Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Agricultural investment models for replication and scaling up: Ways forward for achieving gender equitable agricultural commercialisation?

By Christine Okali

Land accumulation by investors or investment companies for large-scale farming to the disadvantage of small-scale farmers is part of the framework within which gender equitable agricultural commercialisation is being discussed in the Agricultural Investment, Gender and Land in Africa conference. Days 1 and 2 of the workshop detailed the diversity of such investments – referred to as ‘Business Models’. Case study evidence demonstrated the often disadvantaged terms on which women, in comparison with men, are incorporated into these schemes, regardless of the investment model. The debate around the disadvantages faced by women in labour markets has already been explored in the feminist literature, along with the understanding that their persistence reflects how deeply gender bias is embedded across a range of institutions. The transformation of rural production systems, their increasing commodification and the individualisation of productive resources, are likely to be experienced very differently by women and men.

Identifying successful models for replication and scaling up
One key message rising from the multiple case studies is that there are many different schemes, some of which have changed in structure since they were started: different companies and individual investors producing a range of different products, with varied arrangements for the incorporation of farmers and labourers. Possibly the most consistent feature of many cases is the reported lack of adequate planning, along with poor implementation making the identification of “success” highly problematic. Adequate planning for investments that rely on local populations for their functioning involves an informed analysis of the local social context.

In terms of gender, and gender relations, a number of case studies point to the need to detail which men and women are involved, and in what capacities. Are the men and women involved in the schemes spouses working together on a ‘family farm’; or young men or women with few responsibilities, possibly depending on others to meet their food needs? This information would seem to be especially important to the success of the scheme if there is a presumption that farmers and/or farm labourers involved in the scheme will need to continue with any food crop production in which they are already engaged. This concern about the need to continue producing food for consumption featured strongly in the discussions on the second day of the conference. So, are the local men and women involved as independent farmers working on their own plots using hired labour; as hired labourers working for cash; or as family members working on household farms working as out-growers? There are of course other possibilities.

In terms of married women, and the allocation of their labour, it is their labour burdens that dominate the understanding of the term ‘gender sensitive investment outcomes’. Is there evidence that these burdens will increase as family farms increase their levels of commercialisation? Related to this issue of home food production are concerns about child nutrition.

One or two cases were presented of what might be called ‘model companies’ in terms of their labour relations and the terms of employment for women. These companies and their business models now deserve particular research scrutiny.