Women and Agriculture: Improving Global Food Security

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
September 19, 2011

Today, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted a panel discussion, "Women and Agriculture: A Conversation on Improving Global Food Security," on the margins of the United Nations 66th General Assembly in New York City. The panel was moderated by New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof and featured leaders from civil society, the private sector and government who discussed the role of women in promoting transformative agricultural development and food security.

At the G-8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italy in July 2009, President Obama pledged to invest $3.5 billion over three years in agricultural development and improved global food security, which leveraged another $18.5 billion in pledges from the international donor community in the wake of the 2007-2008 food price crisis. In the United States, President Obama's pledge became Feed the Future, the U.S. global hunger and food security initiative, which prioritizes investments in women as critical drivers of agriculture-led economic growth in developing countries.

Women make up the majority of smallholder farmers in many developing countries, yet often lack the resources needed to maximize their productivity. Secretary Clinton and the panel highlighted the need to develop the potential of women farmers and the evidence of the returns on these investments. Secretary Clinton said:

"...Nearly 1 billion people are suffering from chronic hunger, and in the Horn of Africa we are seeing the devastating impact of acute hunger and starvation.

"Now, at the root of the crisis in the Horn of Africa is a man-made problem. And we are all working together to try to alleviate the suffering and to save lives, and we're also as an international community sending a very strong plea to the group al-Shabaab, which is continuing to prevent humanitarian organizations from getting aid to the people who need it, primarily women and children. As a result, the United Nations warns that up to 750,000 people living in famine-stricken areas of Somalia could die in the next 120 days.

"Now, all of us -- my country, the international community -- are supporting organizations that are saving lives, and we're going to continue to do our part and we are going to redouble our efforts to press al-Shabaab to let us help. Later today, USAID Administrator Raj Shah will outline ways that the international community and people all over the world can get involved in supporting those who are suffering in the Horn of Africa.

"As we respond to this and other immediate crises, it is imperative that we stay focused on the long-term goal of strengthening global agriculture in order to produce more food, more nutritious food, and reduce hunger. The United Nations estimates that we need to increase global food production by 70 percent by the year 2050 in order to meet growing demand. That is a very serious challenge.

"So what are we going to do to meet it? Well, one way that we know would yield significant results is investing more in women. This comes down to a simple matter of numbers. Women make up the majority of the agricultural workforce in many developing countries. They're involved in every aspect of agricultural production, from planting seeds to weeding fields to harvesting crops. Yet women farmers are 30 percent less productive than male farmers, for one reason: they have access to fewer resources. They certainly work as hard and they, like farmers everywhere, are at the mercy of nature. But these women have less fertilizer, fewer tools, poorer quality seeds, less access to training and the ownership of land.

"As a result, they grow fewer crops, which means less food is available at markets, more people go hungry, farmers earn less money, and we're back in to that vicious cycle. The production gap between men and women farmers disappears when that resource gap is closed. If all farmers, men and women, had access to the same resources, we could increase agricultural output by 20 to 30 percent. That would feed an additional 150 million people every year.

"And the incomes of women farmers would increase, which means more financial security for their families and more money circulating in local economies, which in turn will help other businesses grow. Furthermore, because women tend to devote more of their money to the health, education, and nutrition of their children, a rise in their incomes pays off over generations.

"In the report provided to you today, you will find several examples of the progress that can be achieved by supporting women farmers. In Ghana, for example, if women and men held equal land rights, and if they both had the ability to use land as collateral to make major investments like irrigation systems or draft animals, women farmers would double their profits from farming. Multiple studies in places from Honduras to Nepal, from the Philippines to Rwanda, South Africa and Zambia, find that when women are involved in the design and field testing of new technologies, those technologies are actually adopted more rapidly, which increases productivity and incomes faster.

"It is for reasons like these that the United States has focused on women farmers and our Feed the Future Food Security Initiative, which is a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy in the Obama Administration. We have worked closely with our partners, including other nations, NGOs, private sector companies, and of course the multilaterals, to help make reaching women farmers a top priority for everyone working on this issue.

"Today, I'm pleased to announce that the United States is allocating $5 million this year for a new gender program within Feed the Future. This money will be used to fund innovative approaches to promoting gender equality in agriculture and land use and to integrate gender effectively into agricultural development and food security programs. It will be used to expand our knowledge base. We know that women farmers represent a major untapped resource, but we don't know nearly enough about which approaches will change that. So we need concentrated research about the obstacles facing women farmers worldwide so we know how to remove them, so women can contribute even more.

"I would urge everyone here today and everyone working in this critical field around the world to bring us your best research proposals and programs to support women farmers. We are looking for good ideas to support.

"Conversations like the one we will have here today make me hopeful that we will succeed. We have with us a distinguished panel of experts who will help us better understand the policies, programs, laws, and societal changes we must make in order to unleash the full productive capacity of women farmers."

You can read a transcript of Secretary Clinton's full remarks here. Secretary Clinton is in New York City to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) September 18-25. While in New York, the Secretary will conduct a number of bilateral and multilateral meetings with her counterparts and participate in several events. You can learn more about the Secretary's travel for UNGA here.

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