FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Gender inequality in agrifood systems in Latin America and the Caribbean

New study highlights the contributions of women to cassava, quinoa, corn and cotton value chains.

A fundamental part of the effort to eradicate hunger in the region is via strengthening the role of rural women in value chains in which they not only participate, but often lead.

July 13, 2016, Santiago, Chile - Women play a major role in agrifood systems in Latin America and the Caribbean, both in the production, processing and marketing of food, despite facing multiple inequalities, FAO said today.

A new FAO study (spanish only) examines the value chains of cassava (Belize), quinoa (Bolivia), corn (Guatemala) and the regional cultivation of cotton from a gender perspective, to enhance their  sustainability.

"In rural areas, the contribution of women is mostly invisible although they perform a large part of the activities at farm level as well as domestic work and unpaid home care", said Claudia Brito, FAO gender officer. 

The FAO study notes that participation of women is more pronounced in activities that involve time and physical effort, such as planting, weeding and harvesting.

Conversely, they are less represented in those links of the productive chain associated with increased revenue generation and active participation in highly competitive markets.

According to FAO, the strategic integration of the gender perspective in national agrifood systems can lead to a substantial improvement in the competitiveness of markets, particularly those where women can offer their products without the intervention of intermediaries.

"Changing this situation would not only improve the living conditions of women but of all the region, thanks to increased productivity, sustainability and equity in agrifood systems and associated value chains," said Brito.

A gender perspective of value chains

The gender perspective applied to value chains can recognize the different roles assumed by women and men in the various links in the production chain and their impact on countrie's agrifood systems.

This is key to identify proposals to close the unacceptable gaps that exist today in terms of womens' access, participation, assignment, use, control and quality of resources and services.

"If men and women had the same opportunities and benefits in the production, processing and marketing of food, we would take a giant step towards the eradication of hunger and poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean," Brito said.

Cassava in Belize

According to the FAO study, women in Belize have an important role in the value chain of cassava.

While the role of men is usually limited to the production, transport and eventual sales in open markets, women participate in all processes along the entire chain.

The FAO study recommended updating cassava technical training programs from a gender perspective and the development of marketing tools and business management under the same approach.

It also suggests encouraging the formalization of women's cooperatives, with a view to achieving greater access to financial and non-financial services for productive projects and improving their economic autonomy.

Quinoa in Bolivia

Bolivia has taken important steps towards gender equality. Its Constitution, adopted in 2009, recognizes the rights of women. The country also has a National Plan for Equal Opportunities (PNIO) and the Comprehensive Law to guarantee women a Life Free of Violence.

According to the FAO study, the women involved in the cultivation of quinoa require new technologies and tools that meet their needs, facilitating greater efficiency in their production and transformation processes and to alleviate their excessive workload.

Furthermore, they need support services such as child care and nursing facilities, and they must strengthen their organizations.

"With specific public policies, financial resources and training, women involved in Bolivian quinoa  may achieve recognition of their ancestral traditions and practices, strengthening their empowerment," said Brito.

Corn in Guatemala

According to the national agricultural survey of Guatemala (2008), a big gap in land tenure exists between men (85%) and women (15%). Less than 40% of female headed households have their own land.

Women in the corn value chain of Guatemala have an excessive workload - ranging from 12 to 16 hours a day- and furthermore they face a double working day, as they are also in charge of the majority of activities along the value chain and home care.

According to the FAO study, women also face difficulties accessing financial services, have a lack of technologies and tools suitable for them, have low levels of training and extension and a low decision making power.

CELAC will develop a gender strategy for its Food Security Plan

Currently, FAO is supporting the community of Latin American and Caribbean State (CELAC) -the highest integration body of the region, to develop a gender policy for CELAC's Food Security Nutrition and Hunger Eradication Plan, which seeks to end hunger in the region by 2025.

"We cannot end hunger in the region, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, without achieving gender equality," said Brito.

FAO will presented the first draft of the gender strategy to CELAC this year, which will incorporate mechanisms and policies to strengthen the role that women play in food security and enhance sustainability in the food systems of Latin America and the Caribbean.

"A fundamental part of the effort to eradicate hunger in the region is via strengthening the role of rural women in value chains in which they not only participate, but often lead " Brito said.