‘Women in Agriculture’ resonates in Rome

Monday, June 27, 2011 - 20:18

Closing the gender gap in agriculture is not just morally right, but it is a necessary and smart thing to do.

This was the resonating theme in Rome today, on the third day of the FAO Conference.

At a side event, titled “A Dialogue on Women in Agriculture: Where to after State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA)”, the FAO Director General Elect, Graziano da Silva, welcomed the seven point action plan outlined in the joint CSO statement on the vital role of women in agriculture:

Timeliness [on the focus on women in food and agriculture] could not be better. The road ahead is clear.

He also emphasised that the dialogue needs to not only focus on women in agriculture, but also women in food including their role in fetching water, food provision, nutrition and so on.  

Recognising point one of the CSO statement on the need to mainstream gender in the FAO’s Programme of Work and Budget and acknowledging the limited institutional and organisational capacity on gender within the organisation, Graziano da Silva hoped that he would be able to take part during this leadership transition in clearly setting these needs in the budget lines so that necessary revisions can be made before the FAO Council in November. 

The FAO Deputy Director-General for Knowledge, Ann Tutwiler, also accentuated the need to assess impacts of all FAO programmes from a gender perspective and to have a more formalised structure for the gender focal point. On women farmers, she highlighted that:

"Women’s crop yields are 20-30 percent less than those of men – this is because they do not have equal access to input services"

If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4 percent, reducing the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17 percent.

In addition to barriers in accessing resources, women also face obstacles and discrimination in extension services. Agricultural extension services provide farmers with valuable information about new technologies, plant varieties and market opportunities. Nonetheless, an FAO survey of over 100 countries shows that women receive only 5 percent of all extension services and only 15 percent of extension officers are women. These dire statistics manifest how women are not seen as producers or agricultural professionals in their own right.

Also present at the side event were President Obama’s Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, and the Deputy Secretary of the US. Department of Agriculture, Kathleen A. Merrigan, who shared the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture and Food Security Index which is to be deployed for use in 2012 by ‘Feed the Future’ – a US government’s global hunger and food security initiative. The index will highlight women’s role in agriculture by using 33 sex-disaggregated indicators, some of which include household decision-making power, access to credit and land, income distribution, community leadership and division of labour. 

Speaking of gender mainstreaming at the national level, Rwanda’s Minister for Agriculture, Agnes Kalibata, shared how women comprise 86 percent of total agricultural labour force and how women hold up half the parliament – through a gender-sensitive constitution that guarantees equal rights, opportunities and representation for women. Costa Rican Minister of Agriculture, Gloria Abraham Peralta also presented her country’s efforts to promote women in agriculture and development.

There is an effervescent consensus in Rome: women are formidable forces to be reckoned with in food and agriculture. This consensus should not remain at a rhetorical level, but be timely implemented through specific, measurable and achievable action plans.