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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum


Mainstreaming gender for sustainable soil management

Soils are an essential and non-renewable natural resource that provide goods and services vital to ecosystems and human life. They are fundamental for producing crops, feed, fibre and fuel, for filtering water and cycling nutrients.

Unsustainable land uses, natural hazards and worsening climatic effects are increasingly degrading soil resources and placing the livelihoods of vulnerable populations in jeopardy. Already, 33% of world’s soils are degraded and more than 2.9 billion people are affected by land degradation leading to food shortages, hunger and malnutrition, conflicts over natural resources or distressed migration, with differentiated impacts on men and women.

As specified in the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management (VGSSM), sustainable soil management is a measure to combat soil degradation processes, which simultaneously ensures the long-term productive potential of soils and the maintenance of their environmental functions. The successful use of the guidelines will depend on the collective action of multiple stakeholders in an inclusive, gender sensitive, and sustainable manner.

Closing the gender gap in access to productive resources and services is crucial for the achievement of a Zero Hunger world. Women comprise about 43 percent of the agricultural labour force globally and half or more in many African and Asian countries. They also constitute the majority of farmers in many of the regions most severely affected by desertification, land degradation and drought.

The labour burden of rural women exceeds that of men and includes a higher proportion of unpaid household responsibilities. Despite their crucial role in agriculture and food production, women often have limited rights to the land they farm, preventing them from efficiently controlling soil degradation and enhancing soil fertility.  Women also often cannot influence natural resource governance decisions and practices in their communities, and have less access to information, extension services and education than men.

This online discussion aims at collecting the views from a wide range of stakeholders about the relations between gender equality, sustainable soil management and food security. The feedback gathered from this consultation will inform and provide inputs to draft the ‘Guide on gender and sustainable soil management’, to be prepared by the Regional Soil Partnerships, the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS) together with the Social Policies and Rural Institutions Division of FAO, with inputs from gender and soil management specialists.  

The objectives of this guide are to promote the adoption of a gender-responsive approach to support sustainable soil management. The target audience is composed of various stakeholders such as governmental institutions, non-governmental organizations engaged in gender, land and rural development issues, soil scientists/experts, land and soil professionals, women’s and farmers’ organizations, researchers and policy-makers.

To help with this inclusive process, we invite you to share your experience, views and feedback by replying to the following questions:

  1. In your view, what is the relation between sustainable soil use, management and conservation (including soil fertility and health) and gender equality?
  2. What are the distinct roles for women, men, boys and girls in sustainable soil management?
  3. What are the main gender-based constraints, including unequal gender relations and discriminatory norms that hinder sustainable soil management and contribute to soil degradation? What practical solutions and approaches could help overcoming such barriers?
  4. How can the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment contribute to sustainable soil management and conservation? Which interventions at policy and project/field level are of utmost priority? What are some potential entry points for success?

We greatly appreciate your contributions and ideas related to the topic of global importance ‘Sustainable Soil Management and Gender equality’.

Eduardo Mansur
Director of Land and Water Division, FAO

Antonio Correa Do Prado
Director of Social Policies and Rural Institutions Division, FAO

Ilaria Sisto, Gender and development officer, FAO
Ronald Vargas, Global Soil Partnership Secretariat, FAO

* Click on the name to read all comments posted by the member and contact him/her directly