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07.03.2011 - 29.03.2011

Women in agriculture and food security: How can we turn rhetoric into reality?

Dear Forum Members,

This online debate is designed to enrich the discussion that will be stimulated by the official launch on 7 March of FAO’s flagship publication The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 (SOFA) on Women in agriculture: closing the gender gap for development and FAO’s celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March which will also address this theme.

The scandal of hunger
According to FAO’s latest estimates given in SOFA, 925 million people worldwide were undernourished in 2010, with 16 percent of the population in developing countries undernourished. While there are large variations between regions and among countries within regions, the global figure is still well above the target set by the Millennium Development Goal 1C to halve to 10 percent the proportion of undernourished between 1990 and 2015.

Of course the solutions are highly complex. While there clearly is a need for substantial increases in agricultural and food production, we also know that just focusing on food supplies will not be enough to eradicate hunger and poverty – a bro ad package of more effective policies and programmes are also needed to ensure that the poor and hungry have access to the food they need for active and healthy lives.

Why does gender matter in agricultural development?
According to SOFA, gender matters because some 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries is female, ranging from 20 percent in Latin America to 50 percent in Eastern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. These averages mask considerable variations between regions and countries.

Women work as independent farmers, managers or unpaid family workers in crop, livestock, forestry and fisheries production and processing, as wage labourers in the fields, landing sites or agro-industries, or as entrepreneurs, especially in agricultural processing and marketing. Yet the large gap in rural women’s access to productive resources – land, livestock, financial services, markets, education and training, and improved technologies - means that they generally achieve lower outputs and incomes than their male counterparts.

If we take crop production as an example, women’s yields are on average around 20-30 percent lower than men’s. Yet women are as good at farming as men. Solid empirical evidence presented in SOFA shows that if women farmers use the same level of resources as men, they achieve the same yield levels. Bringing yields on the land farmed and managed by women up to the levels achieved by men would increase agricultural output in developing countries between 2.5 and 4 percent. This could reduce the number of the world’s undernourished by 12–17 percent, bringing as many as 100–150 million people out of hunger - a huge proportion of the world’s 925 million hungry people!
How can we address these gender gaps in access to agricultural resources – and also further the principles of justice, fairness, equity, equality and human rights that are reflected in MDG3 (gender equality and empowerment)? This is vital since achieving MDG3 can help us achieve MDG1 (eradicating poverty and hunger). We know there is no simple “blueprint” for achieving gender equality in agriculture for solutions vary by region, country, type of economy and farming system, and culture, and depend on political will, but some principles and broad solutions are well known.

I would like to invite Forum Members – who include policy makers and development practitioners from civil society, the private sector, workers’ and employers’ organizations, and the international community, as well as academia - to share their experiences and views on the following questions:

 Week One: 7 – 13 March 2011

1. What policies have worked or failed to achieve gender equality in agriculture - why and with what consequences? How can “we” promote the design and implementation of agricultural policies that are gender-aware and gender-transformative?

Week Two: 14 – 20 March 2011

2. What programmes and projects have proved particularly innovative and catalytic for enhancing rural women's agricultural roles, output and livelihoods?

Week Three: 21 – 29 March 2011

3. How can "we" support poor rural women in their efforts to mobilize and empower themselves?

I propose that we address one question each week to try and keep the debate more focused and coherent (but if you are not free to participate in a particular week’s discussion, please send your comments anyway, and we’ll include them in the relevant discussion cluster). You are also welcome to highlight inter-linkages between these 3 questions.
In order to move from rhetoric and theory to action that can really help rural women, I suggest that we focus on practical experiences and lessons learnt – to see what could be scaled up or replicated (perhaps with modifications) in the same or other countries. Some ideas might even lead to practical South-South or North-South cooperation in the future! But you are most welcome to address methodological, conceptual and data issues too.

My colleagues and I would greatly appreciate your insights on these issues. I look forward to a stimulating debate, and practical proposals from experience on how we can help rural women enjoy a better future, and contribute to improved food security!

Jennie Dey de Pryck

This discussion is now closed. Please contact fsn-moderator@fao.org for any further information.