Why intersectionality is key to women’s empowerment in agriculture

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Women play a critical and potentially transformative role in agricultural growth in developing countries, but they face persistent obstacles and economic contraints which limit their full inclusion in agriculture. The FAO suggest that closing the gender gap in access to productive resources could increase agricultural output in the developing world by 2.5-4%, reducing the number of undernourished people by 12-17%. Women in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia produce more than half of all the food grown worldwide. Empowering women in agriculture is fundamental to achieving the global goals.

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We need to involve more women in the agricultural sciences. Here’s how.

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The African Women in Agricultural Research and Development is a career-development program that equips the top women agricultural scientists across sub-Saharan Africa. Photo by: AWARD

“I would like to see the scientist working on beans; do you know where I can find him?” I got asked this question more times that I could count.

As a young female African researcher working in Malawi for an international agriculture research organization, my office was the first in a long corridor of offices where we were hosted by the National Research Organization. In the eyes of the regular visitors to the office, I did not fit the image of an agricultural scientist.

A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute shows that in 2014, only 24 percent of researchers working in the agricultural sciences were women, and only 17 percent of those in leadership positions were women in a sample of 40 sub-Saharan African countries. This matters because the evidence shows that better jobs for women in agriculture leads to higher wages and greater decision making — which ultimately has a positive impact on the ways households spend money on children’s nutrition, health, and education. Having more women in agricultural research also ensures that this workforce is representative of its client base: Smallholder farmers, the majority of whom are women.

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Gender and Agricultural Extension

A woman farmer harvesting tea in Indonesia (CC0 Public Domain)

Did you know that women produce more than half of all food grown worldwide, and in sub-Saharan Africa women produce up to 80% of all food (FAO, 2011)? Yet across Asia and Africa it is common that women are not given access to the same amount of resources as men, whether that is money, land, tools or information (World Bank et al., 2009). Their opportunities are limited by the social and economic roles that men and women are expected to fulfil in society. It is therefore vital to reach women through our agricultural programmes; otherwise a huge proportion of the human population is missing out on the opportunity to improve household food security and contribute to economic stability.

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International Women’s Day 2014: Women in agriculture

A female pearl millet farmer with part of her harvest © ICRISAT
A female pearl millet farmer with part of her harvest © ICRISAT

I would like to acknowledge Abigail Rumsey, Claire Curry, Emily Palmer and Léna Durocher-Granger for their contributions to this blog post.

For over a century countries globally have celebrated International Women’s Day as a day to reflect on the role of women in society. In honor of International Women’s Day 2014 we are giving a special focus to women in agriculture. Continue reading