Cultivating a new culture
Reducing gender disparities to allow more women to contribute to food productionFriday, June 18, 2021
There are significant gender disparities in the way that key resources essential for success in agriculture are distributed across the island. Access to land, inputs, assets, markets, information and knowledge, time, decision-making authority, and income still present a challenge for women in the sector. Studies consistently show that throughout the world women farmers control less land and make far less use of improved technologies and inputs such as fertiliser. They tend to have less access to credit and insurance and are less likely to receive extension services, which are the main source of information on new technologies in the developing world. They are thus generally less well-resourced, and operate largely in the informal economy.
Despite women accounting for a greater percentage of backyard farmers in the many parishes, because of legal and cultural constraints in terms of land inheritance, ownership and use, fewer than 20 per cent of large agricultural landholders are women. Even as we continue to progress, historical challenges with regard to landownership in general still leave our women at a disadvantage. Consequently, female farmers are, for the most part, producing relatively small volumes of produce on relatively small plots of land.
Limited access to agricultural extension services prevents many women from adopting the technologies that would help them increase their yields. As a result, an estimated yield gap between men and women of 20 per cent to 30 per cent continues to be observed, and this hinders the growth of the agricultural sector in our island.
However, the vast majority of studies indicate that women would be able to achieve the same yields as men if they had equal access to production resources and services. These include technologies that reduce time spent in production.
Bridging this gender gap would not only boost the yields, and therefore food and nutrition security nationally, but would free women up to participate in other economically viable activities that contribute to the economy.
Cultural norms that perpetuate the perception that knowledge has to be transmitted to men first are some of the constraints. Other factors include discrimination, the lack of acknowledgement of women's role in agricultural supply chains, and the lower proportion of women employed as extension service workers. When a significant proportion of the population is unable to participate at optimal levels, it means that everyone is losing out.
At the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries the vision is for Jamaican agriculture to become a fairer, more inclusive industry in which farm succession is not determined by gender, training is accessible to everyone, and more women take on senior roles in agricultural organisations and local farming groups.
Improving transformation, removing infrastructure constraints, and encouraging rural women's participation in farmers' organisations and cooperatives will play a key role in helping to achieve economies of scale to access markets and reduce isolation, while building confidence, leadership and security.
The New FACE of Food is woman
In his sectoral presentation 'The New Face of Food', on May 12, 2021, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Floyd Green announced that the ministry has heard the clarion call for women to have greater access to input and extension services. In answering this call a gender-specific initiative, dubbed Agriculture in Bloom, has been launched by the ministry.
Agriculture in Bloom will seek to first identify and share untold stories of women who have made an outstanding contribution to the fisheries and agriculture sectors. Through digital storytelling we will join these women in exploring the industries, thereby expanding our horizons about farming and food and enjoying entertainment, connection and inspiration.
Agriculture in Bloom will deliberately facilitate greater interaction between women farmers and extension officers. For the year 2021-2022 the ministry will work with 50 women at varying degrees in their agriculture businesses. These women will receive training in agricultural best practices, climate-smart technologies, and marketing strategies.
They will also receive inputs such as seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, and grant funding which will see to greater production output. Online modules/webinar series open to all women will also play a key role in providing them with information related to new and developing areas in food production. The programme has the potential for greater development in our drive to push more in formalised food production.
In addition to the opportunities that exist for women in food production, vast opportunities exist beyond traditional food and fibre, as there is a parallel need for feed and fuel. Over the next few years we will need to work with more women's groups to facilitate a more enabling environment for women to fully and more efficiently participate in agricultural markets. This has to involve removing the legal and cultural barriers to ownership and access to land, information, and extension services, inputs and other resources. In addition, more women need to participate further along the value chain. More women are also required as processors, wholesalers and retailers.
The time is now. Women are needed in agricultural education and training, research and extension services, as well as supply chain logistics, technology, finance, boardroom policymaking, as well as implementation.
Gabrielle Hylton is an advisor to the minister in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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