Why are women so important to agriculture?

If you educate a woman, you educate society. Imagine a world where farmers, especially rural African women, learn how to produce high yielding and nutritious food. Imagine the positive impacts that would have on nutrition, health and especially the farmer’s income. Women play a key role in food security; they are the backbone of the rural economy especially in the developing world.

“We spend so much time discussing about policies while millions go to bed hungry. We need to move beyond policies on paper to action on the ground,” Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) told the opening plenary of the Committee on World Security (CFS). “How do we make sure that everyone has access to nutritious food? How do we transform rural areas to places where there is a bright future?”

Empowering and investing in rural women has, over the years, resulted in significant improvements in productivity and rural livelihoods. In most developing countries, women are responsible for nutrition and food security at household level. Yet, they hold the smallest percentage of registered land.

According to research by Farming First with the  FAO Gender Department, on average, 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries is women. Of these women, 79% depend on agriculture as their primary source of livelihood. Most households are headed by women but their access to productive resources is limited. The effects of climate change make all the traditional tasks of the women uncertain and dangerous, yet they have no voice in decision making processes on policies regarding the environment.

The research also showed that, a rural woman typically works longer than a man. They are employed for labour-intensive tasks and earn lower wages than men. As farming alone doesn’t often sustain the family, the off-farm economy is an important source of household income. Yet rural women do not have the same access to these employments opportunities as men.

Le Monde Selon les Femmes (The World according To Women), a Belgian NGO noted that when women are faced with the consequences of climate change, they start developing alternatives, finding new ways of ensuring income and food security for their families. They struggle to access resources such as land, water, organic inputs and raw materials. If they hold land, their plot is generally smaller and of an inferior quality and with fewer rights than those held by men. This make yields between men and women different not because women are less skilled but because they have less access to inputs like seeds, equipment and fertilizers.

Government organisations, agricultural bodies, universities, companies, regional organisations, NGOs and networks of agricultural organisations, have often come together with one objective: to improve livelihoods and support rural women’s rights. This will also promote sustainable development, strengthen women’s leadership, improve food and nutrition security and help increase rural women’s incomes so that they can meet their needs.

Farming First suggests that we need to encourage rural women to participate in farmer organisations and cooperatives. By doing this, we can achieve economies of scale in access to markets and reduce rural women’s isolation while building confidence, leadership and security.

It’s time to bridge the gender yield gap because it will boost food and nutrition security globally and increase agricultural output. This is the journey we must make to reduce hunger.  

Blogpost by Ruth Muchaba, #CFS43 Social Reporter – ruth(at)accessagriculture.org

Picture: Female farmer in North Mali - Courtesy: P.Casier/CCAFS

This post is part of the live coverage during the 43rd Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). This post is written by our social reporter and represents the authors’ view only.

18/10/2016 20:00

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