Capturing data and using knowledge to improve human security
Shining the light on Rural Women Farmers in Saint Lucia
July 13, 2022
Rural Women are undervalued… at least on paper. While we are well aware that women contribute significantly to the rural agricultural sector, in the absence of proper farm record keeping and an established knowledge management system, the real value of activities and transactions undertaken by women within the agricultural sector remains largely “invisible”. Further compounding the lack of recorded information, is the ambiguity in the definition of economic and non-economic worth and the negation of the invaluable contribution of especially rural women, who dominate the informal sector and the reproductive economy. The internalization of the concepts of equity and fairness is fundamental to the creation of a precision agricultural policy process. Against this background, the correlation between female gender work, forgone earning, subsistence agriculture, the informal sector and human security begs for in-depth analysis and transformation.
Unrecorded and unrecognized informal sector earnings are arguably the most significant portion of the full income of rural farm households and without this tangible information, it will be difficult to design policies and programmes that achieve the goal of supporting rural women farmers, boosting their resilience, and increasing their contribution to society. Other industries that clearly showcase the necessary data are getting the support and attention that they need. For example, the sectors with functioning knowledge management systems, such as tourism, manufacturing, and services, are highly regarded as the drivers of the national economy.
To remedy this, one of the first steps to safeguarding the human security of rural women is creating an agriculture policy environment - with the active inputs of farmers - that supports the development and implementation of strategies geared towards the assurance of economic security, food security and environmental security. However, the policy environment speaks to not only the content of the policy, but the policy context, which can best be described as a complex web of tacit knowledge and undocumented transactions throughout agriculture value chain. Regrettably, this ‘unspoken’ knowledge is non-formalized and exists only in the human mind. Therefore, due to the dearth of explicit, sharable knowledge, agricultural policies tend to underrate the worth of unpaid work, the informal sector, and the reproductive economy. Consequently, most agricultural policies fail to achieve the intended outcomes, because they are largely abstract rather than evidence based.
most agricultural policies fail to achieve the intended outcomes, because they are largely abstract rather than evidence based
But there is still hope! In a bid to safeguard the human security of rural women in St. Lucia, the call goes out for the establishment of a knowledge management system to inform policy and action in the agricultural sector. Additionally, rural women must become empowered to advocate for gender-aware, evidence-based agricultural policies. In this regard, due attention must be paid to gender differentials and inequalities as regards access to/control over the factors of agricultural production and marketing – particularly land, as women are particularly vulnerable to land insecurity.
As such, under the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security (UNTFHS) supported joint programme ‘Building Effective Resilience for Human Security: The Imperative of Gender Equality and Women Empowerment in a strengthened agriculture sector joint programme” the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as part of its activities under this programme, developed initiatives to tackle these issues. The St. Lucia Rural Women’s Advocacy Initiative, which was launched in November 2021, has been implemented in collaboration with the Department of Gender Relations, the St. Lucia Network of Rural Women Producers (SLNRWP), Advanced Intellectual Methods (AIM) Inc. and Vybe Radio. This initiative is focused on the empowerment of a cadre of women farmers and the creation of a gender-aware voice in agricultural policy and action in the medium to long term.
Over a six-month period, the target group has been engaged in policy dialogue sessions, to gain an understanding of the content of the agricultural policy for St. Lucia, the dynamics within the policy environment and the advocacy measures that are best suited to addressing the needs of rural women producers. The legacy shall be the establishment of an advocacy cluster, under the rubric of the SLNRWP. The policy dialogue sessions were underpinned by the concept of “mutual accountability” and gave rise to numerous “wow” moments in affirmation that “the change starts with me”. In a nutshell, participants appreciated that policy cannot take account of what is “invisible” and paradoxically, record-keeping and knowledge management are conspicuous by their absence in the farming culture.
Fundamentally, a knowledge management system will contribute to the availability of realistic/complete data to appropriately understand the underlying processes that influence the output and productivity along the agriculture value chain. A grassroots knowledge management system will facilitate the capture of transactions in both the informal and formal marketplace and the estimation of the real value of the contribution of various actors along the value chain – from the farm household to the table of consumers. The recognition and bridging of the knowledge gaps will permit the development and implementation of policy, which is informed by rigorously established objective evidence; in contrast to policymaking based on abstract notions of the reality within the agricultural sector. As such, knowledge of all transactions along the agriculture value chain must be packaged and shared. Such information/knowledge will reveal the real contribution of the (reproductive) invisible vis-à-vis the (productive) visible economy.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) will provide the virtual platform for decentralized and ultimately coherent policy measures; by allowing information to be shared in a timely and convenient manner, among policy influencers. These policy influencers along the agriculture value chain include rural (farm) households. policymakers, planners, researchers, extensionists, producers, input suppliers, marketers, and consumers. The resulting gender-responsive policy framework will foster the assessment of differentials in the human security needs of women vis-à-vis men, both as producers and consumers of agricultural goods and services. A comprehensive understanding of the gender dimensions of policy and action is a sine qua non for the mitigation of vulnerabilities in the agriculture sector and the building of resilient livelihood systems.
Link to Advocacy session on Vybe Radio: https://vyberadio.com/podcast/discussing-the-st-lucia-rural-women-advocacy-initiative/
This article was prepared by UNDP, Mary Rufina Paul and the SLNRWP as part of the activities under this UNHSTF supported joint programme.
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