Close Gender Gap To Boost Food Security, UN Says

woman farmer yangshuo china photo

A woman farmer in Yangshuo, China. Photo: Carol Schaffer / Creative Commons.

Proponents of the "Green Revolution" in the 1960s argued that the introduction of high-yield plants, irrigation systems, and artificial fertilizers and pesticides would allow the developing world to feed itself. Half a century later, nearly a billion people around the globe -- most in developing countries -- are still undernourished. But according to the U.N. food agency, the number of hungry people could be dramatically reduced by doing something simple and equitable: Giving women better access to land, technology, and other agricultural resources."Gender equality is not just a lofty ideal, it is also crucial for agricultural development and food security," said Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jacques Diouf.

Fighting Global Undernourishment
In a report released earlier this week, the FAO said about 925 million people were undernourished in 2010, 906 million of them in developing countries. That figure could be reduced by up to 17 percent, it said, by "giving women the same tools and resources as men, including financial services, education and access to markets" in order to increase agricultural production.

While women make up 43 percent of the world's farmers, only about 10 to 20 percent own the land they farm, leaving them without the collateral needed to boost their yields. Economist Agnes Quisumbing, a collaborator on the FAO report, "believes leveling the playing field has wider benefits beyond the women themselves," the Voice of America news service said in a piece about the findings. "That's because studies show when women have financial resources, they are more likely than men to spend them on food, health and educating their children."

Women's Role In Tackling Climate Issues
It's not the first time the importance of giving women an equal role in fixing global problems has been noted. Ahead of last fall's 2010 Millennium Development Goals review summit at the United Nations, activists criticized the U.N. for not integrating women into the effort to address climate change.

"Responses to climate change must address women's and men's different responsibilities and needs," Rebecca Pearl, a senior policy adviser for Climate Change at Oxfam America, told the IPS news wire. "Often, women are not included in local decision-making bodies even though they may know the most about the local seed varieties, water sources, and the resource needs of their families and communities."

According to IPS, although "women are more adversely affected by natural disasters ... they have also proven more adept at mobilizing communities in responding to disasters or motivating them in adapting to climate change." Small-scale efforts such as a reforestation project in Kenya have shown that women can help fight climate change while shoring up the resources they need to make themselves less vulnerable to its effects.

More On Women And The Environment
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