Portrait de Esther Achandi
Esther
Achandi

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Women and agricultural finance! Quite a package to unpack in terms of the nature of financial institutions, the  nature of agriculture as a whole and women's roles in agriculture. Alot has been said and I will add my voice;

Women face gross challenges in accessing agricultural finance. Finance as a whole is designed with risk managing facets such as the need for collateral. Largely, one common form of collateral is land, which women have selective access to. In terms of asset ownership, we have fewer women represented amongst those that own land. Moreover, women's land ownership is usually within the context of their relationship to a primary male-whether father or husband. The death of this primary male is oftentimes likely to leave the woman landless. Save for a few cases and the rising awareness that is calling for titling of land to include wives and daughters, many a rural community have their land titled in the names of the males within the community. Financial institutions are therefore unable to accept land as collateral from the women. In any case, women have to seek permission from the men in order to access the land to be used as collateral.

Another observation about women and acces to fiunance is that women do not simply face cross-gender limitations when it comes to attaining collateral for loans. They are faced with the cross-generational structure of the farming communities. Infact, while the woman might be enjoying a form of gender parity in terms of decision making concerning access to credit with the primary male in her home, there is also the issue of the senior members of the family such as the mother-in-law, father-in-law, elder sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law! Land under customery ownership will not be given up as collateral without express permission from all these (or even the whole extended family).

What is the loan worth, if it is likely to stir up a land despute within the extended family at the time the woman seeks to access the loan? Simple wisdom would be for her to steer clear of such financial packages. Secondly, the financial need of the woman could be to the tune of a few hundred dollars while the customery land (which families usually prefer not to divide up) is worth thousands of dollars. Using the land as collateral becomes an unattractive venture given that a failure to repay would result in a huge loss, not commensurate with the expected gain from the loans. Unless financial services are able to redesign their financial services to suit such forms of collateral, their services seem like entrappments for the farming communities and will not be able to meet the needs of such. Additionally, re-visiting the land tenure systems to re-allign them with current development needs.

Lastly, financial service provision within the developing world is known to be a risky business and as such interest charged on loans is very high while interest paid on deposits remains unattractively low. For women in the agricultural sector to borrow, they expose themselves to higher production costs as a result of the interest charged on this loan and generally the outcome is lower gains from agricultural production. This defies the real need for loans if their negative impact filters through to farmers greater than the intended benefits.

 

Achandi

 

 

Addressing the issue of equitable benefit sharing with regard to men and women is a key issue that needs to be addressed if women are to benefit from value addition activities in agriculture. Women though, are said to be over represented as employees while men are tthe employers in the value addition segments of the agricultural value chain. What we observe is a re-play of the same gender pecking order evident in the production systems. Investment in value addition activities requires capital inputs that women are often unable to afford. Moreover, access to financing proves a challenge too, due to their lack of collateral (land which is highly regarded as collateral for credit by most financial instituions lies in the hands of the men in society). 

The public sector can work with financial institutions and identify both individual and women's groups that are engaged in value addition. Once identified and assessed as having a profitable business model, these can be provided with loans to invest in better processing technologies and scale out production.

Furtherstill, most private invsetors are under obligation to conduct some social responsibility functions; some of these investors are telecommunication companies, machine fabricators or financial instituions. These can be encouraged to work with women's groups by designing a version of their core products that is more user friendly for the women.This will be their way of giving back to the community.

Lastly, it is usually difficult for women and female enterprenuers to navigate the male dominated beaurocratic formalization processes for their business, which is one reason women are over represented in the informal sector. Decentralization of business registration and certification procedure or even cutting back on the existing bottlenecks will make the process easier for women to undertake and upgrade them from the informal to the formal sector thus enable them enjoy the rewards of conducting formal businesses.

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

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