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Food & Hunger

Investing in female farmers to lift communities out of poverty

Flickr: Gates Foundation

In working to end extreme poverty, there are going to be times when we don’t have the answers. Sometimes, the best we can do is make an educated guess. This is not one of those times.

In the developing world, women make up 43% of the agricultural labor force, but a gender-gap is holding them back from reaching their full potential. The good news is though, we know why.

Compared to male farmers, women lack access to education, financial services, technology, markets, and land. These inequities result in fewer crop yields, and prevent women (and communities) from thriving.

Women also tend to be segregated into lower-paying jobs that are less secure, such as seasonal and part-time employment.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO),

Just giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources could increase production on women's farms in developing countries by 20 to 30 percent. This could raise total agricultural production in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent.

That might sound simple enough, but what’s less simple is providing women with access to land. In many societies, the law prohibits women from inheriting the land that’s rightfully theirs. So, in the unfortunate event that a female farmer loses her husband, she’s basically screwed- her husband’s land will pass down to the “rightful” heir, and she will lose her livelihood.

Similarly, in some countries the law prevents women from buying and selling land, borrowing money from the bank or opening a savings account, signing a contract, or even selling their produce. Terri Raney, the editor of the 2010-2011 edition of The State of Food and Agriculture report, adds that “Where legal rights exist on paper, they often are not honored in practice."

This tells us that addressing these inequities means more than just changing the law- a cultural shift must take place.

And what about education? We know that with just one more year of education, women can expect an increase of up to 25% in future earnings. This idea translates into the agricultural sector as well. Through educational programs farmers learn the most effective ways to grow their crops, as well as which crops will do best in their climate.

Empowering female farmers presents a HUGE opportunity to not only help these women reach their full potential but also to lift communities out of poverty. Many of the tools required are already in place- for men. By extending these to women (while addressing the cultural reasons behind inequity) everyone will benefit.