Improved Health and Education

Industrial agriculture, with its pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc., contributes to a growing worldwide health problem among agricultural workers and others. Even though industrial agriculture is disproportionately pursued in developed countries, the World Health Organization estimates that there are as many as one million serious unintentional pesticide poisonings each year worldwide, and many of these are in developing countries.21 Clearly, a reduction in pesticides, herbicides, etc. because of switching to perennial polycultures could reduce this health burden.

Other health hazards to agricultural workers, such as machinery accidents, could also be detailed, but there is a more interesting angle to the potential impact of perennial polycultures on health and education—the health and education of women and children. If perennial polycultures help reduce undernourishment, there is clearly a positive effect on the health, and secondarily on the education, of children. And there is another potential health and education benefit of perennial polycultures, because women are significantly involved in subsistence agriculture in developing countries. Figure 12 shows the number of female agricultural workers per 100 male agricultural workers by country. Numbers at 100 or more indicate that more than 50 percent of the agricultural workers of a country are women. Furthermore, Figure 13 shows that the percentage of women in the agricultural workforce has gone up significantly in the last 50 years (while the overall agricultural workforce has shrunk).

If perennial polycultures could reduce the amount of tilling, planting, weeding, fertilizing, and pest killing required in agriculture, they could reduce the work burden of women in subsistence agriculture situations. What women in areas of subsistence agriculture might do with more time is, of course, a matter of speculation. What can be said, however, is that one of the causes of a lack of education among women and girls in areas of subsistence agriculture is their increased responsibilities over time in agricultural activities.22 Further, research shows that educated women marry later, space their pregnancies better, seek medical attention for their children in case of illness, provide better child care, and provide better nutrition for their children—all of which helps to ensure that their children are better educated.23

Capacity, "Green Revolution, Fertilizer, Pesticides," January 4, 2003, Chapter 7 (as of April 13, 2007: http:// home.alltel.net/bsundquist1/se7.html).

21 J. Jeyaratnam, "Acute Pesticide Poisoning: A Major Global Health Problem," World Health Statistics Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 3, 1990, pp. 139-144.

22 See, for example, Merilee Karl, "Higher Agricultural Education and Opportunities in Rural Development for Women—An Overview and Summary of Five Case-Studies," Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy, 1997. As of April 13, 2007: http://www.fao.org/docrep/W6038E/w6038e00.htm.

23 See Kalanidhi Subbarao and Laura Raney, Social Gains from Female Education: A Cross-National Study, World Bank Discussion Paper 194, World Bank, Washington, D.C., 1993; and Lawrence H. Summers, Investing in All the People: Educating Women in Developing Countries, EDI Seminar Paper 45, World Bank, Washington, D.C., 1994.

Figure 12

Ratio of Female to Male Agricultural Population (in percentage), 2000

Figure 12

Ratio of Female to Male Agricultural Population (in percentage), 2000

100

or

more

B4

to

100

61

to

B4

Be

to

e1

16

to

Be

less

than

1e

SOURCE: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Gender and Food Security: Statistics, "Gender Statistics and Maps," FAO, Rome, Italy, not dated. Used with permission. As of April 13, 2007: http://www.fao.org/Gender/en/stats-e.htm.

RAND OP179-12

There is some evidence, however, that reductions in tilling, planting, weeding, etc. may be offset by the requirement for more management of polycultures. For example, one collection of papers concluded that polycultures need "higher management" and "an evolving, adaptive management regime."24 Yet, other studies suggest that polycultures will reduce seasonal work peaks (in which women and children are most likely to be involved). Much of this is speculative, however, because there is virtually no labor data on current-day polyculture farming. Determining the actual ability of perennial polycultures to reduce the role of women (and children) in subsistence agriculture (and what women and children might do with their increased time), then, must await further data.

24 E. C. Lefroy, R. J. Hobbs, M. H. O'Connor, and J. S. Pate, "What Can Agriculture Learn from Natural Ecosystems?" Agroforestry Systems, Vol. 45, Numbers 1-3, March 1999, pp. 425-438 (referenced in Larry Geno and Barbara Geno, Polyculture Production: Principles, Benefits and Risks of Multiple Cropping Land Management Systems for Australia, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Barton, Australian Capital Territory, Publication No. 01/34, May 2001). It is interesting to note that the same set of studies in Lefroy et al. concluded that "perennial plants in polyculture will likely be the base of successful mimics" of natural ecosystems.

Figure 13

Ratio of Female to Male Agricultural Population (in percentage), 1950

Figure 13

Ratio of Female to Male Agricultural Population (in percentage), 1950

100

or

more

84

to

100

61

to

84

36

to

61

16

to

36

less

than

16

SOURCE: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Gender and Food Security: Statistics, "Gender Statistics and Maps," FAO, Rome, Italy, not dated. Used with permission. As of April 13, 2007: http://www.fao.org/Gender/en/stats-e.htm.

RAND OP179-13

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