Conferences and Meetings

Conferences and Meetings

A Paper presented to Gender and Poverty Summit 9-11 November 2003 New Delhi, India Globalization, Poverty and Change: Agriculture- The Strategic Option for Poverty Eradication

A Paper presented to Gender and Poverty Summit
9-11 November 2003
New Delhi, India
Globalization, Poverty and Change:
Agriculture- The Strategic Option for
Poverty Eradication
Hamsa Abd El- Hamid Genidy
Head of Women Section
Afro- Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organization (AAPSO)

In September 2000, the UN Millennium Summit adopted a number of developmental goals meant to uproot abject poverty and the rampant hunger in numerous parts worldwide, realize a better status for women, combat diseases and improve the educational condition. A general framework was developed to measure the degree of developmental progress realized through the eight objectives of the cherished development. A draft plan was devised for the implementation of the general framework and the realization of the Millennium developmental objectives by the end of 2015.

The eradication of poverty, one of the key developmental objectives of the Summit, does not indicate objectives of the summit, does not indicate shortage of food or difficulty in food production or sale but it refers to hard access to the primary resources and services, namely, health, shelter, education and training. Poverty has an adverse effect on development and progress. Statistics indicate that one fifth of the world population suffers from property; three quarters of the poor live in rural areas and most own small farms. Poverty, a human misery, afflicts 1.2 billion capita and is the core cause of unsustained agricultural practices, which ruin the environment.

Certainly, the phenomenon of poverty aggravates in rural, more than urban areas. Poverty is associated with the poor peasants and the marginalized, those who lack the new sources of energy, health services, food supply, fresh water and sanitary drainage. Accordingly, eradication of poverty has to start first with agricultural development in rural areas as most of the poor worldwide primarily depend on agriculture for food or as a source of livelihood.

Asian-Pacific countries have recently witnessed the highest economic rates due to the increase of agricultural land despite poverty. This demonstrates the effective role of agriculture through its different activities, namely, crops growing, forestry, livestock breeding and fisheries, in uprooting poverty. With the changes in agriculture in these countries, policies and agriculture-related environment have changed as well.  At present, points of agreement have mounted between liberalization-oriented local policies and export trend together with the growing link between domestic sectors and global economy.

Women are the key partner in development as reality assures and international treaties and instruments underline. It is incumbent to consider the status of women in all the target policies meant to eradicate poverty. Women need support to surmount the hardships they constantly face in agricultural activities in order to realize food security, uproot poverty and eliminate gender discrimination in rights. This shall positively affect the rural family.

Sustainable Agriculture:
To realize the sustainable agriculture that rests on reduction of poverty- based gap, it is imperative to analyze the current situation in the rural environment amidst the global challenges the whole world, particularly the South, experience. This results from the decrease in the size of arable land before the population increase and depletion of natural resources.

Liberalization Policies and Capital Agriculture:
Capital agriculture seeks to realize the highest rates through the monumental use of advanced technology with the least possible number of labour, aiming to attain high productivity. The US and Europe adopt this approach whereas the poor South primarily relies on farming. The South uses fertilizers, pesticides and seeds instead of the high-cost technology. This absorbs a large number of labour. Agriculture is their source of food and income.

The agricultural growth in developed countries through the use of technology to meet the needs of the city dwellers jeopardizes the South that is impotent before the policies of trade liberalization and neoliberalism. Trade liberalization and access to World Trade Organization (WTO) led to a substantial decline in the conditions of the South as the decrease in export growth rates after they flourished in the 60s and 70s. This decrease is consistent with the difficulty to export to developed countries due to the protectionism-oriented tariffs. For example, the Egyptian agricultural exports decreased drastically from 33% of the total exports in 1960 to 13% in 1992.

In the past, agriculture was conceived as governed by domestic policies to secure food security. However, after the Uruguay Round that paved the way to WTO, the call for elimination of all barriers on imports was echoed. All the countries had to import at least 2% of the local consumption of food to amount to 5% by 2000. This obligatory export policy contradicts the domestic food security policy.

Though the biodiversity charter of Earth Summit in 1992 called for state control on the biological resources, trade liberalization seeks to restrict the state role as regards control of resources and replace by market control. Even TRIPS Agreement that WTO implements endeavours to utilize the genetic origins, seeds and plants and transform water, land and biodiversity from common public property to a commodity for trade for the interest of the influential and the powerful.

Consequently, globalization lost its key and primary objective, namely, helping the South to keep abreast with the progress of the North. When the issue of control on resource is presented, the poor are always excluded from sustainable development. It is suffice to mention that the price increase of seeds and chemicals used in agriculture led to the suicide of thousands of peasants as well as the decay of millions of tons of the food stored in warehouses as the poor could not afford buying.

The Status of Rural Women amidst Global Challenges:
Role of Rural Women
Rural women work for long hours that may extend to 16 hours a day, starting with farming, income-generating work inside or outside the household such as selling vegetables, fruit, eggs and poultry and ending with management of household affairs. Women’s participation in the agricultural process may or may not exceed man’s as women are engaged in harvesting, packaging, transport, marketing and storage. Nevertheless, the primary work of women is in the field of animal production, which constitutes 71.6 % of the size of work of rural women. The work of women in the agricultural field may be paid or unpaid inside the household in the absence of men due to travel, work abroad or desertion of family. Young girls are forced to work in the fields of control of cotton worm, livestock breeding or delivery of food to men in the fields as well as their essential work in their households.

Rural women contribute, through their vital role, to preservation of biodiversity and conservation of the environment by the selection and keeping of the seeds of vegetables and other agricultural crops.

Difficulties facing rural women
Rural women are liable to gender-based discrimination in the light of neoliberalism that renders rural women poorer. As a result, international conferences as Beijing Conference in 1995 led to an agreement on a plan of action to empower women economically and politically and promote their status. As regards rural women, the FAO focused on women’s role in agriculture, food security as well as poverty reduction strategy.
* Privatization led to an increase in the number of unemployed, especially among women. Hence, the role of women, particularly the poor and illiterate, was marginalized. These segments were dismissed from work and replaced by those with better qualifications who accept to work even with a modest pay.
*  The increase in the annual tenancy of the feddan led to the failure of many to have an agriculture holding.
*  The increase in the price of the raw materials required for agriculture such as seeds, grains and fertilizers. This had a detrimental effect on women’s work that ceased to meet the family requirements. Even worse, women may be compelled to travel by unsafe means or on foot for long distances that may amount to 3km in some cases to reach the field. Women may be forced to exert a tedious muscular effort or even a harmful one in irrigation and chemical control. Sometimes, women are prone to diseases like bilharsia, renal failure and the like.
* Illiteracy had mounted in rural areas despite the fact that statistics underline the increase in the number of female enrolment at schools. Nevertheless, the drop-outs from basic education increased due to relevant living conditions. This is attributed to early marriage, customs and traditions that do not favour girls’ education, deemed lien to such tradition, or work as s source of livelihood.
It is noteworthy that trade liberalization led to a decrease in spending on basic services as health, education, transport etc. with the increase in education cost and reluctance of poor families as regards education, the percent of illiterate women dramatically grew.
*  The State’s and the institutions’ negligence of the role of rural women conceived as work in an informal sector or an extension of women’s role within the family. A study conducted by the National Centre for Social and Criminal Research indicated that the phenomenon of unpaid work represented 60% of the total number of women working in the agricultural sector.
*  Low soil fertility compensated by high-cost fertilizers in addition to water shortage that causes soil salinity and depletion. This threatens the livelihood of female peasants. Women may spend a lot of time and exert strenuous efforts to obtain fresh water.  NGOs shall play a role in the empowerment of women to have access to the resources necessary to advance women’s status.
* Overpopulation together with the depletion of the agricultural land despite the ongoing family planning campaigns are still unable to resolve this problem. Furthermore, desertification is one of the causes of food shortage, especially with the population increase.
* Enhancement of the role of capital ownership right and IMF policies that constantly curb state sovereignty. Hence, biodiversity becomes a raw material in globalization system.
* Environmental changes, growing depletion of ozone layer and climatic change.

The aforementioned factors lack another factor that adds to the challenges the poor, especially poor rural women, face, namely laws.

The paper shall examine three laws that affect the conditions of female peasants in A.R.E.

Laws and their impact on rural women:
1. Lease Law no. 1996/1992 concerning the rental relation between the owner and tenant.
* This Law seized the land from tenants and restored it to the owners to the extent that some small owners sold their plots of land to the holders of large pieces of land.
* The Law meant to encourage farmers to use technological means in order to increase agricultural production and hence compete in export markets. Regrettably, the outcome was the ruin of some tenants as the land was seized and given to those who could afford to pay more. As a result, income dropped while the working hours excessively extended. The problem of cheap labour emerged with land liberalization.

2. Labour Law no.12/2000.
Though this law dedicates a whole chapter to employed women, it doesn’t refer to those working in the field of agriculture or maids in other households. Women are thus deprived of the social insurance umbrella and are liable to the most oppressive violations of rights though women constitute a wide sector of the population and the labour force.

3. Draft law no. 116/1983 concerning prohibition of land drifting and construction on arable land as well as the martial command of the year 1996. Nevertheless, urbanization of arable land still persists despite the promulgation of laws and martial provisions that incriminate this. El –Wafd newspaper on 9 October 2003 stated that the report of the People’s Assembly joint committee on draft law no. 116/1983 emphasised in its statistical analysis that the total areas deducted from arable land because of construction and land drifting amounted in 1975-1979 to about 14 thousand feddans of the best land. It further mentioned that Egypt loses annually 62 thousand feddans at the time when the reclaimed land does not exceed 42 thousand feddans.

On analysis of this phenomenon, the cause is attributed to the farmers’ need for a shelter beside land under the restrictions on house construction in villages or at a time when the price of construction land and building material skyrockets. In case of land trespassing, the offender shall pay a penalty starting from L.E. 10 thousand to L.E. 50 thousand pursuant to Article 156 of Law no. 116. The martial command necessitates the immediate removal of buildings. The main purpose of the martial command promulgated in 1996 is protection of arable land used in building. Each feddan used in building denotes the loss of thousand of pounds that can be allocated for reclamation of an alternative feddan as well as the as the loss of a seasonal job opportunity.

Shortage of Water Resources, Climatic Changes and Impact on Agriculture:
Agricultural production in the Arab world depends on the water incessantly available to irrigate crops, precipitation rates, ground water, land fertility and moderate climate. Irrigation in the Arab world is associated with the need for and availability of water. Irrigation lessens the adverse effects of precipitation fluctuations and crops growth. It further increases the kinds and multiplicity of crops.

Water wealth is rather scarce in the Arab world as most Arab countries lie within the desert belt. The sources of water are brought from outside. Hence, Arab countries have to deal with water as a scarce resource. These countries have to rely on building bridges or deal with ground water and rain. What is more important is guiding people’s conduct as regards the use of water.

Improvement of water control conditions shall greatly promote the efficient use of water resources in the Arab world and improve agricultural production and productivity. On the other hand, ignorance of the use of irrigation water increases water loss through evaporation and leads to more soil salinity. Certain hazards stem from water misuse, sanitation deficiency, and soil salinity as in south Iraq, Nile Valley basin or soil drifting and the relevant factors.

As regards the colossal environmental degradation, this constitutes a threat to sustainable development. The climate is ever changing; toxic substances constantly accumulate in the soil as well as air and water. Furthermore, shortage of rainfall leads to drought and the increase in gases in the ambient atmosphere.

This environmental degradation is detrimental to the social security of country dwellers, the diverse facets of sustainable development and the poor in rural areas.

UN Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 examined the issues of environmental pollution, resources depletion, deteriorating biodiversity and the social repercussions of poverty and hunger. The Conference identified the partners in environment conservation, namely, governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. However, after the lapse of several years, we are still unable to realize sustainable development as pollution grows day after day, resources are constantly depleted and the renewable natural resources become scarce.

Role of Governments, Private Sector and Civil Society in Sustainable Agriculture:
Governments and local circles bear a huge responsibility to render agriculture the optimal means and strategic solution for poverty reduction to realize the developmental objectives of the Millennium as regards decrease of the number of the starving and poor people by the end of 2015.

This can only be realized through the adoption of effective, implementable policies for poverty eradication. Farmers need technical assistance from governments and the private sector in order to create a supportive political environment. Agricultural policies have to be based on the support of economic institutions to farmers which provides them with the power required to have access to the different markets in order to display products. Governments have to limit the procedures required on the export of a product, reduce customs procedures and open marketing outlets.

Governments of developing countries have to adopt a long- term domestic rural development plan as well as collaborate with agricultural organizations and the private sector so that the role of governments may not be confined to devising a plan without consideration of the farmers’ needs and potentialities.

Political stability plays a remarkable role in the support of economic and social environment together with the need to provide the primary services as education, health, transport and technology necessary for sustainable agriculture and required to give momentum to farmers away from poverty.

The private sector bears the huge responsibility of provision of high-tech machinery. Development in agricultural inputs increases productivity, open new marketing outlets, and secure food and preserve the environment.

With the overall collapse of global economy, several policies failed to realize an increase in agricultural production. It is incumbent to introduce new policies that ensure a strong and sound relation between the state and market. It is also imperative to ensure that the role of IMF, World Bank and WTO is supportive to the governments that seek to improve agricultural policies and ensure agricultural development, especially at places that regard agricultural development as a high-cost process.

Earth Summit or Rio Summit dedicated Agenda 21 to enhance the role of the key groups, particularly women and children, aboriginal peoples and non-governmental organizations as a substantial partner to sustainable development. Among the most prominent principles of Agenda 21 is poverty reduction, less marginalized groups as regards international living standards. Women’s full participation is essential to realize sustainable development. Agenda 21 seeks to enable the poor to have access to resources and to focus on management of such resources. Governments have to grant women the right to participate in the development and implementation of developmental planning and the attempt to mitigate the oppressive, unjust discrimination against women. For example, on taking land-related vital decisions, this is restricted to men despite the relentless efforts of rural women. Sometimes, rural women obtain half the pay of men which contradicts with all human rights agreements.

Non-governmental organizations have to promote women’s awareness via encouraging women to be self-expressive and participate in decision-making. Furthermore, it is essential to conduct short- term training on modern agricultural techniques at places accessible to women.

Law firms and legal consultancy offices have to resolve the social or economic problems of poor women. Women who depend on animal production as a source of income as not treated in a formal manner and are devoid of rights. Dealing is in a verbal manner, hence, women are subject to exploitation– a matter that requires legal protection.

Human development reports in Egypt reveal the poor conditions of women, especially in rural areas. The population rates that have access to water and sanitation are so low. It is imperative to reform the irrigation –related water policies to meet the needs of sustainable food and agricultural security. Accordingly, one has resort to research centres to study the available water research and attempt to develop sources of water. The private sector has to contribute to the design of enterprises and implementation through the use of irrigation equipment that rationalize the use of water. To increase the production of the used water unit, farmers have to use modified seeds, rationalize fertilization and control pests.

With the aggravating population crisis and urbanization of the countryside, laws shall not be the sole deterrent to this problem. All partners have to collaborate to provide utilities and the infrastructure in new cities to enable the whole household to move to these cities and reclaim the land.

In conclusion, AAPSO emphasizes the need to give due attention to the agricultural sector in this millennium to enable all peoples, especially the poor, to meet the growing needs of food and energy, realize the constant growth of agricultural sector and reduction of rural poverty. Meanwhile, globalization and trade liberalization impose boundless challenges on the poor developing peoples.