Gender, IFIs and the global food crisis

12 April 2011 | Minutes

Notes of a discussion held in Washington DC, 12 April 2011. Videos of the presentations are available here.

Elizabeth Arend, Gender Action

Women often short-changed in agriculture investments from IFIs – focus tends to be on large scale, agribusiness investments from which women benefit less, IFI interventions have sometimes undermined women’s land rights etc. Have published short primer on this.

Women have reproductive responsibilities on top of income-earning responsibilities, meaning they disproportionally suffer if this is not taken into account.

IFIs talk a lot about gender mainstreaming in agriculture, but implementation often falls short. 2010 IEG review of 1997-2008 agriculture investments found that gender issues were more integrated into the design of these projects but not so much into implementation. Following this the Bank produced an excellent guide on integrating gender in agriculture – but it’s not mandatory.

Bank’s agriculture and growth project – $281m – does not look at gender or human rights issues. Typical as IFIs tend to address gender through economics, not rights. For example, lacks indicators to measure gender impacts. No plan to actively promote women’s participation in the project or indications that they participated in the project design.

Zaamu Kaboneke, Solutions for Women Development, Uganda

IFIs should take heed of the following points.

There can be no agriculture solutions that don’t involve women. In Uganda, women are heavily engaged in agriculture – the majority of the workforce – and agriculture is the mainstay of the economy.

Climate change derails all other processes, yet women are on the sidelines of the negotiations. Women need to be in the forefront.

Short term food production is important. Post harvest – so much waste of food. Promoting women’s initiatives in these areas and agriculture production could help find ways of responding to climate change. Uganda is the second largest producer of bananas in the world, but few are exported. Shows how other problems affect women – for example poor transportation and storage prevents exports.

Intellectual property rights also important – for example Ethiopia made significant $100m profits from this route. But need to look at the whole chain to ensure that the women farmers benefit.

Forests are disappearing in Uganda at a rapid rate. But climate change is also affecting this – an issue that requires concerted efforts, as you can’t fight climate change on your own.

Many developing countries depend on agriculture, yet you won’t find financing for helping women from the grassroots. Uganda built from the grassroots, through cooperatives, which the international community could support. The government of Uganda wants to industrialise the country. Now that we have oil, this will affect the country, and could lead to the neglect of agriculture.

Marie Brill, ActionAid

If we don’t tackle climate change, by 2020 women’s agricultural production in Africa could be cut be half. Food security high on the agenda for IFI meetings and G20 meetings this week. France made food price volatility one of the priorities. For good reason – we are in the midst of another round of volatility. The 2007-8 food crisis was devastating for people and showed that volatility can caused political upheaval.

FAO monitoring shows the highest food prices ever record in 2010. Why isn’t it in the headlines as it was in 2008? There have been bumper harvests in Africa. Rice hasn’t responded in the same way as 2008. But also we are not seeing food riots in all parts of the world.

But the Bank estimates that 44 million people fell below the poverty line in the last half of 2010 due to high prices. ActionAid country programmes work a lot with women and smallholder farmers – message is that women and countries are less resilient now than they were in 2008 – because of the exhaustion of coping mechanisms after the last crisis. has an interactive map showing which countries are worst hit, where future problems may arise.

Countries’ abilities to respond were heavily impacted by the policies of the Washington consensus pushed by the IFIs – encouragement to move away from producing their own food towards integration into world markets; selling off food stocks; privatisation of agricultural organisations etc all had negative impacts.Many countries don’t have the fiscal space, nor are they free to make choices because of IFI conditionalities to take measures such as building national and regional food reserves etc.

IFIs have a tendency to focus on the growing demand for food and ‘weather shocks’ (not climate change) – leads them to emphasising biotechnology. Zoellick set this out in a recent Financial Times op ed. Stands against an agroecological model that would be better placed to promote security and women smallholder farmers. ActionAid would like to see increasing investment in smallholder farmers, especially women; social safety nets; building food reserves; increasing women’s rights and access to land; address biofuels; limit commodity speculation.

Responses to questions

Zaamu Kaboneke – IFIs could support the promotion of smallholder value in the value chain. Ethiopia coffee example shows it can be done. Women’s access to land, and land titling are critically important – in Uganda land prices are rising rapidly, causing problems.

Marie Brill – promotion of biofuels has promoted landgrabbing in developing countries to grow crops for biofuels. Often there is an incredibly intensive water requirement for biofuels. Shows that biofuels are not the clean green answer they have been promoted as – have had a devastating impact on food security.GAFSP – Bank is chairing and housing, but donor and recipients sit on the board, as do 3 CSOs, including ActionAid. It is underfunded, including from the US. Not enthusiastic about Bank chairing, but have been pleased to see that the Bank has made an effort to ensure civil society participation on the board. GAFSP receives proposals, and they have to have been through civil society consultation at country level. Still a challenge to make this a success – nut won’t know this if the programme doesn’t get off the ground. Not the same as the rest of the Bank’s work in this area, which has been problematic.

Elizabeth Arend – Bank needs to ensure that it speaks to women when designing its programmes. Key will be matching the rhetoric to the money. WDR on gender this year could help, though concerns about how it’s going.Short-term nature of investments major problem.