is in every SDG: Part 1

By Alice Marks

Story-2-SDGsSkimming the eye across the colourful chart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is easy to spot a couple which are intrinsically and directly linked to agriculture, but a closer look reveals that they are in fact all linked to agriculture. A healthy global agricultural sector underpins and supports so many aims of the SDGs that its development will be important for their overall success. As sustainable agriculture is essential for sustainable food systems and livelihoods, here is a breakdown of how agriculture, farming and nutrition fit into the first 7 goals

1. No Poverty

Over 70% of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas, and rely heavily on agriculture for their survival and livelihoods. According to the World Bank, evidence shows that GDP growth generated in agriculture has large benefits for the poor, and is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth generated by other sectors. Particularly with investment and growth of sustainable value chains, agriculture can help to lift people out of poverty. [Read more…]

6 indirect approaches to improving nutrition – part two

ID-100164411Malnutrition is pervasive, far-reaching and complex. Because of this both the immediate impacts as well as the underlying causes must be addressed simultaneously if malnutrition rates are to be reduced, warranting the need for both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive approaches. In part one of this article we discussed the roles agriculture, livestock production and resilience building can have in improving people’s nutrition. More productive and diverse farming and reduced vulnerability to environmental and other risks can boost household nutrition. In part two we look at how gender inequality, marginalisation from society, poverty and climate change pose both threats to nutrition and how, as a result, we can fight malnutrition through building gender equality, providing social protection and mitigating climate change.

  1. Gender

The theme for this year’s Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security was “Empowering Our Women, Securing Our Food, Improving Our Nutrition,” and without question, women are central to producing food in the fields and putting food on the table for their families. In some African countries, 90% of women are engaged in agricultural and related activities. Yet these women often lack secure land rights and access to machinery, markets, inputs and technologies that could increase their harvest and their and their family’s nutrition. Additionally, proper nourishment “empowers people to live and take on new opportunities”, giving people the energy and vitality to innovate and be even more productive.

An article in the Guardian further explains why gender is critical for nutrition. Women play important roles within a family, in agriculture and in their community. Their links between work, home and society mean investing in women has knock-on effects, in particular for nutrition, given that they are often the providers of food. Gender inequality reduces a woman’s power in making decisions and in bringing about change, and should be tackled in society and governance. And there is evidence that investing in women can bring about advances in development. A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found that half of the reduction in hunger between 1970 and 1995 could be attributed to improvements in women’s societal status. Additionally improvements in women’s access to education (which accounted for 45% of gains in food security) was nearly as significant as increased food availability (26%) and health advances (19%) put together.

But gender is not just about women. It is also important to educate men on, for example, “the right kind of food, doing home gardening, rearing cows, poultry farming, using safe water, building sanitary latrines and hygiene”. Men and boys have a central role in improving nutrition and in bringing about gender equality. The Food and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) have developed a way of creating dialogue about the importance of valuing women and girls in agriculture and communities through theatre, and through a travelling company are engaging with elders and men.

  1. Social protection

Social protection aims to reduce people’s vulnerability and is delivered through a variety of mechanisms: weather-indexed insurance, public works programmes, emergency food aid, buffer stock management, agricultural input subsidies, conditional cash transfers and employment guarantee schemes. Devereux (2015), in a study of the links between social protection programmes and enhanced entitlements to food, comes to the conclusions that principles of social justice need to be introduced to the design and delivery of social protection programmes and that a comprehensive approach is needed that combines interventions around stabilising as well as increasing income and/or food production. [Read more…]

Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security

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By Katy Wilson

This Friday (30th October) marks the 6th annual Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security (ADFNS). This year the day will be commemorated in Kampala, Uganda, where, at the 15th Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit in 2010 it was first declared. Since then the day has been commemorated in Malawi, Ethiopia, Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2014 at the 23rd session of the AU summit, African Heads of State committed to ending hunger by 2025 and reducing stunting to 10% in the same period. This commitment is one of seven forming the Malabo Declaration. ADFNS provides an opportunity to reaffirm this goal and report on progress that has been made in reaching this commitment, among other objectives. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation 2015 State of Food Insecurity in the World report asserts that, as projected for 2014-2016, the prevalence of undernourishment in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to be 23.2%%, down from 23.8% between 2012-2014.

The main aim of ADFNS is to bring together a range of stakeholders to intensify pressure to tackle food and nutrition security challenges in Africa, motivate financial commitments and bring greater awareness to the progress being made on the continent and the barriers still being faced. Additionally the day serves as a platform to facilitate sharing of experiences and knowledge, support for learning and measurement of progress.

The key objectives of ADFNS are:

  • To increase awareness of the importance of investing in the value-chains for nutritious foods and agricultural commodities in Africa and the benefits of doing so for social and economic development;
  • To facilitate a discussion between a variety of high-level national stakeholders as well as other governmental, not-for-profit and private sector actors such as farmers’ organisations, private businesses and academic and research institutions. With the hopes that the diverse points of view and cooperation will help shape an action plan to end hunger and malnutrition;
  • To share new technologies and best practices for empowering women;
  • To build women farmers’ awareness of market opportunities for local and indigenous foods and their role in diversifying diets and boosting food and nutrition security;
  • To promote the production and consumption of high quality, nutritious foods such as those fortified with micronutrients, or diverse nutrient dense vegetables and fruits as well animal source foods.

This year, the 6th ADFNS is centring on the theme of women, following the announcement made at the 24th Ordinary Session of the AU Summit that 2015 is the Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063. As has long been known, women are key to ending hunger and malnutrition, contributing a significant proportion of farm labour and household care. [Read more…]

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…]