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Press Release 98/16



Rome, March 8 -- "Women Feed the World" is to be the theme of this year's 18th observance of World Food Day, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced today on the occasion of International Women's Day.

Chosen to highlight the significant contribution women make toward household and national food security, the theme will also be the focus of FAO's TeleFood hunger awareness and fund-raising event.

"When given the opportunities and resources, women have proven to be active partners in development: efficient, dynamic and open to innovations. They represent a formidable potential that could help in meeting the challenges of food security in the 21st century," said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.

The role of women in agriculture was underscored at the 1996 World Food Summit, where 186 countries, signing the Summit's Global Plan of Action, agreed to ensure an enabling political, social and economic environment designed to create the best conditions for the eradication of poverty and for durable peace, based on full and equal participation of women and men.

According to FAO, globally, women produce more than half of all the food grown. In Africa, they produce up to 80 percent of all basic foodstuffs and they provide between 50 to 90 percent of the labor for rice cultivation in Asia. Women in rural areas are almost exclusively responsible for the nutrition of their children. Women are also the principal producers and processors of food for their families. Women also spend a significant part of their household income -- a much larger part proportionately than men -- on buying additional food for the family, says FAO.

In much of the world, women spend up to five hours a day collecting firewood and water and up to four hours preparing food. In addition, says FAO, rural women provide a significant amount of the labor for farming. After harvest they are almost exclusively responsible for operations such as storage, handling, stocking, marketing and processing. With more men migrating to urban areas in search of work, women carry an even heavier burden as they also become the head of household. In some regions of Africa, 60 percent of households are now headed by women.

Despite their contribution to food security, women's work is poorly understood and underestimated, according to FAO. Work in the household is often considered part of a woman's duties as wife and mother, not an occupation to be accounted for in the national economy. Outside the house, a great deal of rural women's labor goes unpaid. In most countries women do not own the land they work and when they do, it tends to be smaller, less valuable plots.

Prevailing attitudes make the plight of rural women worse by denying them political power and social representation, states FAO. Gender-biased legal and social structures and illiteracy, are other factors that prevent women from improving their economic situation, thus increasing the feminization of poverty. Since the 1970s, the number of women living below the poverty line has increased by 50 percent, in comparison with 30 percent for their male counterparts

World Food Day and TeleFood form the vanguard of FAO's follow-up to the World Food Summit, in which FAO was charged with raising public awareness on the issues of food security and mobilizing people to work to end world hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity.

World Food Day, marking the founding of FAO on October 16, 1945 in Quebec City, Canada, is observed annually in about 150 countries. Telefood was launched last year as part of the follow-up to the World Food Summit and was recently endorsed by FAO's 175 nation governing Conference, which called for the continuation and expansion of TeleFood. All money raised through TeleFood goes entirely to small grass roots projects in low-income food-deficit countries around the world, including FAO's Special Programme for Food Security.

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