Cartagena, Colombia -- Historically, the cotton industry has focused much of its effort on maximizing efficiency, such as increasing yields while minimizing chemical usage and water consumption. But in many parts of the world, it has neglected to take advantage of half of the available workforce: women.
That is why strategies that can accelerate the "feminization of agriculture" was the topic of the Fourth Open Session at ICAC's 72nd Plenary Meeting. Entitled "Making Women Visible: Gender Issues in Cotton," the session focused on the barriers women around the world face and the benefits they can produce if those barriers are broken down.
The opportunity for improvement is significant, considering that women make up:
• 70% to 80% of the available farming labor in Africa,
• 50% to 60 % of the available farming labor in Asia, and
• 40% to 45% of the available farming labor in Latin America.
Some of the barriers those women face are legal, such as the inability to own land in some countries, and a lack of access to quality inputs and adequate financing. Other challenges are based on traditional gender roles, with men having greater decision-making influence not only in the field, but also on how income from the crop is spent.
While it is critical in the long term to break down these deep-rooted barriers, there are steps that can be taken to improve women's role in cotton production instantly. For example, Aselly Mwanza, gender coordinator for the Cotton Association of Zambia, discussed increasing the availability of ultra low volume sprayers. Because they are about 30% lighter than a traditional knapsack sprayer, they enable users to cover a hectare in about 90 minutes.
But production isn't the only sector that suffers from the lack of women, nor does the problem exist only in developing countries, according to Brigitte Gaedeke, a trader with Bremen, Germany-based Otto Stadtlander.
"In the last 19 years, only 14% of graduates at the American Cotton Shippers Association's International Cotton Institute have been women," she said, referring to a comprehensive training program held annually at the University of Memphis in the United States. "But that number will grow in the future because there are opportunities for women throughout the cotton chain. I don't feel that I have any disadvantages as a woman, and anyone who does simply has an outdated perspective."
The other speakers in the session were Patricia Biermayr-Jenzano, visiting scholar at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and Luisa Fernanda Melo, manager at Colombia-based Remolino.