Sustainable livelihood initiatives are sets of activities that rural dwellers engage especially women in economic activities that have the propensity to adverting individual subsistence farming approach to a collaborative cooperative sector approach in order to increase productivity. This approach is unique since individual approach is a contributing factor to these women being poor.

Poverty is pervasive and particularly acute in rural areas of the country. It has many dimensions, which include low levels of income and consumption, poor nutrition, and food insecurity; as such, according to UNDP Report 2004, 86% of the poor people in Liberia live in rural areas. Many of them are women and other vulnerable groups.

These less fortune population are largely confined with numerous problems which include: limited participation in decision making processes, low or no income earning at all and high illiteracy rate among women and subsistence farming due to very limited access to seeds, tools and improved agricultural techniques.

Rural Liberian women‘s economic deprivation is perpetuated by high illiteracy rate among other factors. These rural women need collective approach in achieving the level of self-confidence and self-actualization that promote their participation in community-decision making and enhancing their capacities to short-run livelihood activities, such as savings and credit facilities. There is an emerging need to positively engage these rural women who have some potential in making meaningful contributions to the socio-economic development and life sustaining progress or programs.

Efforts are been exerted by different stakeholders to accelerate the initiatives of women of such nature in various women empowerment initiatives. These interventions are all endeavor to empower local communities through sustainable economic initiatives and toward erasing the social barriers that hinder their day-to-day improvement. Life being the matter of climbing the ladder step-by-step, and the Integrated Rural Development being standardized, the Suakoko women would soon see their roles as a meaningful one.

A number rural cooperative have thus far emerged in the far and reach has received a number of boosts (technical capacity support) from relevant agencies and international partners in the areas of women and community development programs.

Regardless of the level of development achieved by the respective economies, women play a pivotal role in agriculture and in rural development in most countries of the Asia-Pacific Region. Evidently there are serious constraints which mitigate against the promotion of an effective role for women in development in those societies which were bound by age-old traditions and beliefs. Patriarchal modes and practices motivated by cultures and/or interpretations of religious sanctions and illiteracy hinder women’s freedom to opt for various choices to assert greater mobility in social interactions. Resulting from these situations, women’s contribution to agriculture and other sectors in the economy remain concealed and unaccounted for in monitoring economic performance measurement. Consequently, they are generally invisible in plans and programs. They were, in fact, discriminated against by stereotypes which restrict them to a reproductive role, and denied access to resources which could eventually enhance their social and economic contribution to the society.

In developing countries, among the poor, rural women are the poorest and more vulnerable. Empirical evidences suggest that women in rural areas are more adversely affected by poverty than men. The incidence of poverty among rural women is on the rise in most of the developing countries. The issues of gender bias and equity point to the double burden women have to bear – that on being poor and being a woman. Further strategies and programs for development had largely overlooked the question of gender equity. Projects aiming to reduce poverty view the poor rural women as the recipient of benefits of development, instead of active participant and still poor rural women have the least access to basic needs such as food, health and education.

Not only do women produce and process agricultural products but they are also responsible for much of the trade in these and other goods in many parts of the third world. In many parts of the world, women continue to play an important role as rural information sources and providers of food to urban areas. This may involve food from the sea as well as from the land. Although women rarely work as fisher people they are often involved in net-making and the preparation and sale of the catch. Women’s roles and status all over the world are generally determined by social institutions and norms, religious ideologies, eco-systems and by class positions. The Indian social systems exhibit such grave disparities. Indian women are not a homogeneous group. Their traditional roles are not identical in all strata of society.

Norms and taboos governing their roles and behaviors within and outside the family, the structure of family organizations and social practices and the positions accorded to women in a community differ considerably across regions, cultures and levels of socio-economic development. It is needless to emphasis on the significant contribution of women to agricultural production and household food security.

In the process of production, handling and preparation of food, women play a multiple role throughout the sequence. They are said to be “feeding the world”. Do women really feed the world? Let us consider the evidence. On a global scale, women produce more than half of all the food that is grown. In sub-Sahara Africa and the Caribbean, they produce up to 80% of basic foodstuffs. In Asia, they provide from 50 to 90% of the labor for rice cultivation. And in Southeast Asia and the Pacific as well as Latin America, women’s home gardens represent some of the most complex agricultural systems known. In countries in transition, the percentage of rural women working in agriculture ranges from about a third in Bosnia and Herzegovina to more than half in Poland. Across much of the developing world, rural women provide most of the labor for farming, from soil preparation to harvest. After the harvest, they are almost entirely responsible for operations such as storage, handling, stocking, marketing and processing. Women in rural areas generally bear primary responsibility for the nutrition of their children, from gestation through weaning and throughout the critical period of growth. In addition, they are the principal food producers and preparers for the rest of the family.

Despite their contributions to food security, women tend to be invisible actors in development. All too often, their work is not recorded in statistics or mentioned in reports. As a result, their contribution is poorly understood and often underestimated. There are many reasons for this. Work in the household is often considered to be part of a woman’s duties as wife and mother, rather than an occupation to be accounted for in both the household and the national economy. Outside the household, a great deal of rural women labor — whether regular or seasonal – goes unpaid and is, therefore, rarely taken into account in official statistics (Prakash, Women & Food Security Issues).

In most countries, women do not own the land they cultivate. Discriminatory laws and practices for inheritance of and access and ownership to land are still widespread. Land that women do own tends to consist of smaller, less valuable plots that are also frequently overlooked in statistics. Furthermore, women are usually responsible for the food crops destined for immediate consumption by the household, that is, for subsistence crops rather than cash crops. Also, when data is collected for national statistics, gender is often ignored or the data is biased in the sense that it is collected only from males, who are assumed to be the heads of households. These handicaps have contributed to an increasing “feminization” of poverty. Since the 1970s, the number of women living below the poverty line has increased by 50%, in comparison with 30% for their male counterparts. Women may feed the world today, but, given this formidable lists of obstacles placed in their path, will they be able to produce the additional food needed for a world population expected to grow by three billion in 2030 (NATTCCO, Gender Sensitivity Training for Cooperatives)?

During the FAO-sponsored World Food summit of 1996, world leaders from 186 countries adopted the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and a Plan of Action. These international agreements specified that the role of women in agriculture and food security must be emphasized, in order to create the enabling political, social and economic environment required for the eradication of hunger and poverty. Under Commitment-I of the World Food Summit Plan of Action agenda, governments committed themselves to:
– Support and implement commitments made at the 4th World Conference on Women that a gender perspective is mainstreamed in all policies;
– Promote women’s full and equal participation in the economy…including secure and equal access to and control over credit, land and water;
– Ensure that institutions provide equal access for women;
– Provide equal gender opportunities for education and training in food production, processing and marketing;
– Tailor extension and technical services to women producers and increase the number of women advisors and agents;
– Improve the collection, dissemination and use of gender-disaggregated data [which distinguishes between males and females];
– Focus research efforts on the division of labor and on income access and control within the household; and
– Gather information on women’s traditional knowledge and skills in agriculture, fisheries, forestry and natural resources management.

About the Author
John M. Willie is a cooperative development specialist, who has a wealth of experience in cooperative society development in Liberia. A 1978 graduate of the Booker Washington Institute also studied at Plunke Foundation for Cooperative Study in England in 1979. From 1975 to 1985, he worked as Cooperative Manager at the Bong County Agriculture Development Project (BCADP). He has been a staff at various levels up to the office of Acting Registrar from 1985 to 1989 of the state-operated Cooperative Development Agency (CDA). The Author is currently the Deputy Secretary General of the Liberia National Federation of Cooperative Society. He has contributed immensely to the establishment and sustainability of scores of cooperative societies in Bong, Lofa and Nimba Counties.


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