Women Farmers – Rights & Challenges – Potential To Reduce Hunger
New York (WeNews\WFS) - For Monica Njeri-Ndirangu, 58, her problems began the day her husband passed away. Even though her husband owned an expansive 40-acre piece of arable land, located in Thika district, 40 kilometres northwest of Nairobi, Kenya's capital, she had to engage in an inheritance battle with his family so that she could continue with her livelihood.
By Katherine Rausch
In Kenya, just as in all developing countries, it's the women who do much of the work on farms - from planting to harvesting and processing - and yet it's the men who control the land and investments, the government training programmes are designed for male farmers; and even low interest agriculture loans are made available largely to them
But if female farmers had stronger legal rights and more business opportunities millions of people would be better fed, claims a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In its 2011 report, 'The State of Food and Agriculture', the agency finds that global harvests could rise by between 2.5 and four per cent if women had stronger rights.
Women produce between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of the food in poorer countries and grow half of the world's food overall. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of female farmers varies from country to country, but small-scale farmers are predominantly women. Across the continent, high rates of male migration to cities from the countryside has created an even larger role for women in farming.
According to the FAO, 925 million people are currently undernourished. Closing the gender gap - which leaves female farmers' yields 20 to 30 per cent lower than their male counterparts - could reduce undernourishment numbers by between 100 million and 150 million people.
"If people increase agricultural production, there is more food around for people to eat," says Marcela Villarreal, director of FAO's Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division. In addition to greater food production, Villarreal says increased yields by women would also generate more income, which could be used to buy food for a woman's family.
The gender gap in agriculture is tied to women's weaker access to land rights, financing, modern technologies and ownership of animals and equipment. In many countries, women do not have the same legal rights to buy, sell or inherit land, borrow money or open bank accounts, sell their produce or sign a contract. When women do have similar rights, the law is not always upheld by government officials.
According to Villarreal, several countries, such as some in sub-Saharan Africa, have changed their laws to give women equal rights to owning and inheriting land. However, she adds, in the rural areas of these countries, where a woman's status isn't recognised, customary standards take precedence.
On top of barriers to owning land, women also face other issues such as those related to contract farming, where large-scale food-processing companies give farmers a commitment to buy a certain quantity of produce. The report's authors found women are often excluded from contract farming because they lack the resources to guarantee delivery.
In Kenya, for example, women make up less than 10 per cent of farmers in smallholder farming contracts. However, on farms where men control the contracts, women still do much of the work as family labourers, as in China where women are not allowed to sign contracts.
To improve overall agricultural efficiency, the FAO report recommends strengthening, enforcing and publicising women's rights to education, landholding and contract making.
In 2003, the African Union committed to pledging at least 10 per cent of their budgets to increase their countries' agricultural output. But a look at the progress in 2005 found that the average budget commitment was 6.6 per cent, with only six of the 24 countries reaching the intended goal.
When agriculture investment is down, food production in turn drops. The FAO estimates that additional investments of $83 billion annually will be needed in developing countries to meet food needs in 2050.
Villarreal says countries need to start changing laws, in addition to investing more time and money, to help close the gender gap and improve food productivity. "It's really important and I hope this report is going to help countries make those decisions," she says, "and realise they have lots to gain in agriculture investment and being gender sensitive."