Closing the gender gap in agriculture would result in significant gains in the fight against hunger.
A report prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that if women in rural areas were given the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent, and have the potential to decrease the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17 percent, or 100-150 million people.
The FAO State of Food and Agriculture Report documents gender gaps in access to a wide range of agricultural resources, including land, livestock, farm labor, education, extension services, credit, fertilizers and mechanical equipment.
“The report findings, coupled with practical experience, make a powerful business case for promoting gender equality in agriculture,” said Florence Rolle of FAO. “Gender equality in agriculture is critical to helping win the fight against hunger and extreme poverty, and to meeting the future needs of the world’s rapidly growing population.”
Backing the International Year of Co-operatives, Peter Janzen from Land O’Lakes, believes it is appropriate to examine the contributions co-ops have made in elevating the status of women in the developing world and supporting the work of farmers worldwide.
Speaking to the Feeding a Hungry World panel at end of last year in Des Moines, Iowa, he said: “For the past 30 years, addressing food insecurity in the developing world has been a driving force for Land O’Lakes International Development, which implements programs that are mostly funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and have impacted the lives of nearly three million people.
“We believe that effective gender integration, and promoting a more active role for women and girls in farming around the world, both maximizes access to beneficial programs and optimizes their success. We’ve seen the results first-hand. Farming operations become more productive and profitable. Farmers work together to access markets for their products. And the income generated provides greater food security, improved nutrition, and a range of other benefits.”
The FAO and Land O'Lakes joint-sponsored panel also discussed how providing female farmers with successful tools, such as establishing agricultural cooperatives, can provide proven solutions in addressing global food insecurity, while empowering women to serve as leaders in meeting agricultural challenges.
Land O'Lakes is an agriculture co-operative across the United States, which works with 9,000 employees and 1,000 member co-operatives. The organisation also supports its own International Development team, which has supported more than 260 projects around the globe since 1981. “The cooperative formula helps Land O’Lakes members in the U.S., as well as farmers around the world, improve on farm quality and productivity, expand market access, add value to production and capture additional value from the marketplace,” added Mr Janzen.
The current famine in the Horn of Africa and record-high food prices worldwide in 2011 highlight the urgent need to make long-term investments in agriculture and in women, according to Women Thrive Worldwide. Women comprise more than six in 10 of the world's hungry and are also responsible for feeding their families and growing the majority of the food in the developing world.
Ritu Sharma, Co-founder and President of Women Thrive Worldwide, said: “There is no solution to the global food crisis to which women are not central. Women sustain their families and communities but often eat last and least. If we choose to turn our backs on the women who have the potential to feed the world, we are dooming ourselves to a future filled with famine, rather than taking steps now to prevent another catastrophe like that in Horn from happening in the first place. We have spent decades underinvesting in agriculture, and especially in women. This is the moment to fix that."