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Foro Global sobre Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición • Foro FSN

Re: The Future of Family Farming: Providing Resources for Women and Young Farmers

Santosh Kumar Mishra
Santosh Kumar MishraPopulation Education Resource Centre (PERC), Department of Continuing and Adult Education and Extension Work, S. N. D. T. Women's University, Mumbai, IndiaIndia

1.     What role can schools and universities play in promoting agricultural careers to youth? Please share any relevant programs you are aware of.

Youth development, the process of growing up and developing one’s capacities, happens no matter what we do. The challenge is to promote ‘positive’ youth development and plan ‘quality’ experiences with young people. Degrees in agricultural education can be used to teach agriculture or obtain a job in an agricultural related work field. This degree can give students the qualifications and knowledge necessary to teach agricultural classes such as the courses offered at the high school level. Students will be required to complete agriculture classes as well as education classes in order to become qualified to teach. A bachelor’s degree in agricultural education will qualify a person to teach classes all the way up to the high school level. A Masters degree is required in order to teach on the college level. An agricultural education degree also gives the qualifications to do extension work for universities and agriculture related companies and organizations.

Agriculure’s image among young people is changing where youth are now turning to farming and the food system as a viable career path. Increased access to education and new forms of agriculture-based enterprise mean that young people can be a vital force for innovation in family farming, increasing incomes and well-being for both farmers and local communities. Young people can transform the agricultural sector by applying new technologies and new thinking.

Today, several universities, colleges, schools and research institutions, across the regions of the globe, are promoting agricultural career among youth population, both men and women. The Future Farmers of America (FFA, located in Virginia in the USA, http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2571/Youth-Organizations-NATIONAL-FUTURE-FARMERS-AMERICA-ORGANIZATION.html) is one such organization. The FFA, officially called the National FFA Organization, is an educational organization for high school and college students who are interested in agriculture. The National FFA Organization works in conjunction with the National FFA Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that seeks partnerships with corporations, foundations, and government agencies to help provide funding for FFA programs. The FFA's main objective is to develop in its members qualities of leadership, character, scholarship, cooperation, and citizenship through agricultural education. The FFA is an integral part of many high school agriculture programs. The organization operates in cooperation with the Office of Vocational and Adult Education in the U.S. Department of Education, as well as with state and local boards for vocational and agricultural education.

The FFA’s many programs include the New Century Farmer Program, which helps young people become aware of new opportunities in twenty-first century agriculture. New Century farmers are sent on traveling seminars to meet with and learn from innovative professional farmers and agriculture educators around the country. FFA Global Programs send members to foreign countries where they can learn the value, traditions, and role of agriculture in other cultures.

Because the majority of FFA members hope to pursue careers related to agriculture, the FFA sponsors numerous career development events at the chapter, state, and national level. These events help members explore the hundreds of career options available in the modern agriculture industry, from agronomy to food technology, forestry, floriculture, agricultural communications, and environmental and natural resources management. The FFA also provides information, incentives, and financial aid to members who wish to become college and high school teachers of agriculture.

Another career development program, Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE), offers members an opportunity for “hands on application of the agricultural skills and principles” they learned in the classroom. A student involved in SAE may be placed in an agriculture-related job or may start his or her own agriculture-related business under the guidance of an adult mentor.

The FFA operates on local, state and national levels and its agricultural education program provides students with a well-rounded, practical approach to learning through classroom education. It focuses on agricultural topics, hands-on supervised career experience, as well as provides leadership opportunities, and challenges students' agricultural skills. Further, the FFA helps students develop their leadership skills by participating in public speaking, skill contests, chapter meetings, award and recognition programs, committees and community projects. Moreover, FFA also motivates young people to make positive contributions to their schools, homes, communities and ultimately, their country. The FFA helps students develop their leadership skills by participating in public speaking, skill contests, chapter meetings, award and recognition programs, committees and community projects. Moreover, the FFA also motivates young people to make positive contributions to their:

§  schools,

§  homes,

§  communities, and

§  ultimately, their country.

Any boy or girl aged twelve to twenty-one who is enrolled in an agriculture course or program is eligible to become a member of FFA. The FFA also includes honorary and alumni members.

2.     What approaches are most successful in promoting the equality of female farmers?

Women are a critical component of agriculture in developing countries, contributing to ensuring food security and nutrition. They are farmers, unpaid workers on family farms, paid or unpaid agricultural laborers on other farms and agricultural enterprises, food processors and vendors, home gardeners, cooks, and carers for children and the elderly. Further, due to their specific roles in food production, many women are the repositories of knowledge about cultivation, processing, and preservation of nutritious and locally adapted crop varieties.

Given the right possibilities, such knowledge can allow women to be innovation leaders in sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately, despite their wealth of knowledge and capacity, women farmers are neglected by policy makers, often not being recognized as “productive farmers”. Their farm work is frequently unpaid or under-valued; they tend to be excluded from decision-making; and they do not have equal access to land and other resources, credit, markets, education, extension services and inputs.

Collective action is a powerful means for women to increase productivity and access to markets whilst sharing knowledge, information and productive assets including land, livestock, and credit. Supportive collective structures help smallholders through:

§  economies of scale,

§  greater bargaining power,

§  facilitating access to agricultural services, and

§  strengthening political voice.

Such supportive collective structures include:

o   producer organizations,

o   farmer field schools,

o   community - managed savings and credit groups,

o   enterprise and marketing cooperatives,

o   cow banks, and

o   water sharing committees.

They also reap additional social benefits by creating a safe environment for women to meet, share information and tackle social problems such as “gender-based violence”. Groups can be especially empowering for women, providing opportunities to participate in decision-making and take on leadership roles. In order to maximize the benefit of women’s collective action, it is important to understand what strategies are most effective in different contexts and for different groups of women.

In some contexts, “women - only groups” can provide “enabling spaces” where marginalized women can gain self - esteem, confidence and skills by creating a space for them to identify their needs, understand their rights and begin to articulate their demands. “Women - only groups” can also provide a step towards wider participation in mixed groups and other “decision - making forums”. For example, in Northeastern Brazil, women farmers have created a forum through which they exchange their knowledge and experiences on agro-ecological farming, while strengthening their identity as rural women and building their ‘self – confidence’. For many, this forum helped to demystify the common notion that women are ‘helpers’, whose labor is of less value than that of men.

Involvement in mixed groups can also be empowering, although work is required to raise equity within the groups. Activities pursued by many cooperatives are generally skewed towards men. For example, in many countries, land is usually required as collateral for some activities, but women are not usually the registered owners of the land they farm. Some approaches that have helped address this gender imbalance include:

o   working directly with individual cooperatives to raise awareness of the issue of women’s participation and empowerment,

o   supporting cooperatives in drafting gender - sensitive by-laws,

o   making their activities and benefits relevant and accessible to women, and

o   training model cooperatives on gender-sensitive business plan development.

Presented below is brief description of case study on “Promoting Gender-Sensitive Cooperatives in Ethiopia”:

As Africa’s largest producer of honey and beeswax, and the world’s fourth largest beeswax producer, smallholders in Ethiopia have a ready market. Yet, low productivity, poor quality, and limited market access force smallholders to sell locally at lower prices.

“An Ethiopian woman sells her seed and grain products at a women-run store at the Becho-Woliso Farmers Cooperative Union”

Through formation of the Zembaba Bee Products Development and Marketing Cooperative Union, small - scale producers were provided training in production techniques and the use of new technology that was more socially acceptable for women. The cooperatives and project partners encouraged local government to expand extension services and help the cooperatives to build capacity, ensuring that training was available at times when women could attend.

New village honey collection centers allowed women to engage in processing and marketing and gave them better access to information. Women also began making the specialist overalls, gloves, and veils required to handle bees. These measures have helped to increase women’s confidence and overcome the gender specific barriers to women’s participation in honey production. Women have organized themselves into self-help groups and are negotiating with cooperatives to revise the by-laws on women's membership and introduce a functional adult literacy intervention. Gradually through this collective action, they are becoming involved in the management of the union and cooperatives.

3.     What measures can development organizations and governments take to make rural areas more appealing for future farmers?

Young people in rural areas have often found themselves marginalized both by decisions on the formulation and development of rural policy and by decision-making processes related to youth policy. However, young people in the countryside are more profoundly affected than other young people by the transitions taking place in contemporary society. A number of serious problems confront young people in rural areas: relatively high unemployment, marginalization, a lack of appropriate resources, a level of education below that available in towns and cities and poor career prospects. Jobs in farming (formerly the main source of employment in the countryside) are becoming fewer and young farmers who want to take over a farm face many hurdles. Given these difficulties, the question young people face is whether to stay in the countryside or to go in search of opportunities elsewhere. The changes lying ahead in rural areas, in particular in central and eastern European countries, will have a fundamental impact on the opportunities available to young people continuing to live in the countryside. Society must provide the resources necessary to enable young people in rural areas to take responsibility for their own future. Developmental organizations and national governments, across the regions of the globe, should envisage strengthening following efforts for the purpose of making rural areas more appealing for future farmers:

§  Add agriculture to the curriculum,

§  Offer young farmers a voice, and

§  Innovation.

Also, the governments should:

o   consult rural youth organizations on the drafting of rural and youth policies, particularly where the setting up and implementation of education and training programs are concerned;

o   pay particular attention to the problems of young farmers, make it easier for them to set up in farming, provide training appropriate to their needs, help to improve the public image of farming and introduce increased tax relief for acquiring or developing farms;

o   ensure that educational and training opportunities in rural areas are maintained and developed and that opportunities for further study are not found only in urban areas. Priority must be given to keeping rural primary and secondary schools open;

o   take steps to develop distance learning in rural areas, promote access to the latest technology and encourage the establishment of businesses in the countryside;

o   train teachers specializing in educational fields adapted to the needs of rural areas;

o   introduce a training program for young managers of small and medium-sized businesses in the countryside;

o   provide support, including financial support, for the development of rural youth organizations, with particular emphasis on youth organization programs and projects to promote rural development;

o   instruct local authorities in rural areas and their associations to set up pilot development projects (i. e., involving businesspeople in the provision of training and mentoring for the young, setting up youth business centers providing equipment for a given period (seedbeds for rural enterprises) and offering grants to companies that employ young people, etc);

o   encourage young people to participate in local political life in rural areas (through consultation, encouragement to participate in decisions concerning them, youth councils, etc);

o   encourage job creation in rural areas by means of support programs for people wishing to retire, making it easier to transmit skills and transfer operations and ownership;

o   promote new activities and help young people to find alternative employment in the countryside;

o   encourage the development of communications, transport and new information technologies in rural areas, especially the most remote ones; and

o   promote sustainable agriculture and rural development and encourage local initiatives for a better protection of nature and the environment.

Furthermore, strengthening the technical and entrepreneurial skills of young people is of paramount importance in rural areas, where literacy and training rates are often lower than elsewhere. Farmer field schools are platforms for training and experience-sharing between farmers and have proven effective in knowledge, technology and innovation dissemination.

Agriculture is currently a source of growth, and its development is essential to ensure global food security. Young people are needed to meet these challenges. However, as is the case with their elders, constraints will have to be overcome, mainly regarding access to land and funding, while also improving training. The necessary transformation and modernization of agriculture also requires the increased appeal of agriculture for young people and greater productivity, but it will also reduce labor requirements. Rapid urbanization will also lead to the development of medium-sized cities and could generate new jobs for young people in rural areas.

4.     Please share any relevant case studies about empowering women and youth in agriculture to achieve better food security.

Presented below is description of selected case studies about empowering women and youth in agriculture to achieve better food security:

Case Study – I: Tanzania: Women’s Empowerment: Improving Resilience, Income and Food Security (WE-RISE):

Funded by the Australian Government (AusAID) through CARE Australia, this project is improving food security, income and resilience for chronically food-insecure rural women in Tanzania through their social and economic empowerment. The Lindi and Mtwara regions of Tanzania face issues of poverty, food insecurity, variable climate and poor infrastructure. Agriculture, the main occupation, is subject to many constraints such as crops vulnerable to disease and extreme weather fluctuations. In recent years inconsistent and unreliable rainfall, in addition to floods and droughts, has made this even more difficult. Cultural and religious norms shape negative attitudes towards women. For instance, many husbands assume absolute control over their wives when they marry, and decide whether or not their wives can join groups. Gender inequality is rooted within local communities and gender-based violence is common. These norms make it difficult for women to access land, education and markets. The most vulnerable women in the community often have to sell their labor to others, in order to earn enough money for food. This prevents them from being able to work their own plots.

Case Study – II: Vietnam: Women in Aquaculture - Success Story in Vietnam's Northern Uplands:

Poverty and food insecurity are common conditions among the ethnic minority communities of Vietnam's remote northern upland regions. This is especially true in the northwestern provinces of Son La, Lai Chau, and Hoa Binh. While the area is rich in water resources such as reservoirs and rivers, many families typically earn only a subsistence livelihood through small fish- and rice-farming activities. The full potential of the area has never been fully realized, and until recently, many households lived below the poverty line. Gender roles and division of labor among these ethnic groups have become defined and structured over the years. The task of fish farming has traditionally been the domain and responsibility of men. Women have had little if any involvement, particularly in matters that require decisions about which technologies to use, what investments to make, or how revenues could be increased. Though women are the linchpins of their families, tradition has limited their influence in these matters. Some of achievements of the project are discussed below:

§  Empowering Local Women:  Social and economic change came to the provinces in 1999 after they were selected to participate in a three-year pilot project aimed at alleviating poverty and malnutrition among ethnic households. The objective was to develop and promote community-based aquaculture activities as a viable livelihood. The strategy, however, departed from traditional norms by placing a high priority on engaging and empowering local women as key players. This progressive concept and its subsequent design were the result of collaborative efforts of the Vietnam Ministry of Fisheries, provincial authorities, Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 1, and the U.N. Development Program and Food and Agriculture Organization.

§  Education and Training: In preparation for their new role, women were given priority under the Aquaculture Techniques Training program to learn methodologies of pond, cage, and rice/fish culture. They were also trained in resource assessment, planning, and implementation. "I learned that fish culture was easy and brought many advantages”, said Vi Thi Mung, who is now a commune project farmer. Vi Thi Mung further said: "Our rice fields were not enough and our income was very low. After starting rice/fish farming, we earned money for daily marketing, medicine, and the children’s school fees”. Throughout the training process, the women also acquired practical information pertaining to nutrition, money matters, and community activism. These tools greatly strengthened their self-esteem by providing opportunities to increase their financial status and elevate their social standing within their families, local communities, and culture as a whole.

§  Grass Roots Involvement:  Participation at the commune, district, and provincial levels was integral to the success of the project. Its roots, however, were firmly set at the local commune level to ensure local responsibility, ownership, and sustainability beyond the term of the project. Each of 50 communes was spearheaded by a six-member committee called the Commune Action Group, which consisted of the commune extension worker, the best-performing local aquaculture farmer, and representatives from the local units of the Farmers' Association, Women's Union, Youth Union, and People's Committee. At least two of these representatives had to be women. The committees' task was to formulate a plan to develop aquaculture as a viable livelihood in their respective communes. This included facilitating and coordinating activities and mobilizing the local communities and organizations to assist in this effort. The Commune Action Group plans were reviewed and further refined by action groups at six district and three provincial levels. These groups also provided additional technical assistance, as well as ongoing leadership and support with implementation and assessment.

§  Communities Strengthened: This system created a ripple effect of success throughout the region. A total of 151 "result demonstration" farmers and more than 5,900 ethnic minority "fellow" farmers were involved as a result of the extension of this model. Over half the beneficiaries were women. Working together, women and men created and successfully managed grow out ponds, nurseries, hatcheries, rice/fish and cage culture, and integrated agriculture/aquaculture farms under this project. Financing for these activities was made available through a micro credit and savings scheme established to provide direct financial support to the farmers. Many took advantage of the opportunity, and most communes fulfilled the responsibility for 100% repayment of their loans.

Additionally, the skills of extension personnel and field staff at the province, district, and commune levels were strengthened, and local organizations such as the Women’s Union and Farmers' Association became active in advocating for their communities. Partnerships were forged between aquaculture organizations and institutions from other agricultural sectors. And the women in whom so much had been invested had the opportunity to become active partners in raising their communities' standards of living.
 
The project ended in 2002, but gained recognition as a viable and sustainable model for promoting development and reducing poverty in rural areas. In particular, the Commune Action Groups’ role in mobilizing local communities and organizing participatory extension and credit support services is being considered for replication under the Hunger Eradication and Poverty Reduction Program in Vietnam.