Though it sounds far fetched, increases in manufacturing jobs in eastern Asia are contributing to the empowerment of Ugandan women. Increased revenues from the production of rice in Uganda—a crop traditionally grown by women—have started to elevate women to a new status in Ugandan society. Joint production of rice by both men and women has created more equal gender relations in the country.
In Uganda, rice production has more than doubled since the year 2000, from 71,000 metric tons to 151,000 in 2013. This increase is mainly due to the introduction of the NERICA-4 variety of rice. NERICA—short for New Rice for Africa—include upland rice varieties developed by the Africa Rice Center that crosses the more robust African rice with the higher yielding Asian rice. The NERICA-4 strain in particular is appreciated for its durability, high yields, and shorter ripening time.
Since the introduction of NERICA rice in 2002 the area of land planted with upland rice has increased from 1,500 to over 50,000 hectares in 2009. It was previously common for Ugandan farmers to produce two kinds of crops: low-value crops for consumption and high-value cash crops for revenue.
The high yields of NERICA-4 rice, combined with dramatic increases in the global price of rice in the new millennium, have enabled Ugandan farmers to focus their attention on upland rice production as a high-value cash crop that also can be used as food. Net gains from rice production are unmatched by any other cash crop they could produce, such as tobacco.
Without the significant rise of global rice prices, it would not produce nearly as much revenue in Uganda. According to a briefing by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) entitled The End of Cheap Rice, “rice prices have more than doubled since 2000, rising by almost 120% in real terms.”
Price increases can be attributed in part to shifts in trade policies and storage policies by major rice producers. Since 2006, China, India and Thailand have put an extra 30 million tons of rice into storage, according to USDA estimates. India has imposed severe restrictions on rice exports, while the Thai government has set its rice prices much higher than the world-market level.
However, trade and storage policies are only temporary changes to rice prices; to get the full picture of the rice market and why rice will not return to the same cheap price levels as the year 2000, the costs of rice production must be addressed.
The rise in oil prices has driven up the cost of fertilizer and other inputs, but, more importantly, farmworkers are getting higher wages in rice-producing parts of Asia. From 2004 to 2008, wages for rural Chinese workers doubled. Rising wages can be attributed to urbanization and industrial growth in Asian rice-producing countries. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing jobs in Asia will pay two to three times the amount that rural work will.
As more manufacturing jobs have become available, rural workers have migrated to urban areas to fill them, creating a shortage of farm workers. The only way for rural farms in Asia to retain their workforce is to increase their wages. This increase in farm workers’ wages has created a long-term increase the price of rice on the global market. The increase in rice prices has global implications.
The effect of the rise in rice prices (caused by manufacturing in Asia), is having a particular impact on Ugandan women, one that cannot be understood without a knowledge of traditional gender roles in Ugandan society. The International Fund for Agricultural Development’s (IFAD) field diagnostic study done in Uganda highlights the gender divisions when it comes to agriculture work in the country.
According to the study’s results, men are traditionally more responsible for the high-value cash crops produced in Ugandan households. When cash crops become less valuable, their production is done by the women. Low-value crops for consumption are also traditionally produced by Ugandan women.
Women and children tend to be delegated the farm tasks that are tedious and time consuming. At least, women control the crops they produce on their own plots and any resulting income from their sale; they are just normally responsible for the least valuable crops. Since men tend to bring in most of the family’s wealth, they tend to have all of the control over decisions within the family, and a much higher societal status than women.
Heightened production of rice in Uganda is changing these gender roles. Rice is now a high-value food crop produced by both men and women. The high volume of rice production in many Ugandan households combined with the difficult nature of rice farming means that men and women have had to share the burden of labor in order to grow the crop. Women are recognized as being contributing partners in a joint endeavor, leading to newfound independence and decision making power in their households.
This is type of women’s empowerment through a change in societal role has been taking place across the developing world, and is clearly a powerful way to transform gender inequalities.
Another example is BRAC’s healthcare programs in Bangladesh. BRAC hires women to deliver primary health care by visiting people at their homes without a doctor or nurse. These women join BRAC as frontline community health promoters.
After they receive training from BRAC, they travel from house to house in order to promote many health practices that we hold as staples in the Western world. Not only does this create healthier societies, it also uplifts these women to a higher status in society and broadens the perceptions of the role of women in these rural communities.
Women elevating their own financial status serve as role models for other women of the developing world, showing developing communities examples of successful empowered women and changing gender roles.
The effect of manufacturing jobs in Asia upon women in Uganda highlights the true extent to which the world has been encompassed by globalization. Higher wages for Asian farmworkers not only have increased their wealth, but the wealth of households along with the status of women half a world away.
In such a globalized world, it is all the more important to contribute to the development of the global south, as it furthers the development and prosperity of the whole global economy.
– Martin Drake
Sources: CGIAR, ODI, IFAD, IndexMundi, Huffington Post
Photo: Forest News