Support women to put food on the table


Date: January 1, 1970
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The alarming increases in food prices are devastating to societies’ most vulnerable populations. United Nations (UN) Secretary General-Ban Ki-moon recently noted, “This steeply rising price of food – it has developed into a real global crisis.À The World Bank estimates that food prices have risen by 83 percent in just three years.

Across the Southern African Development Community (SADC), these increases add to the precarious situation of economies and families already struggling to cope with such challenges as HIV and AIDS, political unrest, lack of access to basic services, and gender inequalities.
 
14 million people across SADC are in need of food aid. Ironically, 60% are women, who produce the bulk of the region’s food crops.  Despite the importance of agriculture as the backbone of the regional economy, and the fact that about 80% of the inhabitants depend on agriculture for food income and employment, the region does not have a binding instrument on food production. Rather, it has agreed on a “declaration.”
 
Article 6 of the Dar Es Salaam Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in the SADC Region asks member states to, “‘progressively increase budgetary allocations for agriculture to at least 10% of the national total budgets in line with the African Union Declaration of 2003.”
 
Declarations are not legally binding, meaning member states are not legally obliged to adhere to the contents. The non-binding nature of this Declaration does little to help alleviate food insecurity.  Moreover, without addressing the gender dimension of agricultural production and consumption, strategies miss a vital component.
 
The proposed SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which will be up for review in August 2008 at the Heads of State Summit, could fill this void. The Protocol states that State Parties shall, by 2015, adopt policies and enact laws, which ensure equal access, benefit and opportunities for women and men in trade and entrepreneurship.
 
The Protocol also calls on member states to end all discrimination against women and girls with regard to water rights and property, and ensure that women have equal access and rights to credit, capital, mortgages, security, training, and modern, appropriate and affordable technology and support services.
 
This will provide a framework for, among other things, creating an environment for women to access productive resources, and contribute to food security. Regional statistics point to the urgent need for such action.
 
According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2006 statistics, there are 820 million chronically hungry people in developing countries – one in four lives in sub-Saharan Africa. UNICEF estimates that one out of five children in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia is underweight, and the proportion of underweight children in Lesotho and Zimbabwe was higher in 2004 than in 1990.
 
The number of malnourished people stood at 38% of the total SADC population in 1990 – 1992, and increased to 42% in during the period 1997 – 1999. The situation of food security did not change as during the 2005/6 agricultural season when four countries in the region experienced harvest decreases in the range of 29% – 75%.
 
Meanwhile, southern Africa is undergoing radical policy changes on key factors of production. Some strategies aim to promote more productive land and water use by instituting and clarifying rights to land and considering water as an economic good rather than a social service.
 
The other dimension is to redress inequalities regarding rights to land and water. However, even where there is explicit mention of the need to address women’s rights to productive resources, there is little systematic progress in substantially improving women’s roles in managing and benefiting from land and water use. 
 
There are errors of omission, characterised by the absence of appropriate legislative, administrative and policy initiatives, and errors of commission, where particular approaches fail to either achieve the stated goal of improving women’s access and rights or have negative effects.
 
Despite some changes, the percentage of women owning land is still insignificant. Only about 10% of women in the region own land in their own right, thus have the power to make decisions on how to utilise the resource.
 
In countries like Zimbabwe where a government scheme distributes land, only 18% of the female population has acquired farms under Model A1 [which is mostly for subsistence farming] while only 12% were able to access land under the commercial scheme [A2] of the resettlement programme.
 
In Namibia, the majority of women landowners acquired land through the open market, but the percentages are very low. In South Africa, statistics show that women have not benefited in the land reform programme. With only 3% of land transferred to black South Africans, women have not fared that well either.
 
In many cases women lack training in agro-based skills that would help them succeed. Where training is available, the orientation of the service providers is not gender sensitive, regarding women not as farmers, but recipients of information from their male counterparts.
 
Investment is also another challenge for women farmers. Most are not able to secure financial assistance because of lack of collateral, cumbersome procedures, and high associated costs.
 
The proposed Gender Protocol would push member states to redress some of the gender dimensions that hinder women’s access productive resources and contribution to food security.  This framework is long overdue for a region where the majority who use productive resources and are responsible for food production. 
 
With agriculture and food security being such an important part of the fabric of the region, and one that is vulnerable to scarcity, it makes sense to make the very best use of productive resources. Moreover, for the region, this means ensuring that women have the resources and support needed to make the best use of them.  Putting food on the region’s tables depends on it.
 
Abby Taka Mgugu is the Executive Director of the Women’s Land and Water Rights in Southern Africa. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.


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