“Disabled farmers are farmers with a disability, but remain farmers first and foremost,” states the U.N. Food and Agriculture’s (FAO) report, FAO Working in Support of Persons with Disabilities. Fifteen percent of the global population lives with a disability; furthermore, the majority of disabled persons live in rural areas, according to a report by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Mobility International.
A recent article by FAO, argues that disability needs to be put onto the global food security agenda. Disability and poverty are intricately linked, and addressing the barriers for disabled producers and consumers alike has the potential to significantly increase food security.
Disability can lead to poverty due to unemployment, and increased expenses such as medical bills or transportation costs. In addition, the poor living conditions and lack of access to health care that often accompany poverty can be the cause of disability as well, says Edge. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), one-third of households in the U.S. with a disabled adult are food insecure, compared to 12 percent of households without a disabled adult.
To inform their work with disabled farmers and producers, the FAO uses the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development’s (DFID) definition of disability: “long-term impairment leading to social and economic disadvantages, denial of rights and limited opportunities to play an equal part in the life of the community.” By supporting programs that teach employment skills, the FAO empowers people to be productive and participating members of their communities.
An FAO-supported mushroom production program in Thailand provided training for over 200 disabled farmers. In Ethiopia, where USAID reported that 60 percent of disabled persons were unemployed, the FAO provided animal husbandry trainings to more than 125 families affected by disability.
Despite these targeted programs, FAO’s approach is to “look at the farming community as a whole, and how networks of farmers can come together as trainers, as organizers, as scientists.” While disabled farmers may require additional skills or adapted tools, social exclusion remains one of the biggest barriers. Disability should therefore be considered as an integral aspect of the entire food security agenda, not as a separate issue.
Increasing food security and accessibility will require collaboration between regional planning and public health experts. A study in the Disability Studies Quarterly reveals the important role of comprehensive public transportation, sidewalk maintenance, and public safety in elderly and disabled persons’ ability to acquire food. In addition to this public support, private businesses can offer affordable food delivery programs to assist their less mobile customers. Other small businesses like Detroit’s Fresh Corner Cafe work with convenient stores to supply nutritious foods that are profitable to the store and readily accessible to the community.
Putting disability onto the food security agenda, and making effective improvements in the food landscape, will require both continued attention from international organizations like the FAO, as well as involvement and representation on local food policy councils and within community networks.