Men are an influential factor in households and community food security in the Center Region of Cameroon
Author: Awa Mangie Achu Samba
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 05/06/2010
Over the past centuries, millions of people have suffered and are still suffering from hunger, famine and food insecurity. This has claimed the lives of thousands of people across the globe; as is seen in several cases such as: Niger 2005 (Tchangari, 2005); Malawi 2002 (Menon, 2007); the Democratic Republic of Congo (Harch, 2003); and many other countries. The World Food Program in 2009 classified Cameroon as “a low-income, food deficit country (LIFDC).” Therefore, this indicates that Cameroon suffers from food insecurity.
Situated in Central Africa, Cameroon has a population of 17.8 million inhabitants, about 50.6% of this population lives under $2 per day (UNDP, 2009), and which 52.1% are in rural areas (WFP, 2009). In Cameroon all provinces are touched by poverty with the poorest areas found in the Far North, North-West, West and Centre Regions (IFAD, 2009). The World Food Program “describes Cameroon as a food insecure country and has further demonstrated that food intake is lower now than in the early 1980s. The result is that 19% of young children are underweight and the child mortality rate is rising rather than falling” (One World, 2009). In addition, IFAD adds that “women and children are particularly hard-hit: 52% of the people in poor households are women, and half of the members of poor households are under 15 years of age” (IFAD, 2009). The woman has no firm authority over the land, credit nor decision-making (Nebasina, 1995); meaning that those having control over resources are the men.
The main activity of the rural farm families is agriculture. One World Journal in 2009 stated that
[…] up to 70% of the population is dependent on agriculture; the government allocates less than 3% of the national budget to the sector, barely a third of expenditure on the military and far below the 10% commitment of the 2003 Maputo declaration. Fertile land is not fully utilized and the country is dependent on food imports; for example, less than 15% of rice consumption is produced locally (One World, 2009).
It is no news that in most communities in Cameroon, traditional norms mandate that rural women fulfill the reproductive roles of child bearing, home management and food provision for the family (Fonjong et al, 2007). With these roles, these women are unable to exercise any influential economic voice and are unable to earn income (Fonjong et al, 2007). However, these norms are gradually changing and given that time is of the essence, it is important for the men to assist in empowering the women. This empowerment can be achieved if the men carry out social responsibilities toward food security; as they are in the most capable position in society.
Much work has been initiated in the light of empowering women. However, little is been done to bring out the importance of men working alongside women in order to prevent household food insecurity and improve the livelihoods of the household. Present data shows that men still maintain ownership over key elements which influence food security.
This paper therefore looks at the present situation of livelihood ownership assets such as natural, financial, social, human and physical conditions. It further brings out how men can influence the sustainability of food security in the household and eventually the community. Thirdly the paper proposes how men can be empowered based on their societal role.
Sustainable livelihood assets still in the hands of men:
Poverty is a major cause of food insecurity and sustainable progress in poverty eradication is critical to improve access to food. Conflict, terrorism, corruption and environmental degradation also contribute significantly to food insecurity. Increased food production, including staple food, must be undertaken. This should happen within the framework of sustainable management of natural resources, elimination of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries, and early stabilization of the world population (FAO 2009).
The household livelihood approach is essential to understand poverty; a key element to increasing food security. Household livelihood indicators are analyzed based on the contextual vulnerability which surrounds them. According to the Department for International development, in 2006,
The factors that make up the vulnerability context are important because they have a direct impact upon people’s asset status and the options that are open to them in pursuit of beneficial livelihood outcomes (DFID, 2006).
The households in the rural Central region of Cameroon are very vulnerable to shocks. The rural poor whose access to any given category of assets tends to be very limited and unevenly distributed cannot meet up with the present day changes in food security. As a result, these people have to seek ways of nurturing and combining what assets they do have in innovative ways to ensure survival (DFID, 2006a).
The livelihood approach is founded on “…beliefs that people require a range of assets to achieve positive livelihood outcomes; no single category of assets on its own is sufficient to yield all the many and varied livelihood outcomes that people seek (ibid).” Yet, the ownership/management of these assets (human capital, natural capital, financial capital, social capital and physical capital) vary in households according to gender. According to the FAO, “gender determines power and resources for females and males (FAO, 2009).” Natural, financial and human assets are the three main assets that will be used in explaining the ownership of these assets.
Human Capital: According to the DFID, (2006b), “human capital represents the skills, knowledge, ability to labor and good health that together enable people to pursue different livelihood strategies and achieve their livelihood objectives.” Additionally, human capital is required in order to make use of any of the four other types of assets (DFID, 2006b). For over 30 years male child education has been of primary priority in Cameroon. Men have been exposed to general and specialized technical education such as carpentry, bricklaying and industrial skills; amongst other forms of education from the elementary level to university training. In 2008, UNICEF published enrollment statistics with respect to boy/girl education. The youth (15–24 years) literacy rate yielded the results of 72% of male literacy compared to 59% female literacy. Further, the primary school enrollment ration was also in favor of males with 117 and girls at 98 (UNICEF, 2008).
Natural Capital: According to the UN, 2005, “natural capitals are natural assets in their role of providing natural resource inputs and environmental services for economic production […] principal categories: natural resource stocks, land and ecosystems.” For example, land ownership is a main source of livelihood through agriculture, pastoralist, fishing and forestry practices. Women control 10% of the land in Cameroon (ICRW, 2005), implying that the majority of the land, 90% is controlled by men. The sustainability of a household depends on who manages the resources; for the household to be sustainable, natural resources need to be properly managed. Management includes decision making on these recourses should not be left out. Joint decision making is very vital on issues such as who “manage” the farm in terms of planting, nurturing, and harvesting the crop.
Financial capital: The DFID refers to financial capital
[…] financial resources that people use to achieve their livelihood objectives […]it can contribute to consumption as well as production […] the availability of cash or equivalent that enables people to adopt different livelihood strategies (DFID, 2007).
Financial capital can include available stocks (cash, or liquid assets such as livestock and jewellery) and regular inflows of money (pensions and remittances) (ibid). According to the U.S. census bureau in 2004, women made only 75.5 cents for every dollar that men earned (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004 cited in Longley 2004).Though men make more income, women typically spend more of their income on food and other basic household needs.
From the above information we can see that male dominance over three main important assets to rural livelihoods, including food security, are controlled by men. Thus, to the present date, there is little equity in the distribution of assets (Chambers & Cornway, 1999). It is of great importance to emphasize the relationship between ownership of these assets and influence on the social and physical capitals; key elements in determining the availability, affordability, acceptability, agency and accessibility of food in a community and in the household.
Male dominance over ownership of assets and the extent of their influence over food security:
Natural capital, financial capital and human capital are key determinants to the availability, affordability, accessibility, acceptability and agency of food security. In Quisumbing and McClafferty (2006) they clearly state that the
IFPRI’s gender and intra-household research program treats gender as an important determinant of the distribution of rights, resources, and responsibilities within the household but recognizes that it is not the only factor. Age, birth order, relationship to the household head, and position of the household in society (for example, whether low or high caste) are some of the factors that also influence the allocation of household resources.
The bundles of resources which are vital for household food security are controlled by men who are not yet ready to share ownership with women. In the rural communities of the Central Region of Cameroon, the men believe that a woman owning these assets will produce female dominance. This is because the culture of this region stipulates that the man heads the household and all assets in the household belong to him. In households where women have rightfully inherited these assets from their husbands, their brother-in-law will send them away with their children or forcefully marry the woman, who in certain cases does accept this for the sake of their children. In other family homes, where the woman begins to earn a higher social status, the man feeling dominated will either team up with his brothers to send the woman out of the house or will constantly oppose to whatever the woman says or does. This harmful cycle will result in constant household conflicts which will have a direct impact on the children’s education, household food security and therefore the sustainable livelihood of the household. In the case where the woman is the only child in the household and has the right to inherit the natural and financial assets amongst others, she can do so if she remains single. In the case where the woman wants to marry, she will need to birth a male child who will be the successor.
Though experiencing these limitations, women have contributed greatly to the availability of household food security. Their efforts are limited because they are not empowered enough, neither do they have ownership, nor do they manage the overall household assets. Decision making is still in the hands of the men- be it at the household or the community level. This therefore implies that for a household to be food secure it requires a joint effort from both men and women, both in the short-term and long-term. The man plays a crucial role in influencing the vulnerability context of both the household and the community. This indicates why men should not be entirely left out of the present discourse. Men cannot be left out because an attitudinal change is required in their response to empowering of women. They have to be encouraged to see that more equitable access to resources and decision-making for women will improve the livelihood and food security for everyone.
The equal ownership of household assets can transform processes and structures and likewise reduce the vulnerability of food insecurity in households and eventually the communities. The DFID report states that “… the greater people’s asset endowment, the more influence they can exert.” The man traditionally owns and controls the assets in the community; meaning he has much influence over transforming structures and processes which can either lead to food security or destroy it. With the assets already guaranteed through their gender role, men are capable of coping with stress and shocks than women but seldom do so, therefore should make use of livelihood opportunities. (Sen, 1989 cited in Chambers & Cornway, 1999).
In the case of natural assets, the proper use of these assets can increase the food supply and also influence policies such as the creation of roads or markets where food can be made available; thus, allowing people to have access to food which is acceptable and affordable.
Owning these assets while unsustainably managing them hampers food security. The mismanagement of these resources may negatively influence biodiversity, which may in the long-run affect productivity in terms of health and resource scarcity.
Human assets can go a long way with specific and general skills. Evidence shows that men are more skilled because of more opportunities for training. Yet, most men do not use these skills to sustainability manage the household. This is because it is believed that food security is a responsibility of the woman. More skills and knowledge should be acquired in regards to sustainability; these skills should be applicable to maximize available resources to give rise to food sustainability. For example, making and implementing sustainable decisions on issues such as farming techniques, deforestation, livestock and fishing. It is empirical that men understand that for food security to be achieved it requires partnership and joint decision-making. It also requires that women improve their knowledge and skills in a wide variety of livelihood activities other than simply the traditional ones.
As for the financial asset, though men earn more than women, women spend more on child nutrition and basic needs of the family (World Bank, 2008). Likewise, in times of economic hardship and crises, generally including a reduction of food consumption, women bear the brunt of this strategy far more than men (IDRC, 2009). IDRC, 2009 adds that
[…] with the smaller holdings, women farmers are unlikely to generate enough surplus from their farming activities to provide the start-up capital for off-farm enterprise and many rely on male household members to assist them (IDRC, 2009).
Men have the possibility of acquiring more physical assets such as farm inputs or equipment, because they are financially more stable than women. In this case, therefore, men should assist women in purchasing equipment they can not afford, in order to improve farm productivity.
With all this in mind, one can see that men have easy access to more social networks and can influence decisions in the rural councils. Social status moves along with caste and class. The more assets owned the more influential the man becomes in the community. In the council of elders, which is the local community leadership of which the majority composes of men, decisions such as the role of the women, availability of water, health, educational facilities and roads at the local level are made. The capability of this leadership council to make decisions does not end at the local level, but can go a long way to influence national laws and policies such as democracy, participative decision making or the availability of physical assets such as infrastructures (roads, schools, hospitals) which are necessary for food security and sustainable livelihood. For example, in schools education is carried out on food and nutrition, sustainable agriculture, civic responsibilities and gender.
Alternatives solutions to household food security:
Households in the Central region of Cameroon have possibilities of gaining access to sustainable livelihoods. According to Chambers & Cornway, (1999),
[…]a livelihood is sustainable which can cope with and recover from stress and shocks, maintain or enhance its capability and assets and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next generation; and which contributes net benefits to other livelihoods at the local and global level and in the short and long term.
For this to be properly carried out, a participatory approach in sensitizing men and women on food security is necessary. Integrating both men and women brings out the importance of each role in sustainable household food security. The main methodology I will propose is: educating men to understand that their role is very essential to ensure food security; likewise, the men should recognize the importance of the woman’s role and visa-versa. Thus, the two gender roles should work as partners and not in competition for domination.
Also, the increasing awareness of the man should not go against the cultural heritage of the community, but should allow the man to understand that power sharing and food security can be achieved with both men and women taking the initiatives. Men and women will come together in innovative programs for the transformation of harmful masculinity norms, high risk behaviors, and violent practices as well as decide on which norms are best for food security and sustainable livelihood.
From the above discourse, men hold a very crucial role in sustaining household and community food security through the ownership of several assets. Men also play a key role in reducing the vulnerability of the household and community; likewise they are essential in transforming structures. However, it is important that men understand that if the current life style and behavior of dominance isn’t changed, more harm to the household and community will be caused. It is also important that the cultural identities which have existed in the community for centuries should be integrated in the sensitization process.
Bio: Awa Mangie Achu Samba is an MA candidate at the University for Peace.