Two of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, the promotion of gender equality and the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, could come to fruition in the same solution: an investment in women within agriculture.
Empowering women supports a basic human right, but the advancement of female agricultural workers can also lead to improved agricultural productivity, food security, and nutrition. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that equalizing access to productive resources between female and male farmers can increase agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to four percent. With studies forecasting a 100- to 110-percent increase in global crop demand from 2005 to 2050, the additional impact of female farmers could play an important role in serving a hungry world.
The advancement of female agricultural workers can also lead to improved agricultural productivity, food security, and nutrition.
Women represent 43 percent of the world’s agricultural workforce, yet in their estimated yields, women fall behind men between 20 to 30 percent. This isn’t because women are worse farmers, but due to a gender gap in access to resources such as seeds, fertilizer, and technology. The 2012 World Development Report states that in agriculture, gender differences in productivity almost always disappear when access to land and productive inputs are taken into account. Women are also disadvantaged when it comes to owning land. Divorces and widowhood cause many women to become landless and lose their assets—an issue made worse by lower wages. In her remarks to the U.S. Department of State, former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanie Verveer reported that if women were provided the same resources as men, they could increase their individual yields by 20 to 30 percent. This, in turn, would improve agricultural production in the developing world and reduce the number of undernourished people by 100 to 150 million globally.
The 2012 Global Food Policy Report states that although a focus on gender in agriculture is not new, it has been constrained to “gender-blind programs that ignore gender differences” or limited specialized programs that target women. Gender blind programs, they claim, “may even make matters worse by encumbering women with additional uncompensated duties or depriving them of control resources in a manner detrimental to their welfare.” What is necessary are more gender-aware programs that recognize the different needs of men and women, engagement with women’s groups as real partners in development, and further projects that look to find evidence to identify the range of agricultural challenges women face—such as the Women’s Empowerment in Agricultural Index, a tool used by the U.S. government in their Feed the Future initiative.
Removing the barriers women face professionally can generate productive gains, which would make their home nations more competitive in a global market and hopefully accelerate development. As Verveer says, “Unleashing women’s potential by closing the gender gap in the agricultural sector is a win-win strategy.”