April 3, 2014 | By Catherine Bertini

Commentary - Investments in Women Can End Global Hunger


By Catherine Bertini

Ending hunger and ending poverty are goals on which we all agree. The world has thousands of schemes to attempt to achieve these goals, but we often overlook the simplest, most direct and effective method to change the world: investing in women.

Women are the adults whose roles are to take care of every family member every day. Women are the adults in the family who invest their incomes and assets to support the family. Women are the people whose education and economic success have the most impact on the family.

Throughout the developing world, women are central to agriculture and comprise at least 43 percent of the agricultural work force.  Hundreds of millions of women toil every day in fields with babies on their backs and toddlers at their feet, leaving only to return home to fetch water and firewood and to cook dinner for the family.  Most work by hand on land that they do not own, with limited farm implements and fertilizer, if any, following the same practices their mothers followed. They seldom have access to credit or to advice on how to be more productive.  Most cannot count the rows they plant, nor read the back of a bag of seeds.

Yet International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) findings tell us that educated farmers are more productive than non-educated farmers, and that women are more likely to follow the practices of other women.  Thus, insuring that women are educated is a key to more productive farming, higher household incomes, and a decrease in poverty and hunger.

The same is true for land ownership. A land owner, male or female, is much more invested in insuring that land is productive. If a farmer does not own her own land, she has limited incentive to invest in the land. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) writes that women only own small percent of the world's farm land. But as women comprise 43 percent of farmers, why does it not follow that they should be 43 percent of land owners?

Even more than in education, women are often limited by culture and by law, to own or to inherit land. Women often face restrictions on establishing credit or owning assets. FAO statistics show that women receive less than ten percent of agricultural credit

These limitations no longer make sense – if they ever did.

When women have access to the same resources as men, their agricultural yields increase by 20 to 30 percent according to the FAO.

The world faces a huge challenge to keep up with growing populations and increased demand for food from the world’s growing middle class. We cannot afford to limit people’s ability to produce food, and to contribute to the larger market place. By limiting women’s options, we are blocking our collective ability to feed future demands.

If only we invest in women; if only we change laws to allow women to invest in themselves; if only we insure that girls are educated; then they will change the world.  

Catherine Bertini is a Senior Fellow at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Blogroll

1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA

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