Bangkok, Thailand, 24 Jul 2013 -- A high-level consultation on gender, food security and nutrition got underway today, hosted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), FAO and Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN). The three-day regional meeting brings together more than 60 representatives from some 18 Asia-Pacific countries, including four ministers, in an effort to boost food security by improving the economic lot of women, particularly in agriculture and food production.
According to Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, “The main objective of the high-level consultation is to strengthen awareness and knowledge of the gender dimensions of food and nutrition insecurity and their implications for national agriculture and rural development.”
In his opening statement, Konuma said: “Our goal is to reach a consensus on the country specific strategies to enhance food and nutrition security in a gender and socially equitable manner”
According to Konuma, “FAO prioritizes the strengthening of our member countries’ capacities to integrate gender in all agriculture, food and nutrition security efforts and to work toward gender equality in policy, programme and project efforts.” The consultation is an “opportunity to share experiences and learn from lessons of each other, and identify priority actions to reduce hunger and poverty at country and regional levels in Asia and the Pacific, helping to reach our goal of eradicating hunger.”
In his welcoming speech, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Cooperatives, Yukol Limlamthong, said Thailand “has been supporting women by providing training courses in agriculture, group activities, skills development and the promotion of savings, so that they become efficient and skilled workers and increase income and living standards.”
Limlamthong also noted that Thailand has “already achieved the targets of both the World Food Summit and the Millennium Development Goal number 1, reducing the number and proportion of undernourished people by half before 2015. “Beyond the government commitments, said Limlamthong, “the Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy, initiated by His Majesty the King and the School Lunch Programme in remote areas established by Her Royal Highness Sirindhorn are the main key factors for our success.”
Speaking on behalf of ADB, P. Imrana Jalal, Senior Social Development Specialist said: “Food security and hunger eradication are among the top priorities on the international development agenda today” because of the impact that the global economic crisis, food price spikes, and climate change have had on the agriculture sector.
WOCAN Director Jeannette Gurung, said, “In the last few years, we have seen an increasing recognition of the importance of gender equality for food security; but we still need to work on changing the way we think about gender and enact those changes in appropriate policies. While we do agree that the time to invest in women is now, we believe that it was also time about 20 years ago. As the saying goes, “the best time to plant a tree was yesterday, but the next best time is today.”
ADB and FAO studies show that gender equality can make a substantial contribution to a country’s economic growth and it is the single most important determinant of food security.
The consultation also presented the occasion to launch a new ADB/FAO report entitled: Gender Equality and Food Security – Women’s Empowerment as a Tool against Hunger. In it, the author, Dr Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, presents compelling evidence that gender equality needs to be improved if hunger is to be reduced.
More than 50 percent of Asian women and 60 percent of women in Pacific Island states still work in agriculture, according to ADB and FAO studies. Only 30 percent of women in the Asia-Pacific region are working in salaried employment outside of agriculture. In South Asia, women’s share of non-agricultural wage employment is only 20 percent—the lowest among the world’s regions.
Gender gaps in agriculture disappear when access to productive inputs is equalized. Of critical importance also is expanding and promoting economic opportunities for women in the non-agricultural labor market and providing them with decent work.
Removing obstacles that prevent women from accessing land, financial services, extension services, and markets, and agricultural research and development services, would produce significant productivity gains for women farmers, rural households, communities, and society as a whole.