Thursday, August 7, 2014

My Munchable Soapbox: Certifying Gender Equality

Preparing gari - a product of cassava
My research took an unexpected turn this summer – while starting out with the intention to focus on extreme weather events influence farmer’s management decisions, it soon became pretty clear that almost all the weather is just some shade of extreme here. And when farmers say that moderation is best for cocoa, they will provide a month where this happens, not any particular year. Keeping my eye on the climate change adaptation ball, I shifted gears a bit to try getting at how impacts from climate change could affect the household, and specifically how women can and do respond to stresses. Though not a part of the research (yet very much an interest), I thought that certification’s consideration for gender would be an appropriate topic to discuss here.

“Gender” issues are pretty en vogue, at the moment. ISEAL alliance, a network for certification and standard bodies, madethe case for why more gendered attention is needed in certification. But I’m always a bit skeptical about these fashionable issues; I wonder what “considering gender” is actually achieving. The goals of certification range from guaranteeing a “fair price” and combating child labour (which is a whole other issue entirely) to encouraging environmentally sound and long-term sustainable practices.

Coffee has proven a popular case study for those interested in certification. It has everything – organic, fair trade, shade-grown – but the question of whether there is equality in impacts for men and women remains largely unanswered. In Uganda, for example, coffee is the primary export, employing 3.5 million families. Women make up close to 80% of agricultural production and over 50% of commodity crops. Women in the study noted how the gendered division of labour within the system are limiting equal benefits – for example, women are often relegated to working on the farm, but don’t actually make it up further in the supply chain. It also comes down to who deals in the finances.

This all sounds very reminiscent of my conversations with women farmers here in Ghana. For the most part, they work their husband’s cocoa land, and primarily tend to the food crops (maize, cassava, and plantain) that form the first stage of the cocoa cultivation cycle. While what she gains from selling these can go to household expenses, the woman don’t control the bulk of the household income, which seem to go to larger expenses like construction, fertilizer, sprays, and to some extent children’s school fees.

So when we think about the benefits that a certification might provide – price premiums, extension services, market access – those are not necessarily elements that women can readily access. But this is also an opportunity for certification: expressly aim to recognize women’s labour in the value chain, cultivate women leaders, and provide a platform for bring forward women’s issues. I also think that there is scope for considering certification for the crops that women do cultivate themselves, and have more control over the management and the revenue. It’s hard when the big money makers tend to be controlled by the men, but I have met several strong women who know their stuff and are very much standing on their own two feet.

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