Promises, Power, and Poverty: Corporate land deals and rural women in Africa | Agriculture

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The rush to invest in farmland in Africa is having an immediate impact on women
  170 OXFAM BRIEFING PAPER APRIL 2013  A woman who lost land to a large corporation shows Oxfam's researchers some of the vegetables she grows on what land she has left to meet the needs of her family (2013). Photo: Oxfam / Marc Wegerif    PROMISES, POWER, AND POVERTY Corporate land deals and rural women in Africa   The rush to invest in farmland in Africa is having an immediate im pact on women’s land-use options, on their livelihoods, on food availability and the cost of living, and, ultimately, on women’s a ccess to land for food production. These are only the economic impacts. W omen’s knowledge, socio -cultural relationship with the land, and stewardship of nature are also under threat. Too often ignored, rural women’s  voices and perspectives need to be heeded urgently if a robust rural economy and food for all are to be guaranteed. 9  2 SUMMARY The new wave of corporate investments in land seems intent on expanding and intensifying a short-sighted farming model that, to date, has marginaliz ed women‘s voices and interests. As with sisal, tobacco, and tea in the past, today‘s private investors in soya, jatropha 1  and eucalyptus crops continue to dismiss small-scale food production by women as unimportant and irrelevant. They could not be more wrong. Small-scale food production and the women involved in it are the backbone of rural livelihoods. Women farmers, like those who were found to have lost land in the research carried out for this paper, produce more than half of all the food grown in the world. Roughly 1.6 billion women depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, 2  but many are now at risk from a huge surge in large-scale corporate agricultural investments that threaten the food supply of people living in poverty. Few governments appear to be contemplating the sort of investments that can meet the real needs of women small-scale food producers and their communities — the kind of investments that could build a vibrant rural economy and secure the ecological sustainability of farming practices for future generations. If governments really want to transform the rural economies of their countries, the investments they encourage and approve should enable rural people to pursue their own solutions for rural development. Women are squeezed out of resources When competition for land escalates, rural women are often subjected to exclusionary pressure from male relatives or community members. As soon as a natural resource gains commercial value on the international commodity market, control and decisions over that resource pass swiftly from rural women into the hands of men. 3  When and if compensatory measures are enforced, rural women are less likely to be direct recipients; in any case, monetary compensation is short-lived and cannot replace the many ways that women value and benefit from land. Women are not heard The exclusion of rural women from access to land does not just result in their loss of control over food production. Knowledge, practices, and techniques that for centuries have safeguarded the integrity of the land, seeds, and soil, as well as the nutritional value of food, are also lost. When an outside investor does consult with a local community, rural women are more likely to be told what will happen, instead of being asked what should happen. Even within some indigenous movements and farmer associations, women rarely have any real influence. Emerging systems of climate change financing and pricing on forest-based carbon legitimize and value production at scale  –  to the detriment of women and their value systems. I am now landless and have to work  piece jobs like doing laundry for people such as teachers, or working on [another] farm so that I can get some food. Today I worked at the company’s  farm and I was given mealie meal which can only make two pots of [maize porridge]. 65-year-old woman respondent who used to farm land now owned by a large corporation   3 Women scramble to survive When women lose access to the land where they produced food, they are compelled to find money to buy food, just as food prices are rising. 4  Women facing these multiple challenges often eat less themselves, compromising their health, and sacrificing other necessities in order to feed their families. The same is true of water, when intensive mono-cropping depletes the water table or the enclosure of land cuts people off from water sources. Women then have to purchase a natural resource that previously cost them nothing. Women, young and old, are driven into more compromising, humiliating, and risky situations, including illegal activities and younger marriages. 5  Just as more basic necessities need to be purchased instead of being produced, the activities and opportunities to generate cash are few. Contract labour or seasonal employment is difficult for women to secure, and when they do, it is usually for the lowest-paid and most menial of tasks. Additionally, weak or non-existent rural banking infrastructure means that women cannot generate savings or credit from earnings, and are at the mercy of moneylenders when times are tight. RECOMMENDATIONS Governments, investors, and development and human-rights organizations need to intervene to protect local food production and the interests of rural women and their communities in the context of corporate land investments. ã   Governments  need to make robust interventions to:  –   improve women‘s rights to land and natural resources;  –  invest in support to women food producers and their ecologically sound production approaches;  –   firmly regulate investments to protect women‘s food systems and the environment. ã   Investors  need to:  –  support women‘s small-scale ecologically sound food production;  –  work in a way that enhances rather than depletes the natural resource base;  –  ensure that women are involved in decision-making and their interests are addressed. ã   Development and human-rights organizations  need to work with rural women to strengthen their production and build their collective voice and influence.  Above all, the voice and power of rural women must be strengthened to shift the balance of power in their favour. This is the power to define possibilities, make choices and to act on them. It starts from having the power within that enables people to have the courage to do things they never thought themselves capable of. When faced with powerful actors, such as large corporations and national governments, it involves the power that women get from working alongside others to claim what is rightfully theirs. 7   We are desperate of food. Nowadays food comes from the city to be sold in the village, and not vice versa as before. We could not afford to buy food because the wages we are paid are very little. We do not produce our own food as before, because our land has been taken over by foreign companies under the privatisation  policy to produce biofuel farms. Woman, from Mavuji village, Kilwa district, Tanzania 6    4 1 INTRODUCTION While corporations may lay claim to a triple bottom line of improving economic, social, and environmental outcomes, the reality is that rural people, unable to negotiate their rights and choices in land deals and essentially invisible at the deal-making table, are losing out. The impacts on rural women are especially profound because their production and investment interests are rarely represented in negotiations around land deals, yet they underpin much of the local food economy. These deals often target land that has previously been used by rural women to grow or gather food. 8  Rural women, who have the primary responsibility for feeding their families, often lose access to their sources of sustenance when land is transferred to large-scale commercial use. These women are then excluded from everything except the most menial paid employment, even when their need for cash to purchase food has become greater, due to the combination of land loss and rising food prices. 9  Oxfam works with women in 94 countries around the world and sees the contribution of rural women as absolutely central to providing food and advancing development, especially when these women are organized and able to assert their rights. Rural women are often net losers from corporate land deals, even when companies are well established and have made efforts to involve local communities and to provide them with some benefits. In most cases, women have gained little or nothing, and have often lost access to land that was once a source of food. This is frequently the case in countries where between 25 per cent and 45 per cent of all children are stunted due to poor nutrition. 10  These experiences of rural women are happening against a backdrop of dramatic change. The international community  –  governments, investors, donors and institutions  –  has determined that the agricultural sector in  Africa and the infrastructure that supports it are in need of substantial investment. There is no doubt that investment is welcome, and indeed urgently needed, but the model of investment and the drivers behind it are questionable. Corporate investors see opportunities for big profits and have put a lot of money into the acquisition of land. Globally, over 200 million hectares of land  –  more than the total area of Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria combined  –  were subject to large-scale land deals in the opening decade of the twenty-first century. 11  The new wave of corporate investments in land seems intent on expanding and intensifying a short-sighted farming model that, to date, has marginaliz ed women‘s voices and interests. As with sisal, tobacco, and tea in the past, today‘s private investors in soya, jatropha , and eucalyptus crops continue to dismiss small-scale food production by women as unimportant and irrelevant. They could not be more wrong. Stunting does not come easy. It happens over time, and means that a child has endured  painful and debilitating cycles of illness, depressed appetite, insufficient food and inadequate care. UNICEF (2000)
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