FAO’s State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11: Closing the Gender Gap for Development

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By Supriya Kumar

In conjunction with the UN’S Food and Agriculture Organization’s release of their State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11: Women in Agriculture publication, a panel discussion featuring some of the contributors was held today at the National Press Club in Washington DC. The panel included the Director General of the International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Shenggen Fan; the Director of Global Trade and Agricultural Policy of Women Thrive, Danielle Mutone-Smith and the Editor of the State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11, Terri Raney. Together, they highlighted some of the main messages of the publication, such as the role of women in the agricultural sector and women’s limited access to inputs, as well as the challenges in addressing gender inequality in developing countries.

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This State of Food and Agriculture Report focuses on improving women’s access to important inputs (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

According to the report, women represent, on average, 43 percent of the agricultural labor force, but, due to limited access to inputs such as access to land and services, they produce less per unit of land than their male counterparts. Currently, there is a 20 to 30 percent gap in agricultural output between men and women farmers and closing that gap will not only benefit women farmers. In fact, according to FAO,  increasing women’s incomes, can help increase agricultural output by 2.5 to 4 percent, as well as reducing the number of malnourished people by 100 to 150 million people.

Terri Raney, the editor of the report, emphasized that there is no single “silver bullet” solution to closing the gender gap and that different solutions were necessary for each country’s context. She did mention, however, some solutions that are universally applicable. The first is to ensure that there is gender equality by law, in practice as well as in print, in all countries. This will ensure that women can own land, sign contracts and have bank accounts and other essential resources that many women are still denied. The second is to invest in the human capital of women and girls by improving their access to education and information and empowering them to make decisions. Lastly, there needs to more investment in public services such as the provision of water, fuel and transportation, which will allow women to waste less time on collecting water and firewood, allowing them to spend more time on productive activities, such as taking care of their children and their farms.

As global food prices continue to rise, IFPRI’s Shenggen Fan pointed out to the timeliness of this report as the population most vulnerable to food price volatility are women and children. He stressed that improving women’s access to inputs was not only a rights issue, but also an economic efficiency issue as increasing women’s productivity results in higher incomes which enable women to raise healthy and productive children.

David P. Lambert, the former Counselor to the US Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, even suggested that educating and empowering women could have an influential impact on reducing global climate change. IFPRI’s Senior Researcher, Ruth Meinzen-Dick, agreed and pointed to IFPRI’s project on gender assets and climate change that aims to find the links between gender and climate change adaptation.

One common theme highlighted by all the panelists was that while this report was an important start in addressing gender differences in the agricultural sector, there is still a wide knowledge gap in this area. Data, such as the number of female-headed households as well as the number of female agricultural holders, is still missing from various countries and there is a need for more on-the-ground research, in order to properly address this issue.

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 Communications Associate for the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE .

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