During the annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) every conceivable facet of human existence is examined through the perspective of how women are involved, affected, excluded, needed, and pre-empted (along with a multitude of other verbs). Thus, while midtown Manhattan does not seem like the most obvious place to discuss and create agricultural policy, during CSW, agricultural policy is nevertheless discussed.
The event I attended was entitled “Empower Rural Women to Achieve Food and Nutritional Security,” and was sponsored by the three”Rome-based” organizations; The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and The World Food Program (WPO). Together these three organizations make up the backbone of the international inter-governmental agricultural development and food security apparatus. Their programs are vast and varied, and address gender in different ways. For example, the FAO educates women in rural communities in Africa about agricultural practices and resources through solar powered radios and listeners’ clubs. This builds the self esteem of women, the organizations maintain.
The perceived consensus is that women worldwide are overworked in agricultural production and under represented in agricultural policy and decision making. Lynn Brown, formerly with The World Bank but now an independent activist, pointed out, women and men practice agriculture differently in the developing world. “If you thought about women you would prioritize your crops differently,” she said. Women are more likely to grow fruits and vegetables on a small subsistence scale while men tend to grow staple crops for markets. This bothers Brown because staples are typically less nutritious than a varied fruit , vegetable, and small-livestock diet. She believes that the purpose of agriculture is to produce an affordable, nutritious, accessible diet for all.
This is an incredibly tall order. I completely agree that rural women need to be engaged in pursuing food and nutritional security. My concern though would be that a large push for more varied fruit and vegetable production could have the unintended consequence of destroying some incomes from stable crops; incomes very much needed in the developing world. Agriculture is a complicated facet of human existence. Perhaps nothing else is so essential to human existence. But pipedreams of cheap fresh varied nutritious food available in every home on the planet will not ultimately promote food and nutritional security.
This does not mean that working toward food security does not matter, and it certainly does not mean that the Christian faith has no bearing or relevance when it comes to agricultural policy. Our Lord once chided his disciples by reminding them that the poor will always be among us. So too Saint James the Apostle writes that anyone who sees someone in need and chooses not to meet that need has dead faith. Obviously our Heavenly Father cares for the needs, including nourishment, of his children.
The answer then is not dreams of copious feasts for all, but rather, (as with so many applications of our Christian faith in daily life), balance. We must balance the Creation Mandate to tend and keep the earth, making it multiply and bring forth fruit, with care for the environment. We must balance the desire to feed everyone perfectly with the reality that we may first need to feed them affordably. And we must balance the fact of poverty with our longing for that Eden-ic and heavenly elimination of want that still courses through the veins of humanity.
Featured Image from UNFAO.