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Full, equal participation of women key to tackling hunger

Tackling hunger requires moving from talk to action in ensuring that women farmers have equal access to agricultural resources and an equal voice in decision making at all levels, FAO said this week, as a high-level UN meeting put gender equality and women's empowerment at the top of the agenda.

© FAO/I. Sanogo

1 July 2010, New York - Women grow more than half of the world's food, yet often lack access to resources such as agricultural inputs, land, financing, technologies, training and markets.

At a side event jointly organized by FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) during the Annual Ministerial Review of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), participants examined how to overcome critical gaps in the advancement of rural women.

The event, From Dialogue to action: how to promote the empowerment of rural women in agriculture, looked at efforts in a number of countries to take action on critical issues facing rural women.

Count women in

For Liberian Minister of Agriculture Florence Chenoweth, the key to ensuring effective targeting of scarce resources is improved agricultural data collection.

Sex-disaggregated statistics have enabled the government to more accurately target training and inputs to the rural women who produce more than 50 percent of the country's food, she said.

Now, says Chenoweth, "When the trucks leave Monrovia, our capital, for the field, the seed rice says ‘women'. The fertilizer says, ‘women'. The portion that we have calculated to go to those women is targeted and it is written."

In 2009, the country saw a 43 percent increase in the production of staple crops rice and cassava, Chenoweth said. "So we know that those women were getting some benefit."

‘Front and centre'

Patricia Haslach, Deputy Coordinator for Diplomacy of the US Department of State's Feed the Future initiative, said that women are "front and centre" in the U.S. Government's development strategy.

"When women earn more income, they spend more on food and their children's health and nutrition," said Haslach. "By investing more in women, we amplify benefits across families and generations." 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has an addendum to the age-old proverb: "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime," Haslach said. 

"If you teach a woman to fish, she'll feed her whole village."

Feed the Future's women-centred approach is not about "giving preference for the sake of giving preference. It's about being effective in implementing our strategy," Haslach said, adding that a robust monitoring and evaluation system would ensure assistance that is "agile, adaptive and evidence-based".

Contributors, not beneficiaries

"Agriculture is production. Production is power, and power is ownership, entitlement," said Neriede Segala Coelho, a grassroots leader and farmer from Brazil.

"As long as women are seen as submissive and restricted to the role of recipient and beneficiary, agriculture will continue to have a large gap," said Coelho.  "When women sit at the table to make decisions, the process takes a different shape."

Coelho said that as a result of women's participation in a consultative process in her own community of Pintadas, cisterns were built to store water in every house, and drip irrigation and other low-cost, appropriate technologies were introduced to improve production and women's living conditions, generate income and use resources more sustainably.

Supporting Haitian women

Myrta Kaulard, WFP Country Director for Haiti, discussed how IFAD, FAO and WFP were working together to strengthen Haitian women's access to adequate food and nutrition, income-earning opportunities, and basic services and infrastructure by integrating social investments, such as water and sanitation, health and education into agricultural and rural economic programmes.

Summing up the discussion and stressing the importance of concerted action, Cheryl Morden, Director of IFAD's North American Liaison Office, called on an African adage: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

The UN food agencies hope that the economic empowerment of rural women will figure prominently in September's UN Summit to review progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including MDG 1 to end poverty and hunger and MDG 3 to promote gender equality and empower women.

FAO Deputy Director-General Jim Butler encouraged participants to support FAO's 1billionhungry project, urging governments to make eradication of hunger a top priority. 

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