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Esther
Achandi

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Social security has been defined by the International Labour Organization as, “…the protection that a society provides to individuals and households to ensure access to health care and to guarantee income security, particularly in cases of old age, unemployment, sickness, invalidity, work injury, maternity or loss of a breadwinner.” Moreover, ILO notes that in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, only an estimated 5% to 10% of the working population has some social security coverage. An available figure of a section of Sub Saharan Africa (Eastern and Southern Africa) indicates that the proportion of those in formal employment usually constitutes no more than 25% of the total labour force (Kaseke,1997) and it is out of this small proportion that the estimated segment has access to some social security.

The subsistence sector in Africa remains unreached by social security schemes and as such women play a key role in the provision of social security. Ferrant et al. (2014) notes that around the world, women spend two to ten times more time on unpaid care work than men and unpaid care work is viewed as a female responsibility. The women in essence, subsidize governments in the area of social security provision in both the subsistence agricultural sector and across other sectors of the economy where formal social security systems are lacking (which form the bulk of Sub Saharan Africa economies!). Indeed, women are the default providers of social security, not by choice but rather as part of the gender pecking order. Establishing of social security schemes within the subsistence agriculture sector will not only free up women’s time for other financially rewarding jobs but will also assure women of a cushion in terms of financial security in old age, in the event of incapacitation - both for themselves and for those that are under their care.

Social security can take the form of a welfare assistance, social insurance, social allowance, provident fund (Kaseke, 1997). The African Development bank, using its flagship program can initiate small community social security programs in the different forms. The more sustainable would be those within which the individuals during their productive years can actively contribute; that is, the contributory forms. This could be done in the agricultural sector by addressing the issue of agricultural value chains and markets to ensure that farmers access high incomes, part of which they can actively contribute to a decentralized provident fund managed by the communities with great transparency and accountability. The success of these can be used as models to improve and scale out across the region. This will not benefit only the women in the subsistence farming but will also have the effect of raising community savings and providing a social safety net for individuals. Additionally, it is an effective way of reducing the incidence of poverty among the most vulnerable members of the community- the elderly, the incapacitated and of course the women (who bear the greater responsibility in terms of caring for those in need in the community).

Given the contribution of agriculture to the national GDP, governments across the region can be encouraged to institute the non-contributory form of socials security programs to cater for those completely unable to work and the elderly that served in the subsistence agricultural sector (It is disturbing to note that one never fully retires from subsistence farming and thus the plight of those that are employed in the sector throughout their lifetime is that they are caught in a lifelong trap of poverty!). In any case, the failure of governments to institute social security systems in the sector results in sustenance of productive time loss for the women who spend their time ensuring these members of the community are taken care of. The accumulation of lost productive hours results in lower GDP contributions and depresses women’s economic earning and contribution to economic growth over time.

 

 

Achandi

Social security has been defined by the International Labour Organization as, “…the protection that a society provides to individuals and households to ensure access to health care and to guarantee income security, particularly in cases of old age, unemployment, sickness, invalidity, work injury, maternity or loss of a breadwinner.” Moreover, ILO notes that in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, only an estimated 5% to 10% of the working population has some social security coverage. An available figure of a section of Sub Saharan Africa (Eastern and Southern Africa) indicates that the proportion of those in formal employment usually constitutes no more than 25% of the total labour force (Kaseke,1997) and it is out of this small proportion that the estimated segment has access to some social security.

The subsistence sector in Africa remains unreached by social security schemes and as such women play a key role in the provision of social security. Ferrant et al. (2014) notes that around the world, women spend two to ten times more time on unpaid care work than men and unpaid care work is viewed as a female responsibility. The women in essence, subsidize governments in the area of social security provision in both the subsistence agricultural sector and across other sectors of the economy where formal social security systems are lacking (which form the bulk of Sub Saharan Africa economies!). Indeed, women are the default providers of social security, not by choice but rather as part of the gender pecking order. Establishing of social security schemes within the subsistence agriculture sector will not only free up women’s time for other financially rewarding jobs but will also assure women of a cushion in terms of financial security in old age, in the event of incapacitation - both for themselves and for those that are under their care.

Social security can take the form of a welfare assistance, social insurance, social allowance, provident fund (Kaseke, 1997). The African Development bank, using its flagship program can initiate small community social security programs in the different forms. The more sustainable would be those within which the individuals during their productive years can actively contribute; that is, the contributory forms. This could be done in the agricultural sector by addressing the issue of agricultural value chains and markets to ensure that farmers access high incomes, part of which they can actively contribute to a decentralized provident fund managed by the communities with great transparency and accountability. The success of these can be used as models to improve and scale out across the region. Indeed, this will not benefit only the women in the subsistence farming but will also have the effect of raising community savings and providing a social safety net for individuals. In deed, this will be effective in reducing the incidence of poverty among the most vulnerable members of the community- the elderly, the incapacitated and of course the women (who bear the greater responsibility in terms of caring for those in need in the community).

Given the contribution of agriculture to the national GDP, governments across the region can be encouraged to institute the non-contributory form of socials security programs to cater for those completely unable to work and the elderly that served in the subsistence agricultural sector (It is disturbing to note that one never fully retires from subsistence farming and thus the plight of those that are employed in the sector throughout their lifetime is that they are caught in a lifelong trap of poverty!). In any case, the failure of governments to institute social security systems in the sector results in sustenance of productive time loss for the women who spend their time ensuring these members of the community are taken care of. The accumulation of lost productive hours results in lower GDP contributions and depresses women’s economic earning and contribution to economic growth over time.

 

 

Achandi

 

 

The Bank is well on its way in its support of enabling Africa feed itself. Matter-of-fact, it is of great benefit to the governments to roll out massive investments into agriculture especially given its interconnectedness to poverty levels in Africa. Both political will and the good will of development partners are a great push in the right direction.

Smallholders in Africa produce the bulk of Africa’s food and are key in the success of eradicating food insecurity. Nonetheless, smallholder production is plagued by great risks and uncertainties. Smallholder farmers have not simply failed to commercialize but rather remained at smallholder production probably as a response to the risks they face along the food value chains. Food value chains in Sub-Saharan Africa are widely operating under information asymmetry a situation aggravated by poor condition of infrastructure in many agricultural regions. It is not uncommon to find low prices in regions of bountiful harvests and areas of high prices with low supply of vital foods within the same country at a point in time. Poor infrastructure has greatly contributed to distortion of the food value chains with a number of middlemen making their “cut” from the distortions in the food markets. While the farmer wails about the low prices of produce, the consumer helplessly laments about the skyrocketing food prices. The incentive for the farmer to upgrade to commercial production is dampened each season by the low prices due to rigidities in supply given the non- existent value addition technologies that would ensure a longer shelf life for agricultural produce. Each cropping season, faced with a choice of either producing commercially or for own consumption, the farmer chooses to produce for subsistence with a little for the market lest he floods the market and experiences the fall in food prices that characterize the harvest season.

A few things can be done to improve the conditions for smallholder farmers and induce them to commercial food production;

  • Agricultural insurance; the agricultural sector is prone to weather vagaries and market shocks. High value investments into their production systems would at best result in net losses in the event of negative shocks. Producing for subsistence is a risk management strategy out of which, the agricultural system will need an outside intervention in order to break free and provision
  • Investment in Food processing infrastructure: Food supply is largely inelastic in supply and as such, smallholder farmers have learned that while in times of bountiful harvests they can indeed market produce, the bountiful harvest simultaneously induces a reduction in prices to their detriment. Food processing would result in a longer shelf life for excess produce that cannot be sold profitably at the market at the time of harvest and ensure a continuous supply of food.
  • Improve infrastructure to curb the high transaction costs that have resulted in unfavorable trading conditions for smallholder farmers specifically female farmers. It is enough that she has her time stretched thin by responsibilities towards her family; poor infrastructure makes it next to impossible for her to access markets or at most access them through her male counterpart who is able to bear the brunt of the harsh transport conditions and distance.
  • Improve market information flow; oftentimes farmers feel cheated by the low prices offered by the middlemen while the consumers feel cheated by the high prices they have to pay for food communities. Those that have learned to leverage on this information asymmetry have formed “middlemen” institutions along the value chains- evasive informal institutions that guide the trend along whole food value chains rewarding a few that can hoard and identify profitable markets.

 

Achandi

 

 

Agricultural research broadly defined as any research activity targeted at improving productivity and quality of crops and, the management of agricultural resources provides a scientific way of examining the agricultural sector. While some would have argued that the gender gap in agriculture is possibly a “suspicion” held by a few enthusiastic feminists, agricultural research provides an evidence based process which alleys both fears and suspicion across scientists with different ideologies.  

Research provides a time-tested method of problem analysis. It is essential in the diagnosis of the gender gap; bringing to light the root cause and the extent of the problem. Specifically, research in both its qualitative and quantitative dimension is key in understanding of the gender gap problem. Quantitative research is of great use in putting a face, voice and humanness to the gender gap while the quantitative research dimension is of essence in understanding the numeric value of the gender gap and its subsequent effects. Holistically, research provides a framework for scientific communication across different disciplines. The multidisciplinary approach in communication that research is able to achieve helps raise awareness about the gender gap across several platforms which would have otherwise been a tedious task or possibly resulted in a bickering spree across those that hold conflicting views on the subject.

Agricultural research also provides a platform for the testing of possible courses of action in addressing the gender gap. Strategies targeted at closing the gap such as new technologies can be tested at a small scale and later scaled out if initial results prove promising in achieving the desirable result. This enables key stakeholders to assess progress and re-think strategies, should the need arise. Further still, what works for one community may not necessarily work for another. Without research, observing such disparities would be next to impossible and blanket recommendations would possibly result in some embarrassing outcomes.

All in all, agricultural research provides a framework not only for the diagnosis of, but also for the appropriate management and “treatment’’ of the gender gap!

 

Achandi

 

 

The gender gap is deeply entrenched in the agricultural systems and manifests in several forms and these are only but, the tip of the iceberg. Agricultural systems like any other system are guided by institutions; North (1990) defines institutions as the rules of the game in a society or, the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction and further argues that institutions structure incentives in human exchange whether political, social or economic. Certainly, the gender gap shows how the agricultural system seems more inclined to reward one side of the gender divide. Acemoglu et al (2005) in examining institutions as a fundamental cause of long run growth observe that institutions are endogenous and as such are determined by society or, by a segment of it. Acemoglu et al (2005) further adds that economic institutions shape the incentives of key economic actors and specifically influence investment in human and physical capital, technology, and the organization of production.

 

A lot of effort has been committed to not only understanding the gender gap in agriculture but also addressing it. Nonetheless, the institutions within the agricultural system, being dynamic in nature have learned to adapt in order to perpetuate the gender gap. What seems evident is that efforts to address the gender gap are oftentimes directed at the problem from the level of established agricultural actors- this is the older generation part of society and the interactions at this level only represent one stage of the problem. Reaching to the bottom of the problem will require targeting younger generations- or even a cross-generational approach. In any case, addressing the gender gap problem cannot be looked at as some PG-rated system focusing on segments of society- a massive overhaul of the system will need to touch at the very core of social, political and economic institutions which shape not just human interactions but also production and resource distribution.

 

Society in part, left to its own devices cannot be expected to address the gender gap problem. The section of society benefiting from persistence of this gap certainly finds no incentives in closing the gap. Why? One might ask. The commitment problem seems to provide a solid response to this one-word question. Those achieving greater benefits cannot commit to not using their power to change the distribution of resources in their favor. Partial interventions to address the problem are met with well-established institutions within which the default outcome of resource distribution and production in part entails a gender-gap.

 

The women in subsistence agriculture, which is said to form the backbone of a clear majority of Sub-Saharan nations have come to accept the gender gap as part of their fate- if not, the norms passed on from the older generation. The implications of the gender gap can be heart wrenching when examined over the life-cycle of the woman. With the lower incomes that are increasingly insecure, the women save less and less over time and as such are left with little or nothing to show for their years of toil when they reach the ‘golden’ years! Worse still, women are known to spend more of their earnings on the education and health of their children during their years of productivity. This erodes on whatever they could have saved for their later years. The subsistence agricultural sub-sector in Africa has not been incorporated into the national pension schemes and therefore the senior citizens from this sector can only hope “tomorrow will take care of itself”. For the women in the sector, their worries stretch from uncertainty about their future to a place of residence in old age. Patriarchy argues that she can no longer belong to her old home if she is married, yet she may not be welcome in her husband’s home once he passes on! Her only hope is that her husband will live long, or her son will take care of her in old age.

 

The gender gap also implies that more older women are left in the care of society. This though, is defined as a role for the women within the society and thus increasing the burden of care that the women have to bear. Her resources- both time and income are thus stretched thin to cover all that has been left under her care. The women in the subsistence sector are therefore caught in the vicious cycle of not just income poverty but also time poverty- it is a ‘catch-22’ for her!

 

Women in the subsistence sector earn less than the men within the same sector. There is however a need for better production methods within the sector which require more resources. With their earnings much lower, their responsibilities greater, the women are usually unable to afford better farming methods that guarantee higher production. They are left behind when technologies are introduced especially where they cannot afford these technologies. Where the technologies are provided free-of-charge initially, they have to discontinue use once a cost arises in the application of these technologies. They are thus trapped in a sub-optimal production equilibrium and reduced to production for basic subsistence. This though is not the ultimate bottom-low for the women but rather, they oftentimes transition from basic subsistence to vulnerability in the event of any shocks or stress to the production system.

 

The gender gap therefore does not necessarily grant society a desirable outcome; it holds back a segment of society and since a chain is said to be only as strong as its weakest link; if society is a chain and women are part of that chain, the weak position of the women will certainly translate into a weaker society!

Achandi

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