Gender and Accountability Issues in Large-Scale Agricultural Investments: A call for more Discussion

Godfrey Eliseus Massay – LBI Coordinator at TNRF, June 2015

I read with great interest a recent paper by Helen Dancer and Emmanuel Sulle on “Gender Implications of Agricultural Commercialisation: the Case of Sugarcane Production in Kilombero District, Tanzania”. In their paper they highlightsome literature on gender and commercial agricultural investments, the policy and legal framework governing investments and the extent to which gender is mainstreamed across board, and the specific gender implications in different models of large-scale agricultural investments.

They further discuss different methodological approaches used by scholars when researching gender and agrarian reforms and recommendations that can be used by researchers and policy makers to improve gender equity in commercial agricultural investments.  I do not intend to critique their work but would like to continue or rather expand the discussion by bringing onboard accountability aspect in gender and large-scale agricultural investments debates.

Before I delve my discussion in accountability, I would like to make the following remarks at the onset. First, in most discussions on gender and agrarian reforms, customs and traditions are often blamed as contributory factors that perpetuate gender inequalities. As such, mainstream activism focuses on changing traditions and customs that aregender discriminatory. While I agree with these- I content that it is high time we considered enhancing some positive aspects of culture and traditions as we advocate for gender rights. Furthermore, changing customs and tradition is a hard work and a gradualprocess which can only be effectively influenced by owners of such traditions and customs. Outsiders have very little contribution to make toward that end. Second, gender is not a homogeneous phenomenon across board; it comes with different interpretations in varying contexts. There are different vulnerabilities which women face in a given age set, social, economic, and geographical setting. It is therefore important to understand that gender inequalities are not homogenous.  Third, when addressing gender it is not all about women. The focus is to address gender relations and inequalities. However, preference is made to women because gender addresses social and power relations which, in practice, often put women at the disadvantage side. As such, women are central on gender relations because they experience more inequalities than men. Having said these, I will now focus on accountability.

When you look at how land deals for large-scale agricultural investments are transacted, actors that are involved, and drivers of such investments, you will note that land issues or implications of such investments cannot be addressed without equally mainstreaming accountability issues. Accountability is required in the following areas;

Political accountability: This entails calling on public political actors of large-scale agricultural investments are taking into account issues of land. In this case, state has an obligation to inform the people about theland deals and how their rights are safeguarded. The state has to justify narratives that are at the base of private investments. At the moment, the political arena is dominated by men and only a small proportion of women are actively engaged in politics. Consequently, the interests of women are not given great consideration when decisions on land-based investments are made. More need to be done to improve meaningful participation and engagement of women if we want effective political accountability. 

Economic accountability: During land deals negotiations, communities are often promised some economic advantage they would get from such investments in the name of corporate social responsibility. Win-win rhetoric is used to get the consent from the communities. However, after the land is acquired none of the promises or commitments made are fulfilled. Investors are therefore required to be subjected to account on the models of investments they would use and how they conform to the needs of the communities. Women have a role to play to ensure that their participation in negotiations is not ceremonious but the one that can lead to meaningful results in reducing economic inequalities caused by gender inequalities.  

Social accountability: Local communities should be engaged to make sure that access to land is done equitably. The entire land governance at the local level should embrace the welfare of the communities. More importantly, communities should know their role and account in discharging such roles. For this to be done effectively, communities need capacity building programs that can enhance their understanding on the management of land and natural resources.

Civil Society Organization accountability: CSOs have a role in monitoring three other accountabilities discussed. They have to ensure that underlying principles of land governance and large scale land-based investments are accounted for. Strong civil society organizations can subject actors of large-scale agricultural investment to the rules of accountability through proper reporting and documentation of the violations of legal and regulatory framework. Furthermore, CSOs, can collect evidence for advocacy, create space for negotiation and dialogue, and build the capacity of communities that can ultimately hold duty bearers accountable.

I have discussed accountability from a conceptual point of view. It is important to dilate more on gender issues by looking at the practical aspect of it. In this regard, I will focus more on what civil society organizations can do in ensuring that gender issues are given proper space in the policy dialogue on large-scale agricultural investments.

  1. A need to change paradigm relating to women and land. There is assumption which is common among many CSOs, that if women are given access to land they will change. Access is not equal to ownership and neither is it to control. In fact, many women have access to land but they do not have control and ownership. Even when access is guaranteed, there are other social, cultural and religious aspects that can still hinder women from ownership and control of land.
  2. Need to change our approaches to legislations. Many Constitutions in Africa and specifically in Tanzania have equality and non-discrimination provisions. New waves of land reforms across Sub-Saharan African, including Tanzania, have included non-discrimination in access and ownerships of land. However, the reality is different. Women still face inequalities in our societies. There is need to link the law and social-cultural aspects of the society. Policy makers need to develop laws that are under genuine mechanism for implementation. Thus, to avoid absolute juridism. 
  3. Strengthen economic powers of women. Access to land has to go hand with hand with economic powers. Access to land is not an end in itself. While we put more emphasis on normative and ethical approaches we tend to forget economic powers. In many countries in West Africa, women groups are joining hands to strengthen economic powers of women to purchase land. Though the issue of sustainability can be raised against this approach, women groups in Tanzania can still seek a way on how this can work in their environment.
  4. Research.  More research needs to be done on contribution of women in agricultural sector and gender implications of large-scale agricultural investments. More data and gender disaggregated information isneeded in order to consolidate our arguments as we advocate for a change. In agricultural development, morefunding comes from the family and the contribution of women is critical. The State must appreciate and protect the first investors who are family farmers before it attracts more large-scale investment in agriculture.