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Role of women in the household economy, food production and food security

Policy guidelines
Derica A. Kotz
Abstract: How to assist the rural poor to enhance their livelihoods and food security in a sustainable way is one of the greatest challenges we face. Food security strategies should be based on the premise that food insecurity and famine derive from failure of access to food rather than global food shortage. Food security is mainly about the access of poor households to food and about how political, economic and social factors affect households food security. In this article, the relationship between hunger and poverty, the meaning of food security and sustainable livelihood security are explored. The article focuses on food security as one of the important elements of sustainable livelihood approaches, analysing the role of women in the household economy, food production and ultimately food security. Finally it assesses policy guidelines for promoting these approaches. Keywords: food security; household economy; sustainable livelihood security; HIV/AIDS; role of gender; policy guidelines
The author is with the Department of Development Studies, University of South Africa (UNISA), PO Box 392, Pretoria 0003, Republic of South Africa, and the Centre for Development Studies, UNISA, Pretoria. Tel: +27 12 429 6813. Fax: +27 12 429 3646. E-mail:

Millions of people die of malnutrition, hunger and related diseases. Approximately 840 million people worldwide experience malnutrition (UNDP, 1999). More than 180 million people in Africa cannot lead a healthy life because they do not have enough to eat (FAO, 2002a). In South Africa nearly 16 million people do not have adequate food, and out of every 50 hungry people in the world, one lives in South Africa (Munnik and Moloi, 1997). In Southern Africa about 19 million people are in need of food aid ( Sunday Times , 2002). Hunger and malnutrition in the South are in sharp contrast to the amount of surplus food in the North. There is enough food on our planet to assure everyone of an adequate supply of food; yet this does not guarantee food security for all. This is the food paradox. Almost one-fifth of the worlds people live in absolute poverty and deprivation and therefore have no entitlements to produce or to buy the food they need. They are trapped in the poverty cycle and neither modern science

nor food systems can eliminate their hunger (Griffin, 1987; King, 1989; WCED, 1987). Malnutrition and hunger coexist with economic growth and increased global food supplies. Long-term projections show that global food supplies will need to double over the next three decades because of population grow th. It is estimated that the number of people could increase from the current figure of 6 billion to more than 10 billion. The doubling of food production will have to take place at a time when more than 800 million people are already food-insecure, nearly threequarters of the oceans fish stocks are overexploited, and 25 billion tons of topsoil are being lost annually (World Bank, 2000, p 36). This article begins by exploring the relationship between hunger and poverty, the meaning of food security and sustainable livelihood security. The definition of food security derives from the notion that food security is

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Role of women in the household economy, food production and food security

evaluated not only in terms of access to and availability of food, but also in terms of the requisite resource distrib ution to produce food and the purchasing power to buy food where it is not produced. Drawing on this definition, the article examines the role of women in the household economy, food production and ultimately food security. The last section focuses on policy guidelines for promoting food security, with the emphasis on sustainable livelihood security and the contribution of women to household food security.

resources in the form of income, savings, health, knowledge and skills or other assets. Their opportunities for taking control of their lives are often determined by social conditions concerning, for example, civil liberties and human rights, participation in decision-making processes and economic policies. The common denominator is access to assets: both material assets, goods and services that build human capital; markets; labour; land; finance and credit; and intangible assets, that is, social and political capital. As David Booth has expressed it: Treating the assets of the poor as capital, as stocks that can be created, stored, exchanged and depleted provides a powerful entry point into the casual explanations of poverty.

Relationship between hunger and poverty

There is a general consensus that hunger is primarily caused by poverty, which is caused by the interaction between political, social and economic factors (Kent, 1984; Watts, 1991; Woube, 1987). To understa nd hunger in a world with surplus food, it is necessa ry to study the existence of poverty. Some theorists believe that poverty, and thus hunger, are origina l, natural conditions. Poverty exists where development (in terms of economic grow th) has not yet taken place. Some, on the other hand, believe that poverty and hunger cannot be regarded as origina l conditions, but that they are generated and regenera ted by the enhancement of conventional economic development and the concentration of control over resources. They therefore see the problem as more than just the absence of development and hold to the idea that there is a bubble up of value from the poorer to the richer sections of society (Kent, 1984). Thus for them, poverty is caused by economic exploitation. King (in Lemma and Malaska, 1989) points out, however, that poverty and famine are closely linked to climatic, natural, ecological, economic, social, political, agricultural and technological processes, and cannot be blamed only on economics. A systema tic perspective within a holistic approach is therefore necessary, as the problems of poverty and famine cannot be solved in isolation from the wider global dimensio ns. In spite of the optimism from which the version of an African renaissa nce has sprung, the picture of rural poverty in Africa remains bleak. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen while poor peoples livelihoods remain endange red and the rights of the poor are all too often breached and violated (Karlsson, 2000). Africa is one of the few regions in the world where the proportion of poor people is still rising, the bulk of them living in rural areas and subject to chronic hunger, vulnerability and deprivation (Al-Sultan, 2000). Karlsson (2000) describ es poverty as
. . . a lack of access to, and control over, political, economic and social resources, which are necessary to provide people with security, capacity and opportunities. Security against unforeseen events such as sickness, accidents, natural disasters, unemployment, injustice, violence within and outside the family, and economic and political crises, as well as security in old age is a fundamental human need. Security can be achieved, for instance, through traditional social networks, social security systems and benefits and social, political and economic rights guaranteed under international conventions and laws. People can improve their capacity by developin g their own

Poverty issues receive a much higher priority and far more attention today than was the case a decade ago. But the sad fact is that even as the rhetoric has sharpened, support for agriculture and rural development has fallen. Yet the bulk of the poor, some three-quarters according to a recent World Bank estimate, live in rural areas where they draw their uncertain livelihoods from agriculture and related activities. There is, moreover, convincing evidence that development, food security and poverty alleviation will not be achieved without rapid agricultural growth. According to Karlsson (2000), strategies and instruments to fight poverty should be guided by the following principles: integration of economic, political, social, cultural and gender perspectives in all development cooperation activities; inclusion of micro- as well as macro-perspectives in analyses and policy; preferenc e for cross-sectoral strategies and methods; incorporation of the perspectives of both female and male stakeholders, including specifically the knowledge, values and priorities of poor people; and use of participatory approaches in all development activities. Any development action aimed at the elimination of poverty and famine must have human development as a fundamental objective. Poverty and famine are more than just the elements of a food crisis, they constitute a humanitarian crisis. Food security can be regarded as the first form of security on the way to a new and participatory approach to integrated rural development. Implementation of the above principles is essential to successful poverty eradication. More important, however, is the participation and active role of the poor in any attempt to eradicate poverty. The key to viable poverty alleviation lies with the poor themselv es and their underutilized talents and capacities. The following elements are essential for rural poverty alleviation: strengthe ning the capacity of the poor to organize themselv es and participate in local decision making and resource allocation so that they can express their priorities and needs; creating favourable macro- and supportive microenvironm ents with effective linkages between the two;


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Role of women in the household economy, food production and food security

involving the private sector in investin g and providing services; and ensuring gender balance and participatory development.

Livelihoo d is defined as adequate stocks and flows of food and cash to meet basic needs. Security refers to secure ownership of, or access to, resources and income-earning activities, including reserves and assets to offset risks, ease shocks and meet contingencies. Sustainable refers to the maintenance or enhancement of resource productivity on a long-term basis.

Concept of food security

Food security is interp reted in many ways, but the World Banks definition of food security as the access of all people at all times to enough food to have an active, healthy life is very well known and widely accepted (Bernstein, 1994; Colofon, 1997; Geier, 1995; Gittinger et al , 1987; Kutzner, 1991; Kuzwayo, 1994; Reutlinger, 1987). Both the World Bank and the entitlement approach focus on the potential access of households to food (Bernstein, 1994). This definition is based on the assumption that decisions regarding consumption are usually taken by socioeconomic units and not by individu als. However, this excludes the decision-making and bargaining processes that take place within households. Another drawback is the exclusive focus on food consumption and the failure to demonstr ate or emphasize the relationship between food insecurity, poverty, vulnerability and malnutrition. Maxwell (see Evans and Diab, 1991; Geier, 1995; Maxwell, 1991a) provides a broader definition of food security, as follows:
[A] country and people can be said to be food secure when their food system operates in such a way as to remove the fear that there will not be enough to eat. In particular, food security will be achieved when the poor and vulnerable, particularly women, children and those living in marginal areas, have secure access to the food they want.

The emphasis in this definition is on the availability of food and the capacity to obtain it. People achieve food security either through their own production or by means of income received from labour. Barraclough (1991) describ es food security as sustained and assured access by all social groups and individu als to food adequate in quantity and quality to meet nutritional needs. Since the early 1970s the focus has shifted from a global or national perspective to a view that emphasizes entitlem ent to adequate food at the household or individu al level. Food insecurity is not necessarily the consequence of inadequate food production, as was previously believed, but may also arise from households or nations lack of buying power (Alamgir and Arora, 1991; Geier, 1995). In contrast to food security, food insecurity is the lack of access to adequate food supplies arising from instability in food production and prices, or in the household income. For the purpose of this article, food security is defined not only in terms of access to and availability of food, but also in terms of resource distribution to produce food and the purchasing power to buy food where it is not produced. Maxwell (1991b) maintains that the conventional definitions of food insecurity should be extended to include the poverty and vulnerability of affected groups and to locate food security in a wider concept of livelihood security. A new analysis should begin with the concept of sustainable livelihood security, which is defined by Kutzner (1991) as follows:

Liveliho od security is a concept that places the problem of access to food in a wider context in which people also have an interest in the non-food expenses and in the conservation of sources that are necessary to ensure their livelihood in the future (Maxwell, 1991b; Thomson, 2001). Food insecurity cannot be attributed to one single event or condition. There is no easy recipe to elimina te hunger and poverty. Every situation is unique and is determin ed by both national and interna tional phenomena (Barraclough, 1991). According to Sen (1981), food security should be defined as the acquisition of sufficient quantities of nutritious food. Policies to promote food security must therefore be based on a holistic approach that emphasizes the availability of food at both macro- and micro-levels; access to and distribution of food and income; and increased household production and income. This view emphasizes broad-based development and income generation for increased food security at the household level. It is important to understa nd rural livelihood systems in a holistic manner so that adequate recognition is given to the complex interconnections between the multiple components of such systems, including local organization, linka ges between rural and urban economies, gender roles and activities, livelihood strategies and rural safety-net measures. An important characteristic of these livelihood strategies is their broadbased nature to ensure survival and food security. However, no policy, programme or initiative to eliminate hunger will be successful if it does not put the producers of food and the home economy first. In most of SubSaharan Africa, women are exclusively responsible for the production of food for household consumption. As providers of food and nurturers of children , women should play a determin ing role in any attempt to increase food production and food security.

Food security of the household economy

Strategies for alleviating poverty and food insecurity have been topics of continued debate in academic and political circles. Agriculture is the lead productive sector that provides the main source of livelihoods and income for Africas rural population. Agricultural growth is essential for poverty eradication and food security, as roughly 80% of Africas poor live in rural areas (FAO, 2002a). These people depend on agriculture and non-farm rural enterprises for their livelihoods, and are increasingly unable to meet their basic food needs as population figures grow, water and land resources are depleted and agricultural production stagnates. A common argument, in the case of rural households, is that an increase in food production could improve household food security. This kind of reasoning has been used to design and implement programmes aimed at improving agricultural and food

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production in developing regions all over the world. Various studies have proved that, in general, access to credit, extension and training services and improved availability of inputs have led to an increase in crop production in many regions (Chikanda and Kirsten, 1996; Oram and Bindlish, 1984; Van Rooyen and Nene, 1996). A study conducted by Kirsten, Townsend and Gibson (1998) in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, has shown that households with access to inputs such as seeds and fertilizer have greater food security and a better nutritional status. This study also indicated that agricultural activities that lead to higher food production make a positive contribution to household food security and nutrition. These researchers conclude that improving agricultural productivity, as opposed to the narrower approach of improving food productivity, in developing areas could make a positive impact on household food security and nutrition. According to FAO (2002a), increases in agricultural productivity are central to growth, income distribution, improved food security and poverty alleviation in rural Africa. Increased farm production improves farmers incomes, generates on-farm employment and lowers food prices both of which reduce poverty as the poor typically spend 6070% of their income on food. In Sub-Saharan Africa, access to food and food production are very closely linked. This is the case at national, regional and household levels alike. For many African households food production is an important, if not the dominant, source of food (Geier, 1995). The relationship between production and access implies that explicit attention must be given to food production even in an entitlement approach. Food security involves more than just the potential access of households to food. It also includes the decision-making and negotiation processes, as well as food processing, food preparation and the possible effect of time allocation to the different activities of the household. Intervention strategies generall y ignore the time allocated to food processing and preparation, and the possible effect of time limitations on food security is not analysed. There is often a strong division of labour and roles according to gender and age in subsistence-oriented societies that allocate specific tasks to men and women, which must also be taken into account. In contemporary development literature, it is clear that womens contribution to rural development has been underest imated and sometimes overlooked as a result of biases built into the Western models of develop ment programmes to promote food security and poverty alleviation projects and programmes. A genera l shortcoming of policies aimed at increasing food security and food production is precisely the tendency to underestimate and ignore womens role in both food production and in the more general decision-making process within the household. Hence extension services offered to rural women are often inappropriate and ineffective in relating to womens triple role in reproductive, economic and community activities. Up to one-third of all households in Africa have a female head (Melamed, 1996). Besides performing household duties, women carry out a variety of tasks and functions and provide an essentia l source of agricultural labour. They perform almost all tasks and activities associated with subsistence production, and

produce more than 74% of household food in African countries and up to 90% of food consumed by families in rural areas (Commonwealth Secretariat, Unit 3, 1998; Geier, 1995; Melamed, 1996; Todaro, 1994). In addition to child-rea ring, providing health care for the family and running the household, women spend large amounts of time (the equivalent of an eight-hour job) transporting water, fuel and goods. Furtherm ore, women run 70% of all micro-enterpris es in developing countries (Suliman, 1990). As a rule, women have control over the food they produce on their own land or in fields allocated to them by the male head of the household, village elder or local chief. The food products they cultivate are used for family consumption or exchanged for other consumption goods. The gender division of labour and social responsib ilities in the household constitute the deciding factor in womens commitment to subsistence production to fulfil their responsibility to feed the family and ensure food security for the household. It is this responsibility, rather than backwardness and traditional attitudes, that maintains subsistence production even under deteriorating natural circumstances, possibly with an increased workload and lower household income. It is therefore essential to adopt a gender approach so that womens role and contribution to household food security is acknowledged. Production for subsistence is thus an important element in determining womens bargaining position and in accepting their consumption preferences. As long as women are involved in subsistence production and have access to productive land, they will regard such production as their main priority unless they are sure and confident that they can control their income from marketoriented agricultural or non-agricultural activities. However, that is seldom the case. Women have more control over their own subsistence production than over proceeds for the market or cash income. Their active participation in cash crop production competes with their other traditional tasks and threatens household food security, for example by forcing them to neglect the household vegetable garden. When this happens, the familys diet may suffer due to a lack of quantity and variety of vegetables. Studies prove that an increase in womens cash income has a more positive effect on family nutrition than an increase in the cash income of men. However, when women lose income, for example when manual labour is replaced by modern technology, this affects the nutrition of the household (Swaminathan, 1992). The gender division of labour and responsibilities is a reflection of social structures. It determines how the interests of members of the household are articulated and influences the decision-making process. A change in the resource base within the household economy to the advantage of men does not necessarily mean that men will assist women in their roles and responsib ilities to the advantage of the households welfare, or that household income will be redistrib uted to the advantage of the woman (Geier, 1995). Individual preferences reflect the social norms of the household members. The clear distinction between the roles of women and men causes the two sexes to have different interests and preferences. A joint utility function that is determined by a
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benevolent dictator is therefore just as unlikely as an optimal division of family income (Geier, 1995). The assumption that the household is a unit with a joint maximum utility function is outdated and inapplicable. In contrast, gender research practitioners argue that intrahousehold relationships must be re-thought and that the relevance of the neo-classical model of consumption the basis of most policy recommendations must be questioned, more so because of the doubts that have been expressed about the assumptions regarding decisions relating to the joint household budget (income) and the joint household utility function (preferences) (Folbre, 1986; Hart, 1992; Drze and Sen, 1989). The only economic models that explicitly take cognizance of the decisions about how to allocate family activities in and outside the household are those that are based on the new household economy approach. These models regard the household as both a consumption and a production unit. This viewpoint enlarges the joint utility function of the household, as the household produces for both the market and its own use (Geier, 1995). However, various authors emphasize that a joint household budget (income and labour) or a joint utility function (common interests and preferences) cannot be taken for granted in the rural areas of Africa (Guyer, 1987). In subsistenceoriented communities one often finds a strict division between labour and roles according to gender and age, with specific tasks allocated to men and women respectively. As already pointed out, the gender division of labour and household responsibilities reflects clear social structures and social norms. In societies where there is a clear distinction between roles of women and men, there are distinct differences in the interests and preferences of men and women. Thus, the joint utility function of the family is not determined by what might be its optimal division of income. This responsibility and division of labour within the household economy are not attributed to any comparable advantages (opportunity cost in the labour market and productivity within the household economy), but reflect social structures, bargaining positions and patriarchal gender relationships. A change in the resource base of the household to the advantage of men does not necessarily imply that the men will take over some of the tasks of the women, or that household income will be redistrib uted to the advantage of women. Drze and Sen (1989) developed a framework for conceptualizing households as being composed of sometimes complementary and sometimes contradictory interests. This is called cooperative conflict and is of great relevance to gender and development. This framework allows for the notion that men and women may have different needs and interests in food production. Whereas one member of a household may cultivate food crops to supplement the food available for household consumption, another may be more interested in growing and selling cash crops to increase the households cash income. One positive aspect of the new household economy approach is that economic analysis has been extended to include the time spent on producing goods within the home economy. In developing countries specifically, expenses on food do not adequately explain or reflect food consumption because processing activities and food
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preparation are labour-intensive and are done within the home economy. The time and labour spent on preparation of meals with market and home goods must be explicitly included in the analysis and should be considered in the formulation of food security policies. Geier (1995) explains that new household economics has broadened the simple neo-classical theory of consumption by defining the household as both a consumption unit and a production unit. The joint household utility function has been enlarged by market goods as well as home goods (Z-goods) that are produced within the home economy with the use of market goods and the labour time of household members. The production of home goods and/ or the purchase of market goods depends on the prices of market goods, the opportunity cost of labour and the production function of the various home goods. For an analysis of food insecurity at the household level it is thus essentia l to take into consideration the gender division of labour and household roles as well as the effect of an increase in income on womens workload and who is in control of this additional income. An increase in household income that causes an increase in womens workload leads to a decrease in food security unless the production of meals is supplemented by processed food and/or labour-saving techniques. According to Havnevik (2000), the only sustainable way to redu ce poverty is through helping the poor produce more and thus earn higher incomes. The emphasis should be on helping poor rural smallholders to increase their access to credit, better technologies and enhanced market opportunities. They also need improved conditions and effective organizations for negotiating and bargaining with buyers, processors and investors. Women have a vital role to play in rural and agricultural development and food security. Their full participation is necessary. Rural people, and rural women in particular, bear the largest burden of poverty. Throughout the developing world, women tend to be underemployed and socially, economically and politically disadvantaged. In South Africa, for example, three-qu arters of the poor live in rural areas, and the rural households headed by women are among the most impoverished group (South Africa (Republic), 1995). Empirical evidence from Africa and Asia indicates that womens access to agricultural services, extension, credit and inputs is considerably more constrained and limited than that of male farmers. Extension, credit and input programmes have ignored women to a very large extent even though they are responsible for a great deal of the farming activities and food production (Spring, 1988; Weideman, 1987). Given that women are responsible for the bulk of food production, are the providers of food security and contribute meaningfully to family incomes, any attempt to eradicate poverty should acknowledge womens role as producers of food and income-earners and ensu re that they have fair access to project services, assistance and training and a say in policy and decision making (AlSultan, 2000, p 20). Women produce between 60 and 80% of all food grow n in Sub-Saharan Africa and are also responsible for processing and marketing the food crops they produce. They carry out the bulk of the household tasks, such as collecting firewood and water, taking care of children and the elderly, and food preparation (World


Role of women in the household economy, food production and food security

Bank, 1994). Women are of course the childbearers in the household, and in Sub-Saharan Africa they are likely to produce a minimum of six children (Carr, 1991). Clearly, it is essential to secure womens full participation in any programme that aims to increase food security among the poor, particularly the rural poor. Particular attention should be given to involving the poor in designing as well as implementing any development activity that would affect their lives, as participation makes the projects more responsive to their real needs and allows them to gain the experience of managing development initiatives. The small farmer and her or his community should be acknowledged as the engine of transformation, poverty eradication and food security. When it comes to food security, the important role, activities and needs of women as producers of food and providers of food security need special attention. According to the FAO (2002b), food production in Africa remains low by international standards and the following steps for increasing production should be considered: The poverty, ignora nce and disea se that affect most rural people must be eased. Wise and timely intervent ions should be made at all levels to ensu re that farmers attain an optimal combination of production inputs. Appropriate post-harvest technology should be employed to prevent losses through inefficient food storage and processing. The transport and marketing infrastructure should be improved to minimize costs and ensu re that farmers obtain fair and realistic prices. Water storage facilities should be built or installed to make irriga tion possible and thereb y alleviate crop water stress. Appropriate land use and water management measures should be applied.

The HIV/ AIDS epidemic is making a major impact on nutrition, food security, agricultural productivity and rural livelihoods. Immediate action is needed to address the negative social, economic and institutional effects, especially on food security. All dimensio ns of food security availability, access to, stability and utilization of food are seriously affected where the prevalence of HIV/ AIDS is high. The epidemic threatens the food security of millions of people in terms of their capacity both to produce and to purchase their food. It decreases the households ability to produce food because of its high death toll among productive adults. It therefore impoverishes affected families as it reduces their ability to produce and buy food. Poor rural families often sell their productive assets to care for afflicted members or pay funeral costs, thus compromising their future livelihoods. In households coping with HIV/ AIDS, food consumption genera lly decreases (FAO, 2002d). The epidemic has additional devastating implications for food security in the following ways (FAO, 2002d): reduction in area of land under cultivation due to loss of labour; declining yields as a result of delays or poor timing in farming activities because of sickness or unavailability of outside labour; decline in crop variety and changes in cropping patterns due to the inability to maintain enough labour for both cash and subsistence crops; decline in livestock production because of the impact of AIDS on the labour force, and also the selling of livestock to cover medical and funeral costs; decline in post-production operations such as food storage and processing, thus increasing food insecurity between harvests; loss of agricultural skills; shifts in the structure of household expenditures because credit for agricultural production is used instead for the medical care of the sick, funeral costs and food; and breakdown of support services because staff fall ill, affecting management capacity, transport and extension services. The epidemic may also have disastrous implications for commercial production as cash crops are abandoned due to lack of labour (FAO, 2002d). From the above it is abundantly clear that HIV/ AIDS makes a serious negative impact on agricultural production and food availability, which is felt in terms of both quantity and quality of food. The decrease in the labour force, workers productivity, agricultural outputs, skills, support services and overall economic grow th may well lead to a decline in national food supplies and a rise in food prices, culminating in greatly reduced food security, particularly at the household level. A people-centred, gender-s ensitive, multisectoral, community-based approach to development is a fundamental prerequ isite to prevent the spread of HIV/ AIDS. The incorporation of HIV/ AIDS considerations into food security initiatives and nutrition, and the reciprocal incorporation of food security objectives into HIV/ AIDS programmes, is paramount for promoting food security (FAO, 2002d).

AIDS and food security

Another determining factor that affects the livelihood of women and household food security is the HIV/ AIDS epidemic. Access to productive resources is strongly determined along gender lines, with men having more access to land, credit, technology, training and extension than women. With the death of her husband, a wife may be left without the necessa ry productive resources, and her livelihood and those of her children are immediately threatened. AIDS is thus aggravating existing gender imbalances (FAO, 2002d). The FAO (2002d, pp 56) explains the serious relationship between HIV/ AIDS, poverty and food security as follows:
Poverty creates a risk environment that contributes to the transmission of HIV, for it is linked to low levels of human capital, limited productive assets and gender inequality in access to resources. These are conducive to sexual transactions to satisfy food and other needs. The epidemic in turn exacerbates rural poverty. This vicious circle is of particular concern in the rural areas, where most of Africas poor live. Whole communities thus become food insecure and impoverished.


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Policy guidelines for household food security

Achieving food security for Africa requires shared responsibility among governme nts, producer organizations, NGOs/CBOs, FAO and other development partners and the private sector. Development priorities should focus on the achievement of food sovereignty and the right to adequate food; effective models of agricultural production; peace, democracy and good governance; gender equality; financing for agriculture, improving rural infrastructure and services; and programmes to curb the grow ing HIV/ AIDS threat. African governm ents should realize that the right to food entails individu al rights and governm ent obligations to respect, protect and fulfil this right in an accountable and transparent manner. According to the FAO (2002e), many countries need to reverse the recent neglect of investme nt in agriculture and rural development and mobilise sufficient investment resources to support sustainable food security and diversified rural development. The majority of people in the developing world (70% in Africa) earn their livelihoods in the agricultural sector as farmers and labourers, or as workers in the off-farm rural sector (FAO, 2002e). Programmes should be aimed directly at poor communities, especially the more disadvantaged groups. A key group in this context is women, who often form the backbone of the rural economy. The prime objective is to ensure that poor groups can develop the organization necessary to articulate their views and assure their position in the development process (Al-Sultan, 2000). The poor can be empowered by policies that deliberately seek to convert their often ignored demands into an effective voice. The ability of the poor to articulate their demands effectively needs to be strengthened, and policies that might limit this should be approached with extreme caution. This kind of empowerment can be achieved by following a learningprocess approach to develop ment, accompanied by participatory research. The poor and intended beneficiaries should be active participants in the preparation, design and implementation of projects. Poverty eradication depends critically on the ability of the poor to articulate their needs or organize themselves and create alliances with others to effect change in governm ent policy. The poor should be empowered to participate actively in local politics, a sphere that is central to the politics of economic reform and poverty alleviation. This would mean that the poor would have the opportunity to organize freely to pursue their social, economic and political interests. Organization and initiative are essential to the economic development of the poor, and their economic development will strengthe n their voice in the political process (Howe, 2000). The state should be a representative political force that promotes the participation of local communities and the contributions they make, especially among people without wealth and power to organize freely to pursue their social, economic and political interests. In other words, the state should promote the organization of civil society, driven from below (Howe, 2000). In effect, poor people must be able to sustain and control local organizations and resources shaped by their

needs and interests in the context of the conditions in which they live. According to Al-Sultan (2000), institutional support has a twofold aim. The first is to develop collaborative relations and organization among the poor themselv es. The second aim is to strengthe n the capacity of local communities and their organizations to interact positively with upstream regional and national institutions. Such linkages are essentia l for the poor to enter into the mainstream of the market economy in a meaningful and fair way. Al-Sultan (2000) also cites the example of Mozambique where, he says, organizations and associations are essential to establish a fair deal for smallholders . This mirrors experiences in Northern Europe and the USA, where cooperatives played an important role in ensuring that the benefits of agricultural development trickled down to the poor and were shared by the poor. Community resource managemen t and mobilization are, in some conditions, the sole means of bringing about sustainable improvements in rural poverty, particularly in marginal, ecologically vulnerable areas. Al-Sultan (2000) further emphasizes that large-scale private investme nt plays a significant role in developing production systems and that it is necessary to incorporate small-scale producers in Africa in such initiatives to increase their capacity to achieve competitive production and get them away from the margins of the economy. However, recognizing the role of market processes does not imply that there should be any dilution of the ultimate aim of empowering the poor. There is a general neglect of food insecurity as a specific issue and as a central element in poverty reduction. It is essential for develop ment policy at all levels to support agricultural development, particularly with a view to achieving national, regiona l and household food security. Marketing and pricing policies must support and promote agricultural development in general, but should be more specifically directed towards improving food production at the household level. It is unlikely that small farmers will adopt new practices and technology that will increase productivity unless the marketplace offers incentives. Thus any marketing and pricing policy aimed at increasing agricultural production should take into account access to both input and output markets, infrastructural development and information through extension as crucial incentives in agricultural production, especially among small-scale farmers (Arnon, 1987; Mellor, 1980). This was substantiated in a study conducted by Kalinda, Shute and Filson (1998) in Zambia, where it was found that governm ents had an important role to play in providing rural infrastructure (roads, communication and electricity systems), storage and market facilities, information systems and training as a base for an efficient rural marketing system with private sector involvement. State investment in infrastructure, extension and training services, market information systems, market and storage facilities not only encourages private sector involvement, but also stimulates greater agricultural production, which has a positive effect on income genera tion, rural employment, higher productivity and ultimately food security (Kalinda et al, 1998). Despite the fact that rural women and men are both active in agricultural production, women have for the

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Role of women in the household economy, food production and food security

most part been ignored in development programmes aimed at providing agricultural support systems to farmers. Increased access to agricultural support systems, including technology, training and education, extension and marketing services, credit facilities and rural organization, is essentia l to improving the productivity of both male and female farmers. Feminiza tion of poverty and the deteriorating quality of family life among rural households constitute a growing phenomenon. Any agriculture and rural support programme that fails to acknowledge womens central role in household food security, on the one hand, and the unbalanced accrual of benefits within and between households on the other, runs the risk of undermin ing the good intentions of bringing about rural transformation. Agricultural and rural development planning, policy and programmes seldom reflect or address the different roles and needs of rural women and men farmers. Development policymaking processes must undergo transformation to promote greater participation of both female and male stakeholders in planning and decision making at all levels. A well designed research programme that addresse s all the elements of power relationships within and between households, institutional and land tenure arrangements, extension, credit, infrastructure, markets and support systems for women farmers within a holistic, gender-se nsitive framework is urgently needed to inform policy development, project design and implementation. Women must be directly involved with the development and implementation of new technology. The FAO (2002c) emphasizes that the full and equal participation of women and men in support of development programmes is essential for eradicating food insecurity and rural poverty and enhancing agricultural and rural development. In its gender development plan of action (GADPoA), the FAO (2002c) identifies the objective of gender equality in the following areas as necessary for poverty alleviation and promotion of food security: access to sufficient, safe and nutritionally adequate food; access to, control over and management of natural resources and agricultural support services; policy and decision-making processes at all levels in the rural and agricultural sector; and opportunities for on- and off-farm employment in rural areas. Some priority areas that need to be addressed to ensure integrating gender concerns in policies and programmes for food security are as follows (FAO, 2002c, pp 9, 10): formulation of a comprehensive sectoral framework for the mainstreaming of gender in all food security policies and programmes; establishing and implementing institutional mechanisms to ensure gender analysis and monitoring of policies and programmes for food security, agricultural and rural development on a routine basis; capacity building of both the public and private sector to promote gender analysis and monitoring of policies, programmes and projects for food security, agricultural and rural development;

increasing the number of women in decision-making responsibilities in areas of food security, agricultural and rural development; and raising decision makers awareness about practical tools for gender analysis and monitoring, and providing skills training in the application of such tools. Any sustainable development policy should aim at releasing women from some of their burdens and increasing their access to extension services, education and training, market and credit facilities and more efficient and cheaper technological innovations. Howe (2000) emphasizes the following aspects that should be taken into account in any poverty eradication strategy: Sustained poverty eradication is only possible if it is based on increased production by the poor and institutions that are economically and financially sustainable and effectively serving the poor. There is no single appropriate production or institutional model. There is a need to determine what is financially and economically sustainable, and this varies enormously among regions and within communities. Production and institutions in different economic conditions will have to change in different directions to respond to the real needs, circumstances and production systems of different communities as we move to a situation in which real costs are levied for work and services. It is a question of differentiation. The utilization of resources must reflect underlying economic advantages in order to ensure positive change everywhe re. Special cognizance should be taken of the position of rural women. Just as pursuing poverty eradication means a general re-thinking of rural development strategies with an eye on the comparative advantage, actual or potential, of small producers, we have to ask, for example, whether the agricultural development path is always going to be the most effective one for income generation and food security among rural women or if the evolution of the rural economy is not offering new and different opportunities more consistent with womens real opportunities and assets (Howe, 2000, p 54). In some cases it might be more effective to empower women to pursue opportunities and make a living in the non-farm rural economy and thus achieve food security through other income-genera ting activities rather than through on-farm food production. This poses some serious questions: is agriculture the major path of rural poverty eradication, and is the production of food the main avenue to food security? Howe (2000, p 54) comes to the conclusion that we must assist different groups to do what they do best and strengthen that particular comparative advantage. True progress is not necessarily homogenization. The planning process should start with the poor. Organization of the poor at local level is imperative if greater productivity and income among the poor require a higher level of economic services and linkage with the outside world. The poor have to look to themselv es through traditional and new structures.


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Role of women in the household economy, food production and food security

Local level participatory development is essential, but not enough, to eradicate poverty. Producers of all sorts need to strengthe n their competitive position and therefore they need significant access to investme nt capital, efficient storage, processing and handling facilities and new, appropriate technology. It is necessary to increase opportunities for diversification away from traditional food crops to ensure alternative activities that have reasonable prospects for growth and income generation. According to Howe (2000), poverty eradication requires important investments. The organization of the poor can contribute to reducing the cost of investment and greater accessibility; and such investment can be highly profitable. Placing small farmers in more profitable and higher income-earning activities not only redu ces poverty, but offers an attractive proposition for the private sector. External inputs, where possible, must be replaced by better utilization of existing local human and natural resources. The focus should be on resource conservation rather than on input use within the framework of community resource management. Establishing a broad-based, farmer-led process of investme nt in sustainable conservation and development requires approaches that are sufficiently cheap and productive to attract the farmers own resources. Gender sensitiv ity is essential to ensure that women have access to the same production options and activities, resources and institutions as men, and they need help to position themselv es in more sustainable, profitable economic roles. Planning for food security must reflect a farmer-led rural investment process based on the livelihood strategies of the poor. Howe (2000) comes to the conclusion that every project or programme aimed at poverty alleviation and food security should be preceded by an in-depth economic, social and political study of the intended beneficiaries. Such a study should identify the main activities, circumstances, needs and interest s of the major groups and role-players among the rural poor and in the organizations that represent them. The intended beneficiaries must play an active role in the process of identification of project objectives and designing the necessary activities. This has to be accompanied by capacity develop ment of the poor to enable them to express their demands and organize the response. This includes the mobilization and development of their own resources. Participatory rural appraisal is an efficient method to achieve this. The effective implementation of targeted poverty alleviation and food security programmes depends largely on the proper identification of vulnerable households in a community. Conventional indicators include food acquisition and frequencies of consumption; less orthodox measures look at information on issues such as households responses to food shortages, households asset ownership, household expenditure figures (food and non-food); household income; dietary diversit y; calories acquisition; and total amount of land owned by the

household. According to Mtshali (2000), conventional monitoring and evaluation methods and techniqu es are inadequate for social or people-centred programmes and projects and should be complemented by participatory monitoring and evaluation techniques. This is the only way to ensure the planning of more appropriate, effective and valuable programmes and agricultural and rural development delivery systems (including womens extension services). Participatory research survey methods (rapid appraisal techniques; PRA, RRA; group ratings GR) genera te information that is not easily captured in conventional quantitative studies (Carletto et al , 2001). The use of focus group methodology gives participants an opportunity to discuss their roles in development, to prioritize their needs and expectations, to identify opportunities for personal empowerment and to locate constraints and opportunities in achieving development goals and food security (Sotshongaye and Mller, 2000). A comprehensive food security strategy must also focus on investment and income-genera ting opportunities, including off-farm and non-agricultural activities. The income generated from such activities can play a major role in helping households to invest in productive assets such as livestock, and to access inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizers that would, in turn, increase the households ability to acquire food. None of the above can, however, be achieved if the strategy is not supported by sustained policy commitment and mobilization of resources as essentia l requirements for eradicating hunger. Governments must demonstrate the political will to provide timely, appropriate and adequate relief interventions to disadvantaged groups, especially women, children and old people, during periods of conflict and civil war, which are, unfortunately, on the increase in Sub-Saharan Africa. The integra tion of all these dimensio ns and aspects in a holistic approach to food security demands reflection, dialogue among development partners and concrete intervent ions at the field level to ensu re that action effectively takes place to correct current trends (FAO, 2002e). We can conclude by endorsing the comments made by Clare Short, UK Secretary of State for International Development (Short, 2002). If we are to succeed in poverty alleviation and food security, Africa needs a new drive, a new political energy and a greatly sharpened focus to joint efforts to push forward the development of the continent and its people. Most important of all, the people of Africa must be empowered to develop their own potential and to address their poverty and food insecurity in an efficient way. Current trends indicate that Africa will not halve its poverty by 2015. In fact, the people will experience greater poverty. This trend will be a tragedy for Africa, its people and the future safety and stability of the world.

The first part of this article examined the relationship between hunger and poverty, and the meaning of food security and sustainable livelihood security. How to help poor people, especially women, increase their livelihoods and their household food security in a sustainable way is

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Role of women in the household economy, food production and food security

one of the greatest challenges we are facing in the world today. The 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security clearly states that poverty is the major cause of food insecurity. This article has shown that food security is a question of equity, distribution, gender biases, power relationships and politics, as well as a question of food production and participatory approaches in policy making, research and development programmes and projects. The role of women in the household economy and their contribution towards food production and food security need to be acknowledged in any policy, programme or project aimed at promoting food security and rural and agricultural development. The last section of the article focused on policy guidelines for promoting food security. What is needed to deal with all aspects relating to food security is political will and commitment; participatory approaches in the planning, design, implementation and evaluation of programmes and projects affecting households food security; and special cognizance of the position of rural women.

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