Women in the Production of Agriculture: A Look at Argentine SoybeansIntroduction Throughout the world, women play a vital role in supply chains. They are often overlooked as key factors in the chain, but still have a large stake and interest in its functioning. Particularly when it comes to food chains, women are actively invested since they are often responsible for feeding the family, with a specific interest in nutritional security. Within the food supply chain, women as producers are often pushed aside because their farms are usually smaller than those of their male counterparts.
Female agricultural producers are often ignored with new policy changes and technology, leading them to be marginalized within the community. Particularly for women in Argentina who grow soybeans, being female comes with challenges when accessing resources as well as health and environmental problems. Climate change mixed with agriculture makes certain populations even more vulnerable. By increasing gender analysis and consideration for women when planning programs and initiatives, women producers in Argentina can experience more equitable conditions while protecting their health and the environment.
Soybeans in Argentina show the connections between climate change and gender, exemplifying the need for multifaceted programs and initiatives that understand both issues.Overview of the Value Chain Gender and value chains are tied together in complex ways. A value chain consists of all of the steps to create a final product, linking all the tasks from production to consumption. Value chains exist within a social context, meaning that tasks are often assigned based on gender. There is a strong tie between social norms and how a value chain functions, causing some women to be disenfranchised within the value chain by forces other than codified laws. For example, some women may be unable to access the social connections necessary to purchase seeds even though they have the legal acess. Shifts in the value chain can change the way that gender is viewed within the system, particularly with new technology or changes in crops. Therefore, when creating new programs or initiatives that strive to improve or change value chains, gender needs to be considered as an important and everlasting factor. It is valuable for programs and initiatives to directly work for gender equity, as many scholars believe that gender equity is important for economic growth. In order to improve the value chain, the way that gender roles are created and enforced in the local community needs to be examined. Within agriculture specifically, women struggle to participate and be recognized in the value chain. It is often difficult for women to get access to the assets necessary to produce agriculture, such as water, land, and other input resources. Women also need access to capital when it comes to the agricultural value chain, and access can often be limited by customary laws and gender norms. Women are frequently excluded from decision making within the agricultural sector and ignored in conversations about which new seeds or fertilizers to adopt. These issues are becoming more prevalent as more women take over the agricultural work while their husbands migrate to find better paying employment. It is clear that women are disenfranchised within agricultural production, but they are also valuable parts of the production process and deserve equal access to the sector.Women in Argentina For women in Argentina, producing food comes with gendered issues. One woman in Argentina, Campos, grows vegetables in her organic vegetable garden and works long hours so that her children can get the education and opportunities that were denied to her. Even with a strong motivation to work, she feels the burden of time and labor-intensity because she does not have a partner with whom to split responsibilities. No matter the season, the work is difficult and the weather often harsh. Generally, women do not have the same access as men to land tenure, credit, or training, and many government programs focus on men, leaving women behind. It is hard for women to find capital to start an agricultural production operation, and subsequently to obtain the inputs such as seeds and fertilizers necessary to keep it competitive in today’s market. They are often not trained in business or planning initiatives and often struggle to understand how to best utilize the assets that they do have. There are programs in Argentina that are aimed at improving the status of women, such as Ellas Hacen program which targets poor unemployed women. However, these programs are not directed towards agriculture, which is a key area where male dominance is asserted. Because women are invisible in agriculture, and men dominate high positions in the sector, women’s initiatives are not as fully funded or planned. When considering programs that would be most valuable to Argentinian women, organizations need to focus on programs that work on specialized agricultural training to ensure that women’s knowledge gap is not preventing them from productive agriculture, as well as work to provide child care and teach strategies to balance the needs of a family and a farm. Even with barriers and exclusion from the agricultural production chain, women produce more than half the global food supply. With more defined and protected rights, women could increase the global food production by 20-30 percent. They would have better access to land and resources and therefore be able to have more productive agriculture. Enabling women to be a fully integrated part of the value chain through protections and laws creates a better economic climate. As climate and conflict continue to disrupt the world, women will become increasingly important in maintaining the agricultural productivity needed to feed the ever growing population of the world. Rural women are a large portion of agricultural labor around the world and need to be protected as equal components of the value chain. Women have the opportunity to maximize economic opportunities, increase productivity, and improve food security, education and healthcare if they are given the tools and support necessary. Case Study: Soybeans in Argentina In Argentina, soybeans are an example of the struggles that women have within the agricultural value chain and the tension between economics and environment. In general, agriculture is central to Argentina’s economy as they have a comparative advantage for the production of many agricultural products. Soybeans are the seventh largest crop in the world and Argentina is the third largest producer and exporter of soybeans in the world. The impact of technology in agriculture is seen in soybeans, as soybeans in Argentina are increasingly moving towards a Round-Up Ready genetically modified (GMO) soybean that results in higher yields as well as lower production costs. There are downsides to higher yields and lower production costs as well. The prevalence of GMO soybeans is leading to corporate dominance, land concentration, a loss of farm jobs, as well as income inequality across the country. The growth of major corporations focused around agricultural production is causing poverty and unemployment as they come to dominate a small industry, disrupting and affecting communities. Issues like these are exacerbated for those who are most vulnerable in society, often women who are small farmers and are unable to keep up with the fast paced changes. GMO soybeans require heavy machinery as well as efficient management of farming operations, creating barriers to entry for the production systems. GMO soybeans have benefited big business in Argentina but have created struggles and barriers for less wealthy populations. Because of new advancements, soybeans production is generally done by large-scale farms, but small farms can also form associations to give themselves similar benefits to the large farms. However, even when organized in groups, small scale farmers have to deal with a larger portion of the risk and are more vulnerable to shocks. This is particularly true for female farmers who often have fewer assets to begin with. When it comes to conversations about soy in Argentina, women’s land rights are often left out of the conversation, excluding them from one of the fastest growing industries in the country. GMO soybeans have also affected employment, causing a loss of low skilled farm jobs, jobs that are often more accessible to women, and a growth of skilled labor, which often requires extra education. The new technology associated with GMO agriculture requires skills and qualifications that women often struggle to achieve due to their secondary position in society. This means that as GMO soybeans continue to gain popularity in Argentina, women are likely to be left out of the production process, resulting in greater disenfranchisement. Soybeans and Pesticides The rise of GMO soybeans in Argentina means that pesticides and other agrochemicals are increasingly used, prompting health concerns. While pesticides are commonly used in many types of agriculture, the soybean industry uses agrochemicals more liberally than any other agricultural sector. The GMO soybeans used in Argentina are resistant to the pesticide glyphosate, which allows agrochemicals to be sprayed liberally on the plants to protect them from weeds without damaging the crop. These pesticides are also said to protect soil moisture and allow for direct seeding and a mechanization of the growth process, contributing to the argument that agrochemicals and GMO crops allow for higher yields and more efficient agriculture. These economic implications have made GMO soybeans successful across the country and they are an increasing part of its agricultural production. Large businesses, such as fertiliser and seed companies, benefit from the use of GMO soybeans, meaning Round-Up Ready soybeans are likely in Argentina to stay. However, the economic benefits of GMO soybeans come at a cost, namely the rise of health issues associated with pesticide use. According to many scientists, there is a direct relationship between pesticide use and the rates of certain diseases, such as cancer, in surrounding communities. These surrounding communities are often lower income and have less power to fight the corporations invested in GMO use. While it is true that no one wants industrial strength fertilisers piling up near their homes or unknown chemicals in their drinking water, pesticides are a larger problem for women, particularly low-income women. For female farmers who have to spray pesticides, they are directly exposed to incredibly harmful chemicals that can cause life threatening birth complications. They are often less trained and are not equipped with technical knowledge compared to their male counterparts, increasing the risk that they will misuse chemicals. In order to stay active in the soybean industry, women are forced to adopt the GMO soybeans that are normal now in Argentina, often without understanding or considering the health risks. The government still supports Round-Up Ready soybeans, putting the health of its farmers at risk. Not only is the health of women directly affected by pesticide use, but women, who are responsible for the well being of children, are further affected by the health effect of pesticides through their children. Children’s immune systems are weak and vulnerable, so pesticide exposure often makes them sick It becomes harder for women to care for children who are sick, requiring more time intensive care and observation. This often puts an increased economic burden on the family and an extra workload on the women who may already have to balance agricultural needs with family needs.