FAO calls for urgent action to mainstream gender in agriculture policy in Sri Lanka

An extensive gender gap in the food and agriculture sector prevails in Sri Lanka despite women constituting a significant portion of the agricultural labour force, according to the Country Gender Assessment of the Agriculture and Rural Sector in Sri Lanka released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

“Prevailing gender norms and discrimination often mean that women face an excessive work burden, and that much of their labour remains unskilled, unpaid and unrecognized,” said Nina Brandstrup, FAO Representative for Sri Lanka and the Maldives.  “In Sri Lanka as producers, female farmers face even greater constraints than their male counterparts in accessing essential productive resources and services, technology, market information and financial assets. These constraints endured by women, whether they work on small family farms or in small food enterprises, have an adverse impact on the productivity of the agriculture sector.”

The key findings of the  Country Gender Assessment of the Agriculture and Rural Sector in Sri Lanka commissioned by FAO Sri Lanka reveals that female paid agriculture laborers get less than their male counterparts receive, mainly due to women being unskilled. The lack of a substantial income source and absence of assets such as land for collateral make it difficult for women to access high value loans that enable them to invest in the higher volume agro-economy or move up the agriculture value chain such as operating a business.

Only 16 percent of all owned land in Sri Lanka belong to women, and this limits their access to different agricultural assets and benefits such as subsidies, credit or irrigation water

Sri Lanka has a history of segregated male and female Farmer Organizations (FOs), and this has not helped to have an equal and common platform for dialogue and decision-making. Discussions with communities and local authorities conducted under the assessment indicated that only 20 percent of any of the top three positions in mixed rural development societies are held by women.

Women have less connections to influential networks and markets, which hampers their involvement in trade and commerce, making them less involved in commercial agriculture and medium-scale industries that provide higher levels of income/profitability.

When training is available to women engaged in agricultural production, it is mostly geared toward establishing micro-enterprises (e.g. making sweets, snacks, home gardening etc.). The training does not make women familiar with modern methods of growing paddy or other high-value field crops and handling machinery to participate in higher value and higher volume agriculture.

“The findings of the assessment indicate that gender mainstreaming is yet to be considered in policies, strategies and programmes within the agriculture sector of Sri Lanka,” said FAO Sri Lanka Policy Officer Itziar Gonzalez.  “There has been little research done to calculate at the national level the losses of productivity and reduced economic gains in agriculture due to gender inequalities and the added benefit that could be obtained if women were given the same opportunities as men to reach their full potential.”

The FAO called on all concerned parties to close the gender gap in the agriculture sector in Sri Lanka and ensure that adequate budgetary provisions and allocations are made to carry out this review and implement changes.

Of the total women employed in the country, 29.7 percent are working in the agriculture sector (Department of Census and Statistics, 2017).  The majority of these women practice subsistence agriculture, which is considered part of the ‘small economy’.  Men engage in paddy farming and produce larger volumes of fresh produce of higher value for sale at markets. Empowering and enabling men and women to participate more effectively in agriculture can not only lead to agricultural productivity, rural poverty reduction, enhanced nutritional standards but also translate into improved well-being for their families, thereby building human capital for future generations. (Colombo Gazette)


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