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As part of the Masters Program in Sustainable Tropical Agriculture (MATS), students do applied research in sustainable production development with advice from international experts in world-renowned universities.

By: Verónica Marcelina Tax Sapón MATS-ZAMORANO. PhD. Arie Sanders, Graduate Associate Dear and MA. Juliana Muriel, Research Associate, International Tropical Agriculture Center (CIAT).

Food insecurity in Central America is associated with climate change and also specifically to women’s limited access to resources and opportunities to improve their productivity. Even though women are considered the frontrunners of agriculture, their contributions have been virtually invisible in development processes. Nevertheless, there has been an increase in women’s participation in this sector in recent years.  This is the result of structural adjustments promoted by recent liberal policies and the increase in rural migration.  Rural migration has generated changes in family structure, which affects gender composition in the labor force and impacts agricultural roles (Lastarria-Cornhiel, 2006). These policies promote the largest integration and responsibility of women in food production, making more relevant women´s role in agriculture and food security.  It is exactly this, which has made it necessary for us to measure and demonstrate women’s contributions to the sector.

Despite this, women face a series of limitations in fulfilling their new roles, which intensify with their heightened positions based on social and environmental factors that have an effect on production as well as on food safety (Acosta et al.2019). Also, events such as the health crisis presented by COVID-19, and natural phenomena like the recent hurricanes have affected the production and food systems of these populations due to their high vulnerability.  This is most noteable in systems led by women by virtue of their limited capacity to access media and production opportunities (Quisumbing et al. 2014). It is important to develop actions that reduce vulnerability and increase the adaptative capacity of populations in order to enforce their ability to face extreme climate events and guarantee food security.

This is how Climate-Smart Agriculture for food security (ASAC) emerges as an agricultural strategy in the development of production systems resilient to climate and improved food security (FAO, 2010). This approach is based on the application of different technological and institutional options to address climate change and food security through participative research in climate smart villages (TeSAC). In these territories, evidence is sought on the adoption of these practices and how they contribute to food security and adaptation to climate change. From the information generated, best practices can be discerned and then where, why and how those best practices can be implemented so that the policy makers are able to integrate them in developmental agricultural processes (Aggarwal et al. 2018).

Additionally, by including a gender analysis, women’s unique necessities can be considered in these processes which will contribute to reducing the gender gap in agriculture (FAO, 2011). This is why it is important to know and understand the women´s role in the adoption of ASAC practices so as to generate evidence which will contribute to policy formulation and gender-sensible programming.

Figure 1. Pillars of Climate-Smart Agriculture for food security –ASAC-

The woman farmer and her challenges when facing climate change

One of the main contributions by women in agriculture is food production and labor. In 2011, FAO´s report on women in agriculture identified that women´s contribution to the labor force in production is 43% (FAO, 2011)

Through increased participation in agricultural production, women help to enhance availability and access to food in homes (Teklewold et al. 2019). On the other hand, being directly responsible for home care, women carry a responsibility for the preparation and distribution of food for their family members. (Muriel Osorio et al 2019). As you can see, rural women play a critical role in achieving all three pillars of food security: availability, access and use (Njuki et al. 2016).

However, women face unique challenges in agriculture which negatively impact food security in their homes. These challenges are mainly related to lack of access to resources and opportunities (Quisumbing et al.2014); power dynamics between family members (Njuki et al. 2016); household roles, and climate change (Quisumbing et al. 2014; Murray et al. 2016). When women do not own land or other production resources to grow their own food or generate income from the sale of agricultural products, there is less food available to satisfy family members´needs.

All this has an impact on the food security pillars. For example, women´s ability to access food is directly related to the power they have to produce, buy and have access to food, as relates to the mechanics of distribution these women have at home (Njuki et al. 2016). As regards production, contributions at work related to the differentiated household role between men and women varies according to the crop and activity (Quisumbing et al. 2014). Also differences  are subject to circumstantial changes.  For example, women tend to assume production roles when a work force is needed while men usually only assume roles of child and household care when their wife is sick (Murray et al. 2016)

In addition, climate change represents a risk for food production and the fight against hunger. Because agriculture is extremely sensitive to even the slightest climate changes (Mehar et al.2016).,  changes in temperature, precipitation and frequency and intensity of extreme events patterns have a direct impact on agricultural production (Maharjan and Joshi 2013). Additionally, these changes not only affect the quantity but also the quality and access to food (Teklewold et al. 2019).  This is evidence that the three pillars of food security can be affected for multiple reasons. Regarding availability, it is expected that climate change will reduce agricultural production by 9% in 2030 and up to 23% by 2050 with great variability between countries and crops (Haile et al. 2017). Regarding access, the impact will be evidenced through purchasing power as a result of the increase in food prices impacting especially the most vulnerable populations living in conditions of poverty. On the quality side, the impact will be evidenced through the increase of bacterial growth in fresh food chain supplies and in the increased use of pesticides and drugs in production, which will ultimately impact the use and biological use of food (Campbell et al. 2016).

Finally, high levels of poverty, limited access to basic services, illiteracy and inadequate management of natural resources increase population vulnerability (Aguilar Carrillo and Suchini 2019). This principally affects women working in agriculture because they have less capacity to be adaptative to climate change, in part because of the lack of consideration of their particular vulnerabilities in the design, implementation and execution of agricultural programs (Acosta et al. 2019). The level of the impact of climate change on the production systems will depend on gender, culture, socio-economic and power differences, as well as on the region where these events occur.

Research, practices ASAC and their contribution to homes

The application of the approach TeSAC in vulnerable territories of Africa, Asia and Latin America has allowed measurement of how its adoption has contributed to food security. In Honduras TeSAC is located in Santa Rita municipality, Department of Copan. Several activities have been developed with farmers in this territory to identify their vulnerabilities.  A series of ASAC practices have been prioritized to improve the resilience of production systems.

This spotlights the purpose of research being conducted by students of the Sustainable Tropical Agriculture Master program (MATS), in collaboration with the Tropical Agriculture International Center (CIA).  Their goal is to measure the adoption of ASAC practices and their contributions to home food security. Information has been collected and analyzed in the ASAC Monitoring System analysis centers, data which was calculated in March 2020 at Santa Rita´s TeSAC, Honduras. The study includes information obtained from 221 farmers who make up 118 households distributed across ten municipal communities.

Figure 2. Training workshop to develop monitors of ASAC in Santa Rita´s TeSAC, Copan, Honduras. Source: Marina Vergara

The MATS research is being conducted within the framewok of the project, “Generating evidence on Gender Sensitive Climate-Smart Agriculture to Inform Policy in Central America”. The information obtained from the study is relevant to government and non-government institutions in helping to guide their agricultural technology transfers according to preferences and the differentiated needs of women farmers.

In conclusion, the greatest participation by women in food production and women’s consequent responsibility for food security puts women in a strategic position to improve family food security. By including preferences and the differentiated needs of women farmers in the approach Climate-Smart Agriculture for food security (ASAC), food security is not only obtained but there is also the benefit of the adaptation of production systems to climate variability. Gender analysis is important for the creation of information which allows policy makers like development agents to design programs that encourage women’s participation.

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has had a strong impact on rural food systems, which will have repercussions in household´s food security. The level of these impacts will depend on the adaptability of households.  The ones directed by women will be more affected due to women’s limited adaptation capacity and access to production resource. As a result, obtaining information on the relationship between food security, agriculture and women´s role is useful for guaranteeing that women´s needs and preferences are considered in programs and projects that are poised to reactivate the agricultural sector focusing on food security.


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