New Publication Details the Impact of Agricultural and Land Commercialization on Gender Equality and the Right to Food

The DEMETER project on Land Commercialization, Gendered Agrarian Transformation and the Right to Food – a research partnership of practitioners and scholars from Cambodia, Ghana, and Switzerland – explores the linkages between land and agricultural commercialization and the right to food from a gender perspective.

As a co-coordinator – along with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies’ Gender Centre, the University of Ghana’s Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research and the Center for Development Oriented Research in Agriculture and Livelihood Systems in Cambodia – the Geneva Academy is leading the human rights components of this research with our two Senior Research Fellows, Dr Joanna Bourke Martignoni and Dr Christophe Golay.

The project’s new Research Brief Agricultural and Land Commercialization: Do they Foster Gender Equality and the Right to Food? summarizes a number of findings from the project, focusing on the social, cultural, and economic outcomes of commercialization and on the ways in which these affect the rights to food, land, decent work and social security.

Cambodia and Ghana as Case Studies

The research examines the relationship between the right to food and gender equality in ensuring food security in the context of agricultural land commercialization in two case-study countries, Cambodia and Ghana.

In doing so, the project uses a gender perspective to gauge the availability, accessibility, and adequacy of food in the aftermath of commercialization.

Disproportionate Focus on Commercialization as a Mechanism for Increasing Food Production

The commercialisation of land and agriculture has long been considered a key approach to stimulating rural development and eliminating hunger and food insecurity.

But agricultural and land commercialisation sometimes have given rise to human rights violations and undermined progress towards the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is a wealth of evidence to show that the liberalization of agriculture has exacerbated existing inequalities, including gender inequality.

‘Policies on food and agriculture disproportionately focus on commercialization as a mechanism for increasing food production and do not sufficiently consider the rights to food and gender equality. For those living in the countryside in Cambodia and Ghana, agricultural and land commercialization have increased the diversity of available foods but has limited peoples’ ability to sustainably grow and access food’ underlines Dr Joanna Bourke Martignoni.

A cocoa farmer shows his cocoa farm in the village of Adwenpaye, between Takoradi and Kumasi, Ghana

The Gendered Impacts of Commercialization

The Gendered Impacts of Commercialization

The research carried out in Cambodia and Ghana shows the way in which commercialization limits the right to food in three different ways.

Firstly, a focus on cash crops may produce shortages in food crops for small farmers. It also severely restricts access to wild foods and forest products through logging, the privatization of the commons and the use of agro-chemicals.

Secondly, commercialization sharpens and creates new inequalities based on gender, class and ethnicity, reinforcing gen¬der divisions of labour and expanding women’s unpaid labour while offering them limited income-earning opportunities. This creates new inequalities and dependencies, making access to food less secure for some.

Thirdly, commercialization’s potential to increase the variety of foods people have access to is moderated by its tendency to undermine existing, accessible food supplies.

‘Governments and non-governmental actors including businesses and international organizations have legal obligations to respect, protect and fulfil gender equality in connection with the right to food. These human rights guarantees are insufficiently acknowledged in contemporary agricultural policies, which promote commercialization and increased food production while neglecting the dimensions of food accessibility and adequacy’ stresses Dr Bourke Martignoni.

Woman farmer in terraces in rural Rwanda.

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