Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

OPENNING STATEMENT

by

Hiroyuki Konuma
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

delivered at the

Asia media launch of SOFA 2010-11

Foreign Correspondence Club, Bangkok
15 September 2011

 

Prof. Kraisid Tontisirin,
Friends from Media,
UN Colleagues,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you to you all for accepting our invitation to this important media launch. It is indeed a great pleasure and an honor to be speaking to you about FAO’s report on the State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 (also known as SOFA 2010-11) which addresses the theme Women in agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development.

Although this report was launched globally in Rome at FAO Headquarters in March this year, we have taken this opportunity to share it with you here in the Asia-Pacific region via this media launch.

Ladies and gentleman,

The world is currently facing many challenges, one of the most critical being chronic hunger and poverty which currently affects nearly one billion people. The Asia-Pacific region is home to two-thirds of the world’s hungry and undernourished, totaling some 578 million in 2010.

Added to this problem is medium to long-term challenge of food insecurity due to the rapidly growing population which is projected to reach 9.1 billion by 2050 from the present level of 7.0 billion. There is thus an urgent need to curtail the problems of poverty, hunger, malnutrition and food price volatility.

Agriculture – the very source of food production as well as the main source of employment and incomes – is crucial in addressing and providing solutions to these challenges.

To illustrate the gender realities in the context of the Asia and Pacific region, I wish here to share some basic realities that exist in the region:

First of all, nearly 70-80 percent of population live in rural areas and majority of them are engaged directly or indirectly in agriculture in least developed countries in Asia and the Pacific. 

  • Furthermore, men and women have different access to productive resources. In Viet Nam, fewer female headed households accessed loans: 24 percent in comparison to 33 percent of male headed households. The type of support received was also gendered: 23 percent of men and 7.5 percent of women received agricultural information.
  • For many countries in this region, the most significant source of gender inequality is related to agricultural lands in terms of inequality in land ownership and size of cultivated land. Female headed households in Cambodia, for instance, own about 18 percent of the total plots used for agricultural activities, which is five times less than the percentage of plots owned by male headed agricultural households.
  • While women’s contribution is crucial for subsistence economies and food security, their activities are often limited due to the lack of access to the productive resources.

Gender approaches that give attention to the needs of both women as well as men should thus be given high priority in the development and implementation of the agricultural development agenda.

However, women’s contribution to agricultural development is often not well-understood as a result of the lack of data and the challenge of accurately measuring women’s involvement in agricultural production activities. The work of rural women, often unpaid, is not generally considered to be productive work. While women’s contribution is crucial for subsistence economies and food security, their activities are often excluded from economic accounts. Agricultural statistics thus tend to under-represent, variables that are crucial for understanding the rural sector activities and rural development. FAO and partners are working together to address this deficiency in data as well as the capacity to collect such data.

The report on The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 (SOFA) on "Women in agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development" signals a new way of thinking about women in agriculture. It includes a hard-nosed economic analysis of the gaps women face in access to resources and opportunities in agriculture and rural enterprises, and provides the first empirical estimates of the costs this "gender gap" imposes on the agriculture sector in terms of lost productivity, food insecurity and forgone growth. The report makes a strong business case for promoting gender equality in agriculture.
 
SOFA 2010-11 represents an opportunity to change, in a fundamental way, how FAO, our Member Governments, and our development partners treat gender issues in agriculture.

The report advocates for a recognition of the contribution and role of women in agriculture and in addressing needed changes to address the existing gaps. The report also implies and advocates that gender issues and women’s participation can greatly reduce poverty,  hunger and malnutrition and that women’s participation has a positive influence on the success and sustainability of agricultural programmes and projects. As such development programmes should take into account the different roles, needs, and perceptions of both men and women in agriculture in order to provide for sustainable improvements.

Finally, let me stress that FAO is increasingly emphasizing the need for a more holistic approach, closely integrating gender issues in food and nutrition security. This can best be done by nutrition-sensitive food and agriculture based approaches that have nutrition improvement of all household members as the explicit objective, insuring all household members have access to the food they need for a healthy and active life.

Indeed, malnourished people are usually found within poor households, and sustainable livelihoods are essential to achieving food security, Access of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups – such as poor women – to sufficient, safe and nutritionally adequate food is key to improved policies for inclusive development in the region. A region which despite high economic growth over the last three decennia is marked by an increasing gap between rich and poor.

In this connection, FAO is now also embarking on a wide range of related outstanding issues for the world’s food and nutrition security, including addressing gender issues in land tenure and international investments in agriculture, price volatility, social safety nets and climate change, to name just a few examples.

At the same time, improving dietary diversity by increasing the availability, access to and consumption of foods necessary for a healthy diet can facilitate women’s greater involvement and participation in the development processes. This requires agriculture to ensure that nutrition and gender objectives are incorporated in all aspects of the food supply chain from production, processing, storage, access to and consumption by consumers.

The SOFA 2010-11 report argues that more than 100 million people could be lifted out of poverty if women were enabled the same access to productive resources as men.

Women's work in agriculture is, however, often marginalized by the focus given to crop and livestock production that is often dominated by males. Yet we know that women play very significant roles in producing food that is consumed by their families. They are also the ones who are expected to breastfeed their infants and to provide the appropriate complementary foods through the critical weaning period.
 
It is, therefore, important to acknowledge and to promote and support the roles and the work carried out by women including in food crops and livestock production enterprises that are normally the domain of the men folk.

Research shows that gender inequality in access to productive resources and inputs in agriculture reduces efficiency and rural development. In promoting women’s work, strategies such as food crop diversification, cultivation of indigenous plants, development of vegetable gardens and fruit crops, rearing of small livestock, development of backyard fish ponds, and agro-forestry as well as preservation and processing can be employed to increase the food base and supplement staple foods.

Let’s take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment for gender sensitive approach through our concerted efforts.

Thank you.