NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - Giving women farmers equal access to equipment and services such as seeds, tools, credit and land will boost a country's agricultural output by 4 percent and result in up to 150 million fewer hungry people worldwide, the head of U.N. Women has said.
Women farmers make up about 43 percent of the agricultural workforce in developing countries - ranging from 20 percent in Latin America to 50 percent in Eastern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet women have less access than men to agricultural-related assets, inputs (such as seeds, fertiliser etc.) and services.
Speaking via a video message at the launch of the first ever global conference on bridging the gender divide in the farm sector, Michelle Bachelet told some 500 delegates from 50 nations that empowering female farmers would bring prosperity and food security.
"Women do not have equal access to land, financial services and productive assets. Women lack access to markets. Women do not have the same access as men to education, training and technology," said Bachelet.
"Providing women with equal access to seeds, tools and fertilisers could increase national agricultural yields by up to 4 percent and would result in 100 to 150 million fewer hungry people."
According to experts at the Global Conference for Women in Agriculture, although women do the majority of farm labour, men, for the most part, still own the land, control women's labour and make agricultural decisions in patriarchal social systems.
As a result, women farmers - who account for more than a quarter of the world's population - face widespread restrictions on their ability to buy, sell or inherit land, open a savings account, borrow money or sell their crops at market.
They are also more likely than men to lack access to rudimentary basics of farming such as fertilisers, water, tillers, transportation, improved crop and animal varieties and government social schemes aimed at boosting yields.
While advances have been made to elevate the status of women in countries like India, for example, prominent political figures who have been supporting women's rights in the nation for decades told the conference much more needed to be done.
"Considerable effort has been made to provide women farmers with efficient, effective and appropriate technology, tools, training and information - yet these efforts fall far short of what is needed," said Margaret Alva, governor of India's Uttarakhand region where 90 percent of farm labourers are women.
"Land ownership also plays a major role. If women have joint rights to land, they could better command financial resources and savings," Alva added. "They are core food producers and processors. Banks should recognise them as entrepreneurs. Loans must be provided to them as right."
Alwa said tools and machinery needed to be "agronomically designed" specifically for women to operate and that continuous information on improving farming techniques through community radio, television programs and local training should be provided - possibly by the private sector as part of their corporate social responsibility projects.
Better designed biogas plants, vermi-composting (worm cultures) and organic farming practices would help enhance incomes, she said, warning that there was also a need to protect women from dangerous jobs.
"Laws banning women from performing operations like stone-breaking, pulling carts, spraying insecticides, carrying loads on their heads etcetera must be put in place, together with social security and welfare measures for farming women."
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)
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