Throughout history, the main goal of agriculture and farming has been to provide enough food for everyone. Now the world produces enough food for every single person - a diet of about 2700 calories a day - which is more than enough for an average person.
But it's an irony that world hunger still exists and is the leading cause of deaths every year. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that about 805 million people in the world suffer from chronic food deprivation and undernourishment.
Every night, millions of people still go to bed on an empty stomach. Mostly women, children and those living in the rural areas are susceptible to undernourishment.Poverty trap, lack of agriculture investment, natural disasters, climate change, surge in food price, resource discrimination, war and conflict are the top causes of world hunger.
Data and statistics of FAO show that most of the world's hungry people live in the developing nations.Some 578 million people in Asia and the pacific, 239 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, 37 million men and women in the Near East and North Africa face food deprivation. Hunger has become the norm in many parts of the world, and women bear the brunt of this food shortage.
According to the World Food Programme's (WFP) policy, "a world with zero hunger can only be achieved when everyone has equal opportunities, equal access to resources and equal voice in decisions that shape their households, communities and societies.'' Women in developing countries play a crucial role in meeting the food and nutritional needs of their families through all the three pillars of food security - food production, economic access to food, and nutrition security.
They have important roles as producers of food, managers of natural resources, income earners, care takers of household food, and nutrition security. According to the FAO, women account for more than half of the labour required to produce the food consumed in the developing world. Eight out of 10 agricultural workers in Africa are women, and in Asia six out of 10.
Within the agricultural sector, it is estimated that if women had equal access to productive resources, they would increase their yield by 20-30%, potentially reducing the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17 %. For example, in Ghana and Malawi, giving women farmers the same resources as men increased maize production by more than 15% and in Burkina Faso simply reallocating fertiliser and labour to women resulted in a six per cent production gain.
Also, WFP estimates that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million. Hence, organisations working for food security and hunger eradication, such as the FAO, World Economic Forum and the World Bank, have concluded that investing in women farmers is an effective strategy for reducing hunger and poverty in the world.
However, about 60 per cent of the people in the world who are hungry are females. They do not have access to the nutritious food they need for healthy, active lives. Women around the world face unequal treatment largely due to the social, political and economic barriers. According to the UNDP, discriminatory laws are holding back women's economic participation.Social and cultural norms, lack of autonomy and limited access to assets all play a part.
FAO statistics report that male-headed households are typically 10-20 per cent more likely to use credit than female-headed households. Lack of access to credit could be an important reason why women are generally slower to adopt new agricultural technologies or even use basic inputs, such as fertilisers.
Also in Africa, women do not normally engage in ploughing. Furthermore, in many countries, the title to land is normally held by male members of the family.Such gender gaps are pervasive across the world.
Compared to men, women farmers tend to have lower productivity, limited access to inputs, own less land, lack agricultural technology and equipment, grow less profitable crops and lack training. For example, in Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia, women spend much of their energy in load carrying activities, such as transporting fuelwood, water and grain.
Women are more likely to work in temporary and part-time jobs, and less likely to be promoted. This unpaid work takes time away from working outside the home or getting an education.Consequently, they face multiple constraints in the many activities they pursue. This makes them highly dependent on men and directly shackles them to poverty and hunger.
Empowering women in giving access to education, critical resources and in the decision-making process will increase women's financial independence and social standing, which have a direct impact on the welfare of the children through more investment on their nutrition, health and education.
The government should support education, skills and training of more women in agricultural and related sciences. The government should ensure that the workplace in agriculture, as elsewhere, offers equal opportunity to women in terms of hiring, training and their advancement. Closing the gender gap is important not only for women, but also for agricultural productivity for ending hunger.
The writer is a Post-doctoral Research Associate at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,US.
The article appeared in The Himalayan Times.
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