Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

Keynote Address


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

Delivered at the

FAO Subregional workshop on Sex-Disaggregated Data in Agriculture and Rural Development for South Asian Countries

Bangkok, Thailand
29 November 2011


Distinguished participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is my great pleasure to extend to you a warm welcome to the FAO Subregional workshop on “Sex-Disaggregated Data in Agriculture and Rural Development for South Asian Countries”. The main objective of this workshop is to address deficiency in Sex-Disaggregated Data as well as to develop the capacity to collect such data.

I am pleased to note that participants from 9 countries are participating the workshop. I note that you all have expertise and much experience in statistics including in agricultural statistics and that you will not only learn from, but also make technical contributions to the workshop and especially important, to the needed follow-up in your countries and the South Asia sub-region on these subjects.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You are well aware, that FAO’s main mandate is to combat poverty and hunger and monitor the progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, especially MDG number one which is targeted to reducing extreme poverty and hunger by half by the year 2015. Despite the rapid transformation of economies, the Asia-Pacific region still accounts for more than two-thirds of the world’s undernourished population, and South Asia is home to the highest population in poverty. Added to this problem is that of agricultural under-productivity.  Food insecurity is a concern given the rapidly growing population which is projected to reach 9.1 billion by 2050 from the present level of 6.8 billion. There is thus an urgent need to curtail the problems of poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

Agriculture – the very mainstay of the economies as well as the main source of livelihoods, employment and incomes for the rural population – is crucial in addressing and providing solutions to these challenges.

As, in other developing regions, the majority of the population live in rural areas in most countries and they are heavily dependent on agriculture. Even though agriculture’s contribution varies between RAP countries, 51.1 percent of the economically active population in South Asia is in agriculture and 34.9 percent of the labor in the sector is by females. This clearly shows that women play a key role in agriculture.

A significant issue regarding women’s important role at the global level is the recent international recognition accorded for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize awarded to 3 notable women, namely H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Ms. Leymah Gbowee and Ms.Tawakkul Karman. The awards were in recognition of their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.

Thus, the 21st century, is seen as the era for women’s full and equal participation at all levels of society. Agriculture is no an exception. Women do make important and crucial contributions in agriculture and rural enterprises as farmers, workers and entrepreneurs, and as significant contributors to household food security. This year, for instance, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific honored five model farmers for outstanding achievements in the areas of horticulture, aquaculture, small island agriculture, forestry and rice farming in this region and four out of five awardees were women who were farmers, entrepreneurs and community leaders all of whom are making significant contributions in the agriculture sector and in their communities and their countries.

The roles women who are involved within agriculture vary across the regions and sub-regions and between individual countries given disparities and historical and cultural differences.  However, everywhere, women face gender-specific constrains that reduce their productivity and limit their contributions to agricultural production, economic growth and well-being of their families, communities and countries. For many countries in South Asia that this workshop is focused on, the most significant sources of gender inequality is related to agricultural land in terms of inequality in land ownership and size of cultivated land. Women in the sub-region are less likely to own land and the land holdings available to them are small in size. In Pakistan, for instance, research has shown that women own less than 3 percent of agricultural plots even though 67 percent of surveyed villages reported a woman’s right to inherit land.

Gender differences in employment status also appear to be more marked in the South Asia sub-region where only 13 percent of adult women were found to be self-employed in agriculture compared with 33 percent of men. The large number of rural women, up to 64 percent of the female population in South Asia, are classified as either non-active or not reported as employed.  This point probably reflects the fact that much of women’s work in rural areas in the sub-region is informal or unpaid and thus is unrecorded.  This alone underscores the importance of collecting, analyzing and using sex-disaggregated data. 

Furthermore, as these examples show, despite the role women play in agriculture, women’s contribution to agriculture is often not well-understood.  One main reason for this is due to under-reporting of their contributions to agriculture, which in turn is related to the lack of data and the related challenge of accurately measuring women’s involvement in agricultural production activities. Data is essential as evidence to support equitable and rationalized planning, for policy formulation and programme frameworks in agriculture and rural development. Such statistical information on the situation of women, as well as that of men, in all spheres of society is an important tool in promoting equality and in monitoring progress towards its attainment. Sex-disaggregated Data is pertinent to policy and programme planning exercises, especially to enable policymakers to base decisions relying on data that fully captures the needs of both women and or the men. It also can help eliminate gender-based stereotypes by providing evidence on the actual situation of both women and men. Thus, Sex-Disaggregated Data is a valuable tool for gender advocates, policy makers, and for all who work on development related issues.

According to the FAO’s latest publication titled “The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 – Women in agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development”, closing the gender gap could increase agricultural output in the developing the world by 2.5 – 4 percent, on average, with higher gains possible in countries where women are more involved in agriculture and where the gender gap is wider. At the same time, increasing agricultural production by this magnitude could reduce the number of undernourished people by 12-17 percent. Improved gender equality in access to opportunities, resources and services would not only unlock the productivity potential of women but could also improve nutrition and health outcomes, and bring about long-lasting impact on economic growth by raising the level of human capital. In order to attain such outcomes, Sex-Disaggregated Data is seen as crucial to provide the evidence to promote the adoption and implementation of gender-sensitive policies and programmes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I believe this workshop would provide all the opportunity for the exchange of views on recent developments on gender statistics in each country and to discuss ways to design and collect sex-disaggregated data useful to tackle the existing gender related development challenges in the South Asia sub-region.  I firmly believe that the excellent technical capacities in our region will enable us to make great strides in producing reliable and robust gender statistics – that will support national policy-makers in making evidence-informed policy and planning decisions. 

I wish you fruitful discussions and a pleasant stay in Bangkok.

Thank you very much.