Closing the Gender Gap in Agriculture

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By Supriya Kumar

Women comprise about 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, yet they face considerable inequalities, such as limited access to important resources. The recently published State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presents the potential gains of reducing the gender gap in agriculture and rural employment – gains that will not only benefit women farmers, but also the agricultural sector as a whole.

Improving women farmer’s access to inputs could increase global food security (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

On average, female farmers produce less than their male counterparts, not because they are less efficient, but because they have limited access to necessary inputs. Access to land is a basic requirement of agriculture, but in North and West Africa, women represent fewer than five percent of all agricultural landholders. Not only are men more likely to own land, but on average male-headed households own larger plots of land, according to the FAO.

Cultural norms and government policies normally dictate land ownership in developing countries, but FAO suggests that a key step is to both review and reform relevant national legislation. Since tradition plays an important role, simply changing a law might now achieve immediate results. It’s important, therefore, to recognize local customs and work with community leaders to increase and protect women’s access to land.

Another input that women farmers have limited access to is financial services such as credit and insurance. Legal and cultural barriers mean that women generally cannot have bank accounts or sign off on any financial contracts and, as a result, are less likely to use credit. In Nigeria, a mere five percent of women obtain formal credit, compared to 14 percent of men.

Much like improving access to land, access to financial services for women will require legal and social changes in developing countries. In addition, promoting financial literacy among women and simplifying financial literature will also improve women’s access to these valuable services.

Reducing the gender gap in agriculture will not only benefit women, but it will also increase agricultural productivity and stability, especially as food prices continue to rise. Armed with the same resources as their male counter-parts, women farmers could increase their yields by 20 to 30 percent. This increase in production has the potential of increasing women’s income as well as reducing the number of hungry people worldwide by 12 to 17 percent.

What are your thoughts? Can you think of other ways to reduce the gender gap in agriculture? Let us know in the comments section!

To read more on improving women’s access to agricultural inputs, see: Safety in Numbers: Tamil Nadu Women’s Development Project, Empowering Women to Take Back the Land, Empowering the Women of India’s Poorest Region and Strengthening Rural Women’s Leadership in Farmer and Producer Organizations

Supriya Kumar is a research fellow for the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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