Women on the Agenda at Agriculture and Rural Development Day

By Danielle Nierenberg

Agriculture and Rural Development Day (ARDD) brought together roughly 600 policymakers, farmers, researchers, and journalists from around the world on June 18th ahead of the Rio+20 Summit to discuss agriculture’s important role in building a green economy.

Agriculture and Rural Development Day took place yesterday at Rio+20. (Image credit: ARDD)

In addition to talking about the challenges—including climate change, water scarcity, and lack of access to markets—farmers face in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America, participants also discussed the important role women play in meeting food security needs.  Women farmers make up at least half of the world’s agricultural labor force, but many lack access to education, training, land, extension services, and credit. But recognizing women’s needs—and their contributions—in agriculture can help improve nutrition, incomes, and environmental sustainability.

Sue Edwards of the Institute for Sustainable Development in Ethiopia spoke of the need for the recognition and “intensification of women’s skills” in agriculture. During an AARD Learning Event, Edwards highlighted how breeding and caring for livestock most often falls to women. “Chickens,” she said, “are not an animal for men.” Men farmers, she explained, don’t tend to think of chickens, sheep, goats, and other small livestock as important, but for women, these livestock can be a quick source of cash and nutrients for their families.

Vandana Shiva of Navdanya talked about how women farmers are “the ultimate seed breeders,” breeding crop varieties that are resilient to drought, disease, and the impacts of climate change. She also explained that women focus on breeding for taste, nutrition, and resilience, rather than just increased yields.

And during the “Responding to the Global Challenges of a Food Secure Future” panel, Rajendra Paroda of the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions said that since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, “not much has been done” to recognize the important role women play in agriculture. He pointed out that we need reorient the global agricultural research agenda to make sure it includes women’s access to the resources, knowledge, and credit. He also recommended the need to invest in “engendering agriculture” at international research institutions and invest in providing the evidence of why investing in women’s empowerment is important for agriculture.

Frances Seymour, the Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research, highlighted that “gender is also important for natural resource management.” Women can make a “huge difference,” she said on what decisions are made about how to utilize forest resources, manage water, and land use. But she also pointed out that after she leaves her post later this year, there will only be one woman out of 15 Director Generals of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR). Seymour encouraged the women in the audience to aspire to leadership positions and for the groups and organizations there to recognize their talent.

Why is recognizing the role of women in agriculture important? Let us know in the comments section!

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