Celebrating The Role Of Rural Women In Food Production And Food Security
International Day of Rural Women and World Food Day marked together in Bosnia and Herzegovina, highlighting women's importance in rural economy.
On 15 October each year, the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), in particular, celebrate and honor the fundamental role of rural women in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security, and eradicating rural poverty worldwide. The idea of honouring rural women with a special day was put forward by international NGOs at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, and the first International Day of Rural Women was observed on 15 October 2008. Last year, the spotlight was placed on the urgent need for “building rural women’s resilience in the wake of COVID-19” by strengthening rural women’s sustainable livelihoods and wellbeing. The fact that the International Day of Rural Women is purposely held on the day before World Food Day (16 October) highlights rural women’s importance for food security and production in the context of rural economy.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, rural women play a significant yet often invisible role in agricultural production
According to the ‘National Gender Profile of Agriculture and Rural Livelihoods’, jointly released by FAO and UN Women earlier in 2021, in Bosnia and Herzegovina rural women often perform unpaid work, including agricultural work on family farms, and they also represent a significant proportion of the informal, or shadow labour market. Furthermore, rural women are key contributors to the specific agricultural value chains in the country, such as flower-growing, medicinal herb-collection, greenhouse-based vegetable and fruit production among others, where it is the woman taking the lead as key agent and income-earner from these activities.
Rural women are also actively involved in livestock care and crop production, as well as in non-farming based activities. Women’s participation in on-farm and off-farm activities increases their income-generation capacity and contributes to the overall improvement in their families’ livelihoods and well-being.
Irrespective of their fundamental role in rural economies, women still lack access to productive resources. Women remain the minority of registered land owners, and they also tend to have (or to have use of) smaller parcels of land. For example, only 30% of landowners are women and they are often co-owners of land. In Bosnia Herzegovina, out of the 363 394 households engaged in agriculture in 2013, only 18% were female-headed households. However, a positive uptrend has been observed during the recent years. For the country as a whole, the proportion of women registered as heads of family farms increased from 10% in 2016 to around 18% at present.
To acknowledge the existing gender disparities, in 2020 the Agency for Gender Equality issued a set of recommendations calling for a gender perspective to be integrated into the processes of planning and implementing decisions, measures and plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including measures for a gender-responsive economic recovery. The Agency particularly noted that special attention should be devoted to women from marginalized groups, including women living in rural areas.
The aforementioned FAO country gender assessment report also concludes that the outbreak of the COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted women on front lines and at home, as the general systemic issues of disrupted agricultural supply chains and lost jobs in the rural hospitality sector have been also aggravated by gender-specific effects, such as the increased risk of domestic violence and additional burden of unpaid care work due to the widespread schools’ closure.
To provide much needed support to the smallholder farmers and women-led farming households during the COVID-19 pandemic, FAO distributed plum seedlings, fertilizers, fruit sprayers, motor cultivators and other equipment and materials to the fruits and berries producers’ of Rudo municipality, coupled with the corresponding training on how to plant and protect seedlings. Rudo municipality has 163 registered producers (all of them fruit and berry producers), out of which 57 are women-led households. Within the framework of the TeleFood project ‘Development of the fruits and berries value chains in the municipality of Rudo’ over 40 producers have received seedlings, equipment and training in the spring and summer 2021, with the objective to increase their agricultural production.
FAO Telefood Projects: a definition
The TeleFood Special Fund funds small grass-root level projects in developing countries and countries in transition. Donations to the Fund go directly to grassroots development projects for smallholder farmers, especially women, young people (in schools and orphanages) and disabled persons, to pay for tools, seeds and other essential supplies required to grow food for their families and communities.
Biljana Drobnjak became one of the FAO project beneficiaries. Her household grows plums, apples, pears, cherries, and sour cherries in their 0.2 hectare orchard. The fresh and dried fruits, as well as processed jams and juices, are used for the family’s own consumption and are also sold in the local market. Biljana became the recipient of plum seedlings, and she also had the opportunity to participate in field trainings presenting the best methods of planting and protecting seedlings, as well as on winter and summer pruning.
Biljana is optimistic about the future, as she plans to expand the orchard and plant more fruit trees, which should allow her to increase agricultural yields, and as a result, increase processing volumes and sales. That would ensure additional income for her and for her family.
Biljana is very grateful for the support and signaled already that she and other producers from Rudo would be open to participate in future projects of FAO, hoping that these projects would specifically target women.
Goran Stavrik, Senior Field Programme Officer, FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia noted: “Thanks to the recent FAO TeleFood interventions in the country, much needed means and opportunities have been provided to community members across Bosnia Herzegovina to increase their income and improve their well-being through gained access to equipment, materials and training. TeleFood projects are highly targeted interventions with short duration and maximized impact, because of their implementation at the community level.
Under the TeleFood project umbrella FAO has already provided requested support to the beekeeping association in Bosansko Grahovo municipality and more recently to the association of fruits and berries producers in Rudo municipality. FAO is committed to continue providing all-encompassing technical assistance to the local communities through different avenues, and FAO Office in the country has immediate plans to deepen its exposure to the thematic area of rural women economic empowerment”.