Tackling Agrifood Inequality Can Boost the Bottom Line

Tackling gender inequalities in agrifood systems and empowering women would not only reduce hunger and reinforce resilience, it would boost the global economy too. Credit: Jency Samuel/IPS
Tackling gender inequalities in agrifood systems and empowering women would not only reduce hunger and reinforce resilience, it would boost the global economy too. Credit: Jency Samuel/IPS
  • by Paul Virgo (rome)
  • Inter Press Service

Such objections, which strangely do not seem to apply to issues such as public subsidies for fossil fuels or corporate tax breaks, are mostly bogus because they do not account for the cost of a range of what economists call ‘externalities’, the negative impact the existing way of doing things has on the climate, the environment, quality of life, human health and so on.

But what is perhaps even worse is that these arguments frequently do not make sense even if one focuses purely on the ‘bottom line’.

A recent report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on The Status of Women in Agrifood Systems shows that the food business is a good example of this.

The report goes beyond agriculture to provide a comprehensive picture of the status of women working across agrifood systems - from food production to distribution and consumption.

It demonstrates how tackling gender inequalities in agrifood systems and empowering women would not only reduce hunger and reinforce resilience to the effects of climate change and shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic, it would boost the global economy too.

The study explains that closing the gender gap in farm productivity and the wage gap in agricultural employment would increase global gross domestic product by nearly $1 trillion.

It would also reduce the number of food-insecure people worldwide by 45 million.

Furthermore, if half of small-scale producers benefited from development interventions that focused on empowering women, it would significantly raise the incomes of an additional 58 million people and increase the resilience of a further 235 million, it says.

"Tackling gender inequalities in agrifood systems and empowering women is pivotal for achieving the global goals of poverty reduction and ending hunger,” Lauren Phillips, the Deputy Director of the Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality (ESP) Division at FAO and one of the report’s authors, told IPS.

“As highlighted in our report, the benefits of creating opportunities for women in agrifood systems are huge and can improve food security, well-being, economic growth, and resilience for entire communities, particularly in rural areas.

“By adopting policies, programmes, and investment intentionally designed to empower women and address the gaps they face in accessing resources and assets, we would be a step closer towards more just, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems".

The report details the many ways in which women working in agrifood systems frequently get a rough deal.

Inequalities in agrifood systems hold women back at all levels, it says.

The report says women’s roles tend to be marginalized and their working conditions are frequently worse than men’s, as they are often irregular, informal, part-time, low-skilled, or labour-intensive.

It says women engaged in wage employment in agriculture earn 82 cents for every dollar that men earn.

Women also have less secure tenure over land, less access to credit and training, and have to work with technology designed for men.

Along with discrimination, these inequalities create a 24% gender gap in productivity between women and men farmers on farms of equal size.

The report also indicates that, when economies shrink, women’s jobs go first. It says 22% of women in the ‘off-farm’ segments of agrifood systems lost their jobs in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to 2% of men.

The study confirms that women are more vulnerable to climate shocks and natural disasters, as resource constraints and discriminatory gender norms can make it harder for them to adapt.

For example, women’s work burdens, including hours worked in agriculture, tend to decline less than men’s during climate shocks such as heat stress.

The report said that progress in reducing most gender gaps has stagnated or reversed since the FAO’s last similar study was released in 2010.

It says gender inequality in agrifood systems persists partly because policies, institutions and discriminatory social norms are still constraining equal opportunities and equal rights to resources.

The study shows that interventions to improve women’s productivity are successful when they address care and unpaid domestic work burdens, provide education and training, and strengthen land-tenure security.

Access to childcare also has a large positive effect on mothers’ employment.

Phillips says there are many examples of how projects targeting working women, 36% of whom are employed in agrifood systems worldwide, compared to 38% working men, generate greater benefits than those that just mainstream gender.

One is the Joint Programme ‘Accelerating Progress Towards Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment’ (JP RWEE), run in partnership with the FAO’s sister Rome-based UN food agencies, the WFP and IFAD.

The programme mobilized over $1.9 million through savings and loan schemes and reached almost 80,000 direct beneficiaries and more than 400,000 indirect beneficiaries during the first phase of implementation between 2014 and 2021 in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Liberia, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda.

These included 40,000 who benefitted from capacity strengthening activities in agricultural production techniques and 20,000 people trained through gender-transformative approaches.

Among other results, the programme generated an average increase of 82% in production by the rural women involved.

“Even though many people told me I couldn’t do it, because technology is for men, not women, I knew I could,” said Marta Benavente, a JP RWEE trained solar engineer from Guatemala.

“The JP RWEE taught me that women can do much more than just housework. And now my community knows that and so do my daughters.”

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service