Tuesday 08 March 2011
Many of us are raised with idyllic visions of the sweeping farmland, shiny red tractors and happy animals of old MacDonald's farm - echoing the days of 'show and tell' and nursery rhymes. Perhaps we could be forgiven then, for typically thinking of farmers, and farming as a role for men, but it may surprise you to learn that women make up a staggering 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, ranging from 20 percent in Latin America to almost 50 percent across East/South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
More surprising however is that this 43 percent of the agricultural work force are often not allowed to buy, sell or inherit the land they work, to open savings accounts, borrow money, sign contracts or sell their produce. Working in agriculture is tough work, but considerably more so if you are a woman.
Taking this into consideration a recent report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has stated that if these women in rural areas had the same access to land, financial services, technology, education and markets as men women's agricultural production could be increased by 20 to 30 percent. This in turn could reduce the number of hungry people in the world up to 150 million people! *
This is a very strong argument for the desperate need for gender equality in developing countries where women, despite their contributions to family, society and the wider economy are still often considered second-class to men. This disparity between men and women is actually surprisingly easy to prove by simply looking at the number of women working in agriculture and then looking at who has access to a range of agricultural resources such as land, livestock, credit, fertilisers and mechanical equipment. Following this the FAO report's editor Terri Raney notes that " Women farmers typically achieve lower yields than men, not because they are less skilled, but because they operate smaller farms and use fewer inputs like fertilizers, improved seeds and tools".
The report states that government officials must give due to consideration to gender when creating and implementing agricultural policy and that any laws protecting the rights of women must be enforced and that women must be made aware of their rights.
It's also certainly worth considering the wider benefits of empowering women who work in agriculture, particularly providing them with more income as through better agricultural practices, women can earn more money which in turn can lead to improving their health, nutrition, education and those of their children and community.
Full details of the FAO report summary can be found here.
*based on a raised agricultural production of 2.5 to 4 percent, equating to a 12 to 17 percent reduction of the worlds estimated 925 million hungry people.