Investing in women farmers isn't just the right thing to do it's good business. "It works," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a panel ahead of the recent UN General Assembly:
"It's no longer that we're making a case rooted in our sense of equality and justice and morality; we're making an economic case that it's going to raise incomes, it's going to increase productivity. … This is now an argument that can no longer be ignored."
Women make up the majority of the agricultural workforce in 37 countries, 50 percent throughout much of Asia and Africa, and 43 percent of the agricultural workforce worldwide. However, there are well-documented gender disparities in access to credit, assets, seeds, fertilizers and technologies. Furthermore, women often lose access to their land in the event of a husband's death and also have more limited access to markets.
Given the same resources as their male counterparts, women farmers could produce 20 to 30 percent more food than they do currently, says a UN Food and Agriculture Organization in its biannual report released earlier this year. The report argues that closing the gender gap in resources would increase total agricultural production in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent. That could translate to a 12 to 17 percent reduction in world hunger and the ability to feed up to 150 million more people per year.
At the 2009 G-8 summit, U.S. President Barack Obama made a $3.5 billion commitment toward agricultural development and food security, which became the Feed the Future initiative. Among its objectives, Feed the Future invests in women farmers, including through a $5 million fund that Secretary Clinton announced at the panel. This fund will support innovative ideas to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the agriculture sector, and expand the knowledge base and evidence for greater gender integration in food security programming.
Secretary Clinton emphasized that innovative solutions are often simple. "We know that land reform doesn't need to be complex," said Secretary Clinton, citing an example from Ethiopia where the government issues joint property certificates with the names and photos of both husbands and wives. "This way, Secretary Clinton noted, "nobody can come and push her off her family land in the event she is widowed."
The U.S. is committed to empowering women in all aspects of society. With research and innovative programs, it will help women farmers Feed the Future.