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U.N. Report: Closing Gender Gap is Good for Food Security

Closing the gender gap could increase agricultural yield and help address food security in starving countries, according to a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report released Monday, “The State of Food and Agriculture.”

“We know that women deserve the same rights, this report goes beyond that, it makes economic sense,” said Terri Raney, senior economist for the FAO and editor of the report.

According to the report, closing the gender gap could increase agricultural output in the developing world by an average 2.5 percent to 4 percent. Individual farms have the potential to increase yield by as much as 30 percent and could reduce the number of undernourished people in developing countries by 100-150 million, the report said.

The gender gap occurs because of the difference in availability of key resources such as access to land, seed, livestock, fertilizer and advice. In many places, women are not allowed to own land.

“If they don’t own land, they can’t get credit, if they can’t get credit, they can’t afford fertilizer and so it doesn’t make sense to buy different seed varieties,” said Raney.

Even in places where the law has been changed to extend ownership and inheritance rights to women, it is not always realized in practice because government officials don’t fully understand or appreciate the legal rights women possess, she said.

But reasons women do not participate in agriculture can be because they have other opportunities. In Latin America, for example, economies are more developed and diversified and women have more access to education. They have more freedom to migrate to commercial areas and work in service sectors. As a result, according to the report, women comprise only 20 percent of the agricultural labor force, compared with 50 percent in Eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Women’s organizations are “a key resource” to helping close the gender gap, said Raney. One such group, the Self Employed Women’s Association in India, is working to organize women workers for “full employment” that offers them health care, child care and shelter.

Some governments also are working to address women’s rights, particularly in the area of access to land. In Brazil, the names of both spouses appear on ownership forms to ensure women are co-owners of land. In Tanzania, efforts are underway to guarantee women are represented on village councils.

But more changes are needed, said Raney. Women farmers need equal access to resources from governments, farmers’ organizations and private agricultural input suppliers, and measures as simple as scheduling programs at times when women can attend could make a big difference, she said.

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