FAO Liaison Office in New York
reviewed & published
National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs, Inc. Awards Luncheon
Statement of the Officer in Charge - FAO Liaison Office, New York

Statement by Ms. Sharon Brennen-Haylock, Officer in Charge - FAO Liaison Office, New York



It is a privilege to be here with you today, and thank you for inviting me.  I also take the opportunity to congratulate those who are receiving awards, and to thank them for their contribution towards the growth and development of young women and for gender equality.

Today, I will share briefly with you information about the work of the Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, and more specifically information on its work related to women.

FAO was established as a Specialized Agency of the United Nations in 1945, and it is based inRome,Italy.  At the heart of FAO’s work is the mandate to: 

  • achieve food security for all
  • make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives
  • raise levels of nutrition
  • improve agricultural productivity
  • better the lives of rural populations and
  • contribute to the growth of the world economy 

In addition to the headquarters inRome, we are present in over 130 countries. This includes five regional offices, 11 sub-regional offices, two multidisciplinary teams, 74 country offices and five liaison offices in developed countries.  The Liaison Office where I work is here at the United Nations. 

FAO does not give food aid; however we work very closely with the other UN Food Agencies, also based inRome, the World Food Programme (WFP) which is a humanitarian organization and provides food aid and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, which provides funding for rural development activities in developing countries. 

FAO serves as a knowledge network, where we put information within reach of those who need it 

We share policy expertise with member countries in shaping their agricultural policy and helping them to achieve their hunger eradication goals. 

We provide a meeting place for nations, so that policy-makers and experts from around the globe can convene at our headquarters or in our field offices to forge agreements on major food and agriculture issues.  For example, later this month, the FAO Director General, Dr. Jose Graziano da Silva, has invited Ministers of Agriculture to come together to discuss high and volatile food prices.  High food prices is something to which we can all relate, and if prices seem high to us, imagine what it must be like for millions of persons around the world who live on $2 dollars per day or less. 

Finally, we bring knowledge to the field, where we have thousands of field projects throughout the world. 

FAO’s estimates show that nearly 1 billion persons in the world today are undernourished and they face hunger and malnutrition on a daily basis.  High and volatile food prices are major contributing factors to food insecurity.  FAO will release this week its report on the State ofFood Insecurityin the World (SOFI), and the report indicates that price volatility and high prices are likely to continue for some time, and possibly increase, making poor farmers, consumers and countries more vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity.  Amongst those who stand to be most affected are smallholder farmers, many of whom are women. 

Rural women comprise more than one quarter of the total world population. 500 million rural women live below the poverty line.  Women produce 60-80% of basic foodstuffs in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, and inSouth Asiathey account for 61%.  However, women own less than 2% of the world’s land, and they are more often unpaid and have less access to resources than men. (FAO) 

Women, especially those in rural areas, are most vulnerable to food insecurity, price volatility and rising prices.  Women are usually perceived as recipients of aid, but actually they should be viewed as critical agents of change, who are able to contribute not only to their own economic and social empowerment, but to the economic well-being of their societies as a whole. 

In 2008, the global food crisis brought to the fore the central importance of agriculture and the role of small holder farmers, and while this increased attention has resulted in better recognition of the need for women’s economic empowerment, there is much more that needs to be done.  It is clear - without a fundamental shift in the way national governments, development agencies, UN organizations, civil society and the private sector view and support rural women, development efforts - including efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- will continue to bypass the majority of the world’s food producers and jeopardize development effectiveness. 

FAO’s report on the State ofFoodand Agriculture (SOFA) 2010/2011 focused on women in agriculture.  The report, using the best econometric evidence available, revealed a number of findings.  Here are a few of them.  Basically in all developing countries, female farmers have lower yields than their male counterparts. This is not because they are less skilled than men, but because they do not have the same access to resources. 

For one thing, women tend to have smaller plots of land than men, often of inferior quality, and typically with less secure tenure. This means that women cannot achieve the same scale of production as men and have less incentive to invest in soil fertility and plant protection, which in turn lowers efficiency. 

In addition, women are less likely than men to use improved technologies or purchase inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides, either because they cannot afford them or because they lack the necessary education and training. 

In order to level the playing field for women, and to unleash their potential to be full productive members of society and to enable them to play a key role in fighting hunger and poverty, it is imperative to promote gender equality, especially for rural women.  Ensuring that rural women have the same access as men to agricultural inputs and resources could lead to significant increases in food production. 

By making sure that rural women have decent employment conditions and incomes, it would also improve health, nutrition and education outcomes for children. Such social benefits are particularly important as they help build human capital of future generations, thereby contributing to long-term economic growth. 


  • First and foremost, women’s empowerment is not only about women. Empowerment is an important tool to enable both poor men and women to overcome poverty while recognizing their different roles in society. Men need to be part of the dialogue and can be powerful champions for women’s rights and gender equality.
  • No one size fits all.  Governments, donors and development practitioners must be aware that policies and institutions often have different impacts on men and women. We cannot make good rural development policy decisions unless we consider gender differences.
  • Policies and programmes need to be holistic and address both women’s productive and reproductive roles, including social safety nets, nutrition, health, and action against gender-based violence, and take into account rural women’s occupational diversity as farmers, fishers, herders, and entrepreneurs, their ethnic identity and the value of traditional knowledge and practices. 
  • Investment is needed in agriculture and in rural women. The fight against hunger needs to address rural women’s specific needs. Prioritized country-led investment plans and appropriate legal and policy frameworks are necessary for countries to bring out the productive potential of 50% (or more) of the population. 
  • The contribution that women make to the economy should be made visible, by improving local and national data collection to account for rural women’s work in the agricultural sector, including on and off-farm production, and the informal economy. 
  • Gender equality must be guaranteed both on paper and in practice. Women need a piece of land, equipment, and credit of their own.  They need to be able to buy, sell or inherit land, to open a savings account or borrow money, and to sign a contract or sell produce. 
  • The focus of your discussion today has been about information and technology - Women’s voices need to be heard, and information and technology are powerful conduits to enable them to participate in decision-making, at the local, national and regional levels, especially in important areas such as food security, agriculture, rural development, environment and climate change.  FAO has several good examples of how communication technology has been used effectively to help with women’s empowerment. 
  • Government officials at all levels must be held accountable for the eeconomic empowerment of women. 

When women are empowered and can claim their rights and access to land, leadership, opportunities and choices, economies grow, food security is enhanced, farm and off farm activities will flourish and prospects are improved for current and future generations.  No single agency of the UN system working alone can solve these complex problems.  We must all work together in partnership.  The three Rome-based agencies and UN Women recently formed a partnership where we will work together to achieve these goals for the economic empowerment of women. 

Before closing, let me commend you the members of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women for the important work that you are doing, both nationally and internationally.  Your work in education, economic development, entrepreneurship, social development and mentoring has made an important difference not only for women, but for entire communities.  Yours is an organization I had heard about growing up in The Bahamas and later when I was a student atHowardUniversity. 

There is considerable synergy between the type of work you are doing and what we do at FAO, such as the valuable work you are doing inGhanato dig water wells, assist with school supplies and other important activities.  FAO has both the regional office for Africa and a country office inGhana.  We are working closely with the Government of Ghana to help it achieve its development goals, and we also work with others who are on the ground in the country.  We have both in the regional and national offices a wide range of projects such as: 

  • a strategic HIV/AIDS Response for Fisheries Communities inAfrica
  • the empowerment of Poor Women and their Families through Sustainable Improved Beekeeping and
  • Empowering small holder farmers through Cowpea production. 

Let me briefly share with you two of our project vehicles that we use in countries such asGhana:

TeleFood - projects around the world have been making a difference in the lives of small-scale farming communities and have given hope to numerous children and women who did not have the needed livelihood supplies. They have been designed to provide families and communities the tools necessary to increase the quantity and variety of their food production.  Project categories range from crop production to fish and animal production, including support to school garden initiatives and apiculture. The budget of each project does not exceed US$ 10 000 and last a duration of 12 months.  Today, the concrete results of TeleFood can be seen in over 3,200 projects in 130 countries.

Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools – is a simple methodology for teaching vulnerable children and young people about farming and how to take care of themselves. It uses a “living classroom” approach in which the students observe the crops throughout the growing season with the help of a facilitator. Agricultural topics are linked to life skills so that when children talk about how to protect their plants from diseases they also learn how to protect themselves from diseases and other adverse conditions. The school builds the students’ self-confidence and problem solving skills by having them decide for themselves what steps are required, for example, to cope with crop pests or diseases and then defend their decisions in front of their peers in open discussions.

World Food Day is observed annually 16 October, and in light of the International Year of Cooperatives, which is being observed this year, the WFD theme is Agricultural cooperatives: key to feeding the world.  It highlights the crucial role that agricultural cooperatives play in improving food security, and contributing to employment generation and poverty alleviation. Cooperatives also play a central role in the lives of women.  We hope that you will be able to join us for the observance of WFD in NY, which will take place at the United Nations, 1 November.

Once again, thank you for inviting me here today, and I look forward to remaining in touch with you and being informed about your important work as well as putting you in touch with our office in Ghana.

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