Skip to main content

Gender sensitive Climate-Smart Agriculture in Latin America


Interviewer:       Good morning.

Sophia Huyer:    Good morning.

Interviewer:       Can you tell me a bit more about you and about the organization you are working on?

Sophia Huyer:    My name is Sophia Huyer. I’m the Gender and Social Inclusion Leader for the CGIAR Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Program. So we are an inter-centre program of the CGIAR. We have 15 member centres and we pull together and kind of foster some global research around the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Programs in the global south, in the developing world, in our four, five regions of focus which are: Latin America, East and West Africa, South and Southeast Asia. We look at climate-smart agriculture, which as originally defined by the FAO, is an approach to agriculture that looks at promoting food security sustainably, helping smallholder farmers adapt to the effects of climate change, and also where it’s feasible and beneficial, to decrease emissions that agriculture may produce in various aspects, either through livestock production, or through planting practices, or through use of machinery.

CCAFS has four major themes or flagships they’re called. The first one is looking at policy and working with policy makers around climate-smart agriculture issues.

The second one is to look at CSA practices and options for smallholder farmers. And in that project, we’re working across the globe in CSVs we call them, climate-smart villages, in all of the regions.

The third flagship is low emissions development in agriculture.

And the fourth is climate support services. So that is climate information, as well as financial support mechanisms, such as index insurance.

My role as Gender and Social Inclusion Leader is to work across these four flagships and with the regional program leaders, to integrate gender concerns and youth concerns, into the design, the implementation, and the analysis of results of all the research projects that we undertake across the region. And so it’s partly a gender mainstreaming function. In other places, I may identify key gender issues in a region or in a sector, and then I may promote specific work or research in those particular areas.

Interviewer:       That’s really interesting.

Sophia Huyer:    Yeah, it’s a very interesting job.

Interviewer:       Today we had the chance to have you with the climate change team. Could you just give us a quick overview of what you have talked about today?

Sophia Huyer:    CCAFS has been operating now for, I think, almost 10 years. We’re in our second phase of progress, and we have really recently been starting to look to move beyond just ensuring that women are included in projects, you know, the gender equity approach. We’re starting to look at what are the benefits for women and how can we empower both women and young people in these communities to actively participate in agricultural production that utilizes CSA practices, as well as participate in household decision-making around what practices are useful and what to implement and how the household can benefit, but also, to participate in the policy processes at the community and national levels, so that their concerns are recognized and that they are able to be active contributors.

 So, in this particular project, we’re looking in two countries, in Nicaragua and Guatemala, based on experience in other countries in the region, such as Columbia. And we work with villages, we take a climate-smart village approach, to help them decide which practices, in terms of perhaps water harvesting or irrigation, or which crop varieties, or food processing, market gardening and so forth, are suitable for them and will be what they want to use to improve their production and to increase their incomes.

And when we look at women, then, we want to make sure that women are also benefitting, that we’re not just interacting with the men, because in different regions, in different countries, in different parts of the world, often women and men will have different responsibilities in the household. They’ll have different activities that they engage in, in agriculture. They may have different pots of money that they have control over or that they have the decision-making authority over and so you want to make sure that not just men’s needs are being met, but that women’s priorities are also included in the planning and that we measure the results for women as well. And so overall, that’s what we want to do with this project is this Latin America project, we’re calling in the Latin America Region, will be the first project that integrates tests more comprehensively and systematically a set of approaches, adoption approaches and the results of this adoption within households, with women, with youth and with households of different socio-economic levels. And in other words, what technologies are good, what methodologies are working, what aspects of CSA production are really having good effects, and what are the kinds of things that we want to replicate possibly in other regions or possibly in other parts of the Latin American region.

Interviewer:       So at the end of this project, there will be really, a set of locally applicable solutions that may be scaled up.

Sophia Huyer:    Scaled up, that’s right. And we want to come out of this with a much more significant in-depth understanding of the benefits of these approaches, technologies, approaches, practices, seeds, so forth, what their benefits are for different households, different groups within the household, perhaps even different communities. And then we’re also connecting this up into policy at the community and the national levels. And so we also want to learn what the policy approaches are, what are the policy mechanisms, and how can this be scaled up within a country or a region, starting in Latin America and maybe what are the lessons we learn to take it elsewhere.

Interviewer:       And that’s all really fascinating. Let us take a step back and I want to ask you a really basic question. What is the different between simple agriculture and climate-smart agriculture? And how using climate-smart agriculture can benefit women, but just be—I don’t want to use sensitive, but have a gender lens, basically.

Sophia Huyer:    Climate smart agriculture is different in that its focus is supporting smallholder farmers, to be able to cope with the challenges that climate change brings. So, we’re talking about weather variability and unpredictability. We’re talking about increased droughts or we’re talking about increased floods. Or we’re talking about increased variation, you know, it’ll be too rainy at one point in the growing season and then it may too dry at another point in the growing season. So a lot of what climate-smart agriculture looks at is drought resistance, drought resistance plants or better watering systems that will allow farmers to deal with fluctuations in water availability, decreased evaporation processes or processes that decrease the amount of evaporation of water so that they’re water conserving, pest resistant varieties, drought resistant varieties or varieties that will also have increased nutrition. So there’s a range of these factors that are involved in the choice of, or the offering of, different options for farmers in Latin America. For example, when I was in Calca last year, the community showed me a new technology that they had, a new drip irrigation technology that also increased the diversity of food available to the household. So it increased the diversity of the vegetables that the household was able to eat and to sell. And basically it was a number of pipes, polyurethane pipes, that were nailed up the wall of the house under a shade, and they would drill holes at regular intervals in the pipe and they would plant their small seedling in each of the holes, and then there’d be a tiny rubber watering tube that was also following the length of the pipe. So, they found that much less water was used. The vegetables grew out of the sun and had a constant source of water. And they flourished very well and for very little money. So the nutrition levels of the household increased and the diversity of their diet increased.

Interviewer:       Maybe I just want a follow up question because you mentioned that it was an initiative that the community showed you some of the ideas that they have. And then the question I have is really, what is the proportion of, if I want to say traditional knowledge or local knowledge that is included in this approach in this project?

Sophia Huyer:    Well, that is a very good question and it does vary from region to region and community to community. So for example, in Kenya, the work in some of the villages there builds very, very strongly on Indigenous crops. And in one village, they’re working with a women’s group and a youth group, where they helped them develop a demonstration plot to test out the results of a variety of different kinds of crops, but also fish rearing in a pond and mixed approaches to production agroforestry. And they finding that the Indigenous varieties are heartier. They are less expensive and they are being grown very successfully in the region in the area. And in fact, this particular approach to testing out a variety of species and approaches and so forth, with a community organization, paired with a revolving credit scheme, has really hugely increased the amount of money that’s available to the community and they’ve really been making quite a good profit on the proceeds of the sales. And so you do hear about climate-smart agriculture being technology driven and big companies coming in, but it’s not necessarily that way. And really, the approach has to be something that’s affordable to the farmer and you really need crops that are appropriate to their environment and to their landscape. And so, the climate-smart village is viewed as a landscape kind of geographical entity, as well as an agriculture business product enterprise. So it has a number of different scopes that it takes on.

Interviewer:       Now, but more specifically about the climate-smart villages, can you tell us a bit more about what this approach means and how is it different from a regular village?

Sophia Huyer:    Now, you’ll have to understand I’m not the expert on this. But a climate-smart village is kind of a pilot project testing area for climate-smart approaches. And we have been working in smaller groups with climate-smart agriculture, but the village is an opportunity to look at the larger community issues, at scaling issues, both in a community and outside of a community. It looks at the entire landscape of the region that the village is located in, so that affects the choice of technologies and practices and the environmental management in the area. And it’s an approach in which you have a larger integrated kind of interaction between policy, agriculture, technology, finance, all of that information, so it’s a platform to integrate all of those components of the activity.

Interviewer:       How is this approach really transformative and empowering to men and women in the area where you’re working?

Sophia Huyer:    So in general, it’s transformative when their production increases with not a great amount of added input required in terms of finances, or fertilizer, or other resources. And it’s productive when I’ve seen in the field, for example, where in a village that was not a climate-smart village, they would label the farmers’ fields. So this is the climate-smart approach field and this is not. And there would be a difference, if there is a difference in production, if the corn is growing higher or if there’s more of it, or if it’s healthier, then the other farmers will pick it up. So in that sense, it’s transformative because it builds on locally available resources. It combines a package of things: information, inputs, financial support, and research and knowledge, to be able to pull it altogether.

For women, it’s transformative in different ways if it does a few things, and this is where I can speak with more authority. So it’s more transformative when women participate in decision-making about agricultural production in the household, whether it’s their own production or their husband’s production. It’s more transformative when women’s income increases and they have control of assets and resources, including money, but also in terms of the inputs to agriculture and the proceeds of agriculture. So for example, women and men may have different plots of land and often what happens is that the men’s plot gets taken care of first. And then when that’s done, then people go to the women’s. Then the rest of the family can go to the women’s plot. When women start to have a little more control over household labour or more perhaps, equal representation in the allocation of household labour, then it’s transformative. When it decreases women’s workload, it’s transformative. Women’s workload is very long, it’s very hard. Women have the household care activities: child care, cooking, caring for members of the family, as well as their outdoor productive activities and they do work longer days than men in most parts of the world, in almost all regions of the world.

The other issues involved are that agricultural technologies for women tend to be unimproved technologies, and in fact, they tend to be very, very old technologies. So they tend to be hand hoes or they tend to be pails to carry water in. They tend to be very, very out-of-date and non-ergonomic. For example, the African Union has recently initiated a program to eliminate the handheld hoe in Africa by the year 2025. And who uses the handheld hoe? It’s the women, the women farmers. And in some cases, those agricultural implements have not been improved in like thousands of years, right? You see them in museums. So there needs to be some improvement in that way so that women’s workload is less onerous, it’s less heavy on the body and it’s more efficient. And so those are the three main areas that we look at for women is how can we transform women’s lives that way? We want women to be in a position to make more decisions about their lives, their family’s lives and to participate equally with the men in their households and communities around what’s happening that will affect them and their future.

Interviewer:       And do you see any challenges in doing so? That’s on two sides, so first on the scaling of this approach. And second, I would say in implementing a social CSA, do you see any challenges in doing that?

Sophia Huyer:    So I’ll start with the scaling up. There are challenges in terms of policy and challenges in other ways as well. So, the challenge in policy is, I think, what we’re seeing is that at the national level, and CCAFS has done research in that there tends to be pretty good understanding of the gender issues in agriculture policy, and governmental planning and so forth. There’s an understanding of the role of women in agriculture that’s fairly well-developed, very little understanding of the role of women in climate change or climate policy, what countries need to do to empower women in the face of climate change. So at the national level we have that gap. But at the local levels and the municipal levels, even kind of the sub-national level, the understanding is much, much less and so there’s a real gap in knowledge about climate change in general, never mind some of the social implications and gender implications around climate change and agriculture. So we have this knowledge gap that people understand exists. It’s being addressed differently in different ways. In some countries, is it Nicaragua or Guatemala? I can’t remember which country has a CSA policy, a national CSA policy. So these are starting to come into place. Several countries have a gender and climate policy, or gender and climate strategy in place. In Latin America, in Africa, this is slowly starting to happen. So that needs to be done. Countries really need to do an assessment of what are the sectors, the constraints, the issues, the what is the landscape of women’s and men’s activities in key climate sectors or the way that women and men use different parts of climate-related industry or services and what are the implications. So that needs to be done at the national level and then brought down to the local level as well, so that local policy makers can understand what needs to be done.

There’s also a huge gap. There’s a huge gap in financing for scaling up, particularly for women farmers. Women farmers, women around the world, particularly in the developing world, have very little access to credit, to loans, to the ability to buy fertilizer or to buy improved seeds, so there really needs to be innovative, creative work. There needs to be attention paid to the fact that women are farmers in their own right. Women are worth investing in this area and really, so many women farmers are not being reached right now. The FAO has estimated that if women farmers, if the gender gap in access to resources and services between men farmers and women farmers were to be closed, then global food production could increase by about 10 per cent and there would be 150 or so million fewer hungry people in the world. So this is a huge important gap. Finance is really an important part of it, but also information to women, the ability to, as we said, make decisions about access and making decisions about the use of resources for their farming are really important.

Social: Some of the social kind of concerns or social issues around CSA and the empowerment of women, it’s difficult for women in some areas to break through in terms of being able to make their own decisions about the proceeds of their work or the types of work that they do. So, in many of the studies that we do with households around what are the family activities around agriculture? What do you do? Who does what? Who makes the decisions? Generally, what we find is that both women and men feel they make the decisions, but men tend to think that they do it without women’s input. And so what does that say? What does that say for women’s voice in the household? What does it say when men feel that they are less if they discuss things with their wife? Or are seen to be discussing with their wife, what does that say? That’s a big, big social barrier that really does need to be overcome.

In some cases you find that when women have improved activities that are generating increased income, then men will feel they are more important and come to have more participation in that activity, whether for good or for bad, and sometimes take it over. And so there does need to be an understanding of how do you empower women or how do you work with women without alienating people in their community, alienating their husbands, their family members? And really, my approach to that is that you work with, not individuals, but you work with the communities. In other words, you work with women’s organizations. You work with existing organizations and platforms in the community, so that you’re not just picking a woman out of a household to target her, but that you’re working with an aspect of the community and strengthening its ability to speak for itself, to engage in the activities they’re already engaging in and you work within the community structures that are already there, if possible. And I’m a firm believer in women organizing. Women’s organizing has brought many good things to our lives, to all of our lives and I think that we really need to support women to be able to organize in order to speak their own mind, to express themselves. Whether they want to do it with the men in their lives or whether they want to do it separately is their choice. So that’s my approach to this.

Interviewer:       And how do you think as a research centre, how do you think we can support you in doing so?

Sophia Huyer:    Well, you can support us in our analysis of what’s working and what’s not working, and the gender implications of different things. And you can also support us by understanding that there’s no simple answer. In some cases, increased credit to women will be helpful. In other cases, increased credit to women will mean that their husbands will actually take the money and use it in their own way. So, we need to understand that the answers are nuanced. I personally believe that we need to work with existing structures, that we all talk a lot about empowerment and transformation, but that’s not for us to come into a community and enforce. But we need to work with groups, existing groups, women’s organizations, local policy makers, local youth groups, to help them understand what they want, what their options are, increase their knowledge so that they can make their own decisions and choices. So I really think that’s an important aspect of what to do. And I think to help us spread the successes to other parts of Latin America and other parts of the world, to help us scale out what we know works or what we think has a high possibility of having success in different contexts. And helping us find that basic set of elements that are translatable in different contexts. And we may need more than one. We may need two or three, or a couple of different templates, or a couple of different approaches that will fit in different contexts. But to understand that it’s not simple, but that we have some idea of some directions that can be taken to bring some positive change. And to give us the benefit of your experience with your partner and your research because IDRC, I know from many years of having interacted with IDRC, there’s a lot of experience and knowledge in the institutions. So it will be great to be able to collaborate with you on that and to increase both of our bodies of knowledge.

Interviewer:       And we hope we can do so.

Sophia Huyer:    And do the same, yeah. Thank you.

END OF AUDIO