Women, youth incur higher farm income losses due to heat stress, floods: FAO report

This happens because their capacity to react and adapt to extreme weather events is unequal

Every year, agricultural income losses due to climate stressors is higher in households headed by women than those where men are the primary breadwinner in low-and-middle-income countries (LMIC), including India, a new report highlighted. Women-headed households experience losses 8 per cent higher due to heat stress and 3 per cent higher due to floods, compared to men-headed households.

Similarly, households headed by young people (younger than 35) were found to be more likely to lose agricultural income due to extreme weather events, relative to those headed by older people.

This happens because their capacity to react and adapt to extreme weather events is unequal, according to the authors of the new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The research paper, for the first time, provides concrete evidence from 24 countries on the magnitude of the challenge posed by the climate crisis for rural people in socially and economically vulnerable positions due to their wealth status, gender and age.

The Unjust Climate report revealed that the income loss due to climate stressors like heat and floods for women-headed households translates to a per capita reduction of $83 due to heat stress and $35 due to floods, totalling $37 billion and $16 billion, respectively, across all LMICs.

If the average temperatures were to increase by just 1°C, these women would face a staggering 34 per cent greater loss in their total incomes compared to men. Considering the significant existing differences in agricultural productivity and wages between women and men, the study warned that if not addressed, climate change will greatly widen these gaps in the years ahead.

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Women face many discriminatory norms like care and domestic responsibilities and these place a disproportionate burden on them, limit their rights to land and prevent them from making decisions over their labour.

Extreme weather events undermine the incomes of female-headed households relative to those of male-headed household

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Source: FAO’s The Unjust Climate report

FAO analysed socioeconomic data from over 100,000 rural households, representing more than 950 million people, across 24 LMICs. This information was integrated with 70 years of georeferenced daily precipitation and temperature data. The countries include: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Vietnam, Mongolia, Iraq, Armenia, Georgia, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Ecuador and Peru.

Extreme temperatures also worsen child labour and increase the unpaid workload for women in poor households.

“Social differences based on locations, wealth, gender and age have a powerful, yet poorly understood, impact on rural peoples’ vulnerability to the impacts of the climate crisis. These findings highlight the urgent need to dedicate substantially more financial resources and policy attention to issues of inclusivity and resilience in global and national climate actions,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.

But agricultural policies fail to address gender equality and women’s empowerment and intersecting vulnerabilities such as climate change. An earlier analysis of agricultural policies from 68 LMICs countries done by FAO last year showed that about 80 per cent of policies did not consider women and climate change.

Age-related vulnerabilities

People’s climate vulnerability is also affected by age-related biological, social and economic factors. However, the relationship between age and climate vulnerability, particularly in rural areas, is still not well understood.

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The results showed that when exposed to extreme events, young households experience a decline in crop value relative to prime-aged households. For example, an additional day of extreme high temperature is associated with a 1.8 per cent reduction in farm income and a 2.4 per cent reduction in the crop value of young households, relative to prime-aged (between 35-64) households.

However, households led by young individuals have an easier time finding off-farm job opportunities during extreme weather conditions compared to older households, whose labour productivity becomes more at risk as temperatures rise.

So households headed by young people compensate for the losses with a relative increase in off-farm income of 2.9 per cent. This way, they see their total incomes increase by 3 per cent after floods, and by 6 per cent after heat stress, relative to older households.

Due to extreme weather events, young households lose on-farm income relative to older households, but compensate through off-farm income sources

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Source: ‘The Unjust Climate’ report

Taking action

The authors of the report suggested that addressing these challenges requires targeted interventions to empower various rural populations to engage in climate-adaptive measures.

They called for investing in policies and programmes that address the multidimensional climate vulnerabilities of rural people and their specific constraints, including their limited access to productive resources. They also recommended linking social protection programmes to advisory services that can encourage adaptation and compensate farmers for losers, such as cash-based social assistance programmes.


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