"Women feed the world": FAO announces theme for World Food Day 1998

FAO is putting women's role in food production and food security at the heart of its awareness raising campaigns for 1998. On International Women's Day, 8 March, the Organization announced the theme for World Food Day 1998 - "Women Feed the World". World Food Day is observed annually on 16 October in more than 100 countries to mark the anniversary of the founding of FAO.

India: a woman farmer at work in the fields

This year's theme both pays tribute to the skills and dedication of millions of rural women around the world and calls for intensified efforts to support these women in their work.

Available statistics resoundingly contradict the stereotype of the farmer as a man. Globally, women produce more than half the food that is grown. In sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, they produce up to 80 percent of basic foodstuffs. In Asia, between 50 and 90 percent of the work in the rice fields is done by women. After the harvest, rural women in developing countries are almost entirely responsible for storage, handling, stocking, marketing and processing.

In rural and urban areas the world over, women bear primary responsibility for feeding children and other family members. They spend a higher proportion of their income on food for the family than do their male partners, and they are largely responsible for cooking and food preparation. The newly appointed Director of FAO's Women and Population Division, Sissel Ekaas, said, "Without any intended offense to struggling and hardworking male farmers, of which there are still many out there, the trend towards feminization of agriculture in large parts of the developing world is now widely recognized."

Despite their overwhelming contribution to food security - particularly in the poorest areas of the world's poorest countries - these women are often "invisible" - economically, statistically and in popular and media images. Much of their labour outside of the household - both regular and seasonal - goes unpaid. When data is collected for national statistics, gender is often ignored or information is only collected from men, who are presumed to be the household heads. In addition to this, most women do not own the land they cultivate. "Women still only own around 2 percent of all land," Ekaas said. "In the 50th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, equal right to land ownership must be recognized as a fundamental human right."

The combined effect of these and other handicaps is a huge growth in the number of poor women. Since the 1970s, the number of women living below the poverty line has increased by 50 percent, in comparison with 30 percent for men. Announcing the "Women feed the world" theme for World Food Day, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said, "Women may feed the world today, but, given the formidable list of obstacles placed in their path, will they be able to produce the additional food needed for a world population expected to grow by three billion by 2030?"

9 March 1998

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