Helping women farmers key to future aid programs: Foodgrains bank

Many agriculture aid and assistance programs must be redesigned if they are to help hundreds of millions of female farmers in the developing world, says a Canadian Foodgrains Bank Report.

Women do much of the world’s farming, and much of the world’s most important, life-sustaining farming, but farming, cultural, financial and governmental systems don’t treat them fairly.

“Research shows that gender-blind technological innovations are not, in fact, gender neutral,” says the CFB’s “Equal Harvests” report.

“In practice, they can reduce men’s work burden while increasing the burden women bear.”

It’s not just technological systems that favour men, the report says. Almost all agriculture systems and programs are based on assumptions that men will do most of the farming, so women’s needs aren’t generally considered.

That’s a problem because much of the developing world’s farming is done by women, and it’s farming that directly feeds poor families.

Failing to account for women farmers in program design hurts a family’s ability to feed itself and  prevents women from earning extra money from agriculture that could lift the family out of basic subsistence living.

Making the loans, equipment and inputs such as fertilizer available to women farmers would have a big impact, says the report.

United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization “research shows that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent,” says the report, which is subtitled “How Investing in Agricultural Development can Empower Women.”

One problem women face with the current programs and systems designed for men are that the systems focus almost entirely on farming or labouring, whereas women need to balance production agriculture with looking after children and running a household. Off-farm education and development often isn’t possible for a female farmer who can’t go away from the family home.

Food security and economic development in the developing world will be much more easily achieved if the situation of women farmers is included in foreign-aid supported programs and projects, the report says, and that should be a consideration with future funding, which the CFB hopes to see return to Canada’s $450 million per year level of the 2009-12 period.

“When women are empowered, their agricultural productivity rises dramatically. This in turn helps reduce poverty and spur economic growth,” concludes the report.

“It leads to much improved food and nutrition security. It enables greater resilience to climate change and other environmental risks. And it improves women’s status in their homes, communities and wider society. Women’s empowerment is vital in its own right.”

Contact ed.white@producer.com

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