Achieving gender equality and empowering women in agriculture is not only the right thing to do. It is also crucial for agricultural development and food security, as strongly stated by The SOFA Report 2011: “Women in agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development” .

To move forward in the necessary effort to close the gender gap, the Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition invites everyone interested to join its new online discussion, “Women in agriculture and food security: How can we turn rhetoric into reality?”, and share their views and experiences on policies, programmes and projects that have unleashed women’s potential for economic and social development.

Join Jennie Dey de Prick, the facilitator, in looking at practical experiences and lessons learnt, to see what could be scaled up or replicated in the same or other countries.

Join the discussion!

Background of the discussion

This online debate is designed to enrich the discussion that will be stimulated by the official launch on 7 March of FAO’s flagship publication The SOFA Report 2011: “Women in agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development” FAO’s celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March which will also address this theme.

The scandal of hunger According to FAO’s latest estimates given in SOFA, 925 million people worldwide were undernourished in 2010, with 16 percent of the population in developing countries undernourished. While there are large variations between regions and among countries within regions, the global figure is still well above the target set by the Millennium Development Goal 1C to halve to 10 percent the proportion of undernourished between 1990 and 2015.

Of course the solutions are highly complex. While there clearly is a need for substantial increases in agricultural and food production, we also know that just focusing on food supplies will not be enough to eradicate hunger and poverty – a broad package of more effective policies and programmes are also needed to ensure that the poor and hungry have access to the food they need for active and healthy lives.

Why does gender matter in agricultural development? According to SOFA, gender matters because some 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries is female, ranging from 20 percent in Latin America to 50 percent in Eastern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. These averages mask considerable variations between regions and countries.

Women work as independent farmers, managers or unpaid family workers in crop, livestock, forestry and fisheries production and processing, as wage labourers in the fields, landing sites or agro-industries, or as entrepreneurs, especially in agricultural processing and marketing. Yet the large gap in rural women’s access to productive resources – land, livestock, financial services, markets, education and training, and improved technologies – means that they generally achieve lower outputs and incomes than their male counterparts.

If we take crop production as an example, women’s yields are on average around 20-30 percent lower than men’s. Yet women are as good at farming as men. Solid empirical evidence presented in SOFA shows that if women farmers use the same level of resources as men, they achieve the same yield levels. Bringing yields on the land farmed and managed by women up to the levels achieved by men would increase agricultural output in developing countries between 2.5 and 4 percent. This could reduce the number of the world’s undernourished by 12–17 percent, bringing as many as 100–150 million people out of hunger – a huge proportion of the world’s 925 million hungry people! How can we address these gender gaps in access to agricultural resources – and also further the principles of justice, fairness, equity, equality and human rights that are reflected in MDG3 (gender equality and empowerment)? This is vital since achieving MDG3 can help us achieve MDG1 (eradicating poverty and hunger). We know there is no simple “blueprint” for achieving gender equality in agriculture for solutions vary by region, country, type of economy and farming system, and culture, and depend on political will, but some principles and broad solutions are well known.


Please share your experiences and views on the following questions:

  • Week One: 7 – 13 March 2011 1. What policies have worked or failed to achieve gender equality in agriculture – why and with what consequences? How can “we” promote the design and implementation of agricultural policies that are gender-aware and gender-transformative?
  • Week Two: 14 – 20 March 2011 2. What programmes and projects have proved particularly innovative and catalytic for enhancing rural women’s agricultural roles, output and livelihoods?
  • Week Three: 21 – 29 March 2011 3. How can “we” support poor rural women in their efforts to mobilize and empower themselves?

What can I contribute?

  • If you are not free to participate in a particular week’s discussion, please send your comments anyway, and they will be included in the relevant discussion cluster.
  • You are also welcome to highlight inter-linkages between these 3 questions.
  • In order to move from rhetoric and theory to action that can really help rural women, let’s focus on practical experiences and lessons learnt – to see what could be scaled up or replicated (perhaps with modifications) in the same or other countries.
  • Some ideas might even lead to practical South-South or North-South cooperation in the future! But you are most welcome to address methodological, conceptual and data issues too.

Let’s share some practical proposals from experience on how we can help rural women enjoy a better future, and contribute to improved food security!