3 cheers for the power, promise of gender equity in agriculture

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3 cheers for the power, promise of gender equity in agriculture

Denise E
Antonio

Thursday, June 25, 2020

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I met farmer Claudia Allen on my first field trip in Jamaica to the mountainous district of Cascade in the parish of St Ann. She was among 50 farmers who had received water harvesting equipment through the Japan Caribbean Climate Change Partnership (JCCCP) implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Multi Country Office in Jamaica, together with the Climate Change Division of the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and the Jamaica 4H Clubs. The water harvesting system — inclusive of water tanks, conveyance systems, and irrigation hoses — was designed to mitigate climate change impacts by providing more reliable supplies of water during increasingly dry seasons.

Allen told me that the water harvesting system had increased her crop yield of Irish potato, carrots, cabbage, and other cash crops by 30 per cent to 40 per cent. This growth in output is by no means insignificant and highlights two major issues:

1) that access to water is key to advancing food security during times of persistent drought; and

2) more women are needed at the front line in farming to achieve Jamaica's vision of expanding its agricultural outputs to enhance food security and boost food supply chains.

Women like Claudia must increasingly be encouraged through policy and other actions, including incentives, so that Jamaica's true potential in agriculture is unleashed. We need the talents and energy of both men and women to power this sector and contribute to Jamaica's economy — an economy which must be diversified and enhanced for resilience to climate change, natural hazards, and pandemics.

COVID-19 is not only a health crisis, but one with far-reaching socio-economic impacts threatening macroeconomic stability, jobs, and the livelihoods of Jamaicans. Necessary restrictive measures, coupled with significant interruptions in tourism and remittances, are projected to significantly impact the economy by as much as a 5.6 per cent contraction in 2020.

The presence of COVID-19 has also brought to light the importance of the agriculture sector and the need for all hands on deck in its expansion. A look at 2019 World Bank data indicates that 16.4 per cent of the population is involved in agriculture in Jamaica, of which females make up 8.9 per cent. Clearly there is room for improvement, and we are encouraged by policy pronouncements from Government on expanding participation and investments in this vital sector. Gender sensitive policies that incentivise participation in agriculture, especially among women, will play a significant role in expanding the sector's contribution to gross domestic product (GDP).

Local research indicates that women's contribution to small-scale farming may be more focused on marketing farm produce as higglers and sellers in community and municipal markets (Ishemo and Bushell, 2017). As important as this role may be, women need to be more prominent in large-scale production and marketing, as well as part of the decision-makers. Ishemo and Bushell's study on 'Farming cooperatives — opportunities and challenges for women farmers in Jamaica' notes that, while women are highly educated and independent, “their socio-economic strength is not fully capitalised through cooperative endeavours to foster productivity on their farms”. The authors' research identifies a number of hurdles: The first is the issue of land tenure and the second is the lack of decision-making power at the grass roots level, in general.

There are two recommendations offered by the study that I would like to explore a bit further as the UNDP has included some of these approaches in our grass roots livelihood projects — capacity-building and empowerment of grass root groups, including farming cooperatives, and the application of technologies to improve efficiencies, productivity and yields.

Capacity-building of local community groups is key. On my field trip, it was obvious that the backbone and success of the initiatives were mostly because of the women in the communities. It was therefore no surprise that, to a large extent, it was the women who led our team on the field tours and had a direct hand in shaping the focus of our projects at the local levels. They served as the engine for the local interventions to successful completion through mobilisation, identification of participants, local advocacy, partnership-building, and procurement. The success of the water harvesting intervention brought to light their capable leadership and intimate knowledge of the communities in which we work. Harnessing the influence and energy of these ladies as champions on farming cooperatives may be pivotal for not only strengthening local cooperatives, but also increasing the number of women who gravitate into farming.

It was also evident in the rural schools, the centre of the communities, that the female teachers were key participants and drivers of change in the school gardens component of the JCCCP project that demonstrated a climate-smart approach to farming focused on a time-proven system of delivering nitrogen-rich rainwater directly to the roots of food crops on school farms.

Our team was delighted to work with the best of these individuals, including principals, teachers, and students from 70 districts across the length and breadth of Jamaica. Throughout our visits, for example at Mount Peto Primary School, we met a trio of female parents that led the clearing of the land to accommodate the school's farm. But more interesting to note, we met many motivated female students joining 4H clubs with clear ambitions to farm and showed great interest in learning the ropes of climate-smart agriculture and its impact on harvests. My field trip revealed a clear opportunity for increased participation of women and girls in the agriculture sector, given the role they have played in rural schools, community councils, and farming cooperatives.

As a result of projects like JCCCP and others we now have at local level an invaluable resource network of teachers, students, and community leaders with knowledge and skills on how to advance small-scale, climate-smart agricultural expansion and marketing. Consultation was critical to the approach adopted by our projects and will continue to be a guiding principle for grass roots-led expansion of the agricultural sector championed by both men and women, bringing together their skills, local community knowledge, and networks.

As we contribute to the architecture of a “new” Jamaica, we raise three cheers to the power and the promise of gender equity and equality in the agriculture sector.

Denise E Antonio is United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative for Jamaica, Belize, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos Islands. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or @Antonio67Denise www.twitter.com/UNDPJamaica


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