Can Prizes Make Food Systems More Equitable?

March 8, 2020

corn in a field

By Jared Klassen

Jared Klassen is a Program Officer for Agriculture and Food Systems Programs at Global Affairs Canada and currently sits on the AgResults Steering Committee.

As I grabbed a banana at lunch today, a small sticker reminded me that this fruit had travelled over 3500 km to get here. I couldn’t help but wonder which farmers had been involved in this banana’s journey from farm to supermarket shelf. Globally, about 80 percent of the food we eat comes from smallholder family farmers. Of those farmers, 40-50 percent are women, who make key contributions as business leaders, entrepreneurs, market sellers, horticulturalists, and farm workers.

Yet many of these women face barriers their male counterparts do not. Women represent only 15 percent of land owners in sub-Saharan Africa, where customary law and social norms limit their ability to own or inherit land. Despite their significant role in agriculture, women access only 5 percent of farm training services and receive less than 10 percent of farm loans to grow their businesses.

At AgResults, we’ve seen how Pay-for-Results prize competitions can help food systems become more inclusive, providing opportunities for smallholder farmers to increase their incomes and improve the well-being of their families. International Women’s Day is as good a day as any to ask how prize competitions can be intentional about supporting women’s leadership and making food systems more equitable.

Why We Should Encourage Equality

In addition to the inherent value in supporting women’s equality, there is strong evidence to show that making food systems more equitable would profoundly benefit communities around the world.

Equal access to productive resources could increase yields on women-run farms by 20-30%, and end hunger for 150 million people globally. In Tanzania, women with strong land rights earn up to 3.8 times more income. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, gender equality could boost African economies by 10 percent of their collective GDP by 2025.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme, Each for Equal, reminds us that equality is not only a women’s issue. Each of us can help create a gender-equal world, “challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements.” We can challenge our economies and food systems to be more equitable as well.

Prize Competitions and Equitable Systems

To make food systems more equitable, we must ask key questions early on when designing prize competitions: What are the barriers that women face in agriculture and food systems? Where are women already showing leadership in their communities? Are there particular crops, on-farm responsibilities, or sales practices where women lead? And how can a prize “nudge” other businesses to create more opportunities for women to lead and be appreciated for their contributions to food systems?

By asking these questions early on, rather than simply counting how many women were involved by the end of the project, we can be much more intentional in addressing inequalities to create lasting change.

Success in Ethiopia

One example of a successful effort to address inequality in food systems is Canada’s continued support for Ethiopia’s Agricultural Growth Program, now in its second phase. This large-scale initiative includes help for smallholder farmers to grow more nutritious foods for their families and increase their incomes.

Canada has been intentional about supporting women in Ethiopia working in agriculture. For example, a new market center has helped women farmers and farm groups who previously had to sell the vegetables they grew at cheap prices, or even throw them away during dry and rainy seasons when the vegetables would easily spoil. The new market center has enabled these women to better preserve the vegetables they grow and collectively market the produce to larger buyers. Women now play a leadership role in nearly all steps of the vegetables’ journey to market, including production, local transportation, packing, and wholesaling to large buyers. This initiative has dramatically expanded their market and income.

Similarly, we can and should structure prize competitions to encourage businesses to empower women to take leading roles in different stages of agricultural production and marketing. When strategically designed, prizes can help businesses appreciate the importance of women as customers, managers, and shapers of economies and food systems.

How Can You Help Create a More Equitable World?

This year’s International Women’s Day gives us a chance to reflect on what equality could look like in our communities. Whether we encourage positive change in our workplaces, challenge businesses and influential organizations to embrace gender equality, or make day-to-day choices that celebrate women’s achievements, each of us can play a role in creating a more equitable world.

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