By Judith Nzyoka
Women play a vital role in food production, making up the majority of the agricultural work force in many developing countries. Moreover, women farmers are often seen as the potential game-changers for sustainable agricultural land management and overcoming food insecurity. Yet this means little when women continue to face significant hurdles in their rights on the land – including inability to inherit land, use extension services, or access financial credit. In the report Women in Agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development, states that a lack of land ownership rights and access to farm resources (e.g. credit, technology, fertilizer) for women is actually correlated with more malnourished children and lower productivity in agriculture.
The report continues to say that, although women make up more than 40% of the agricultural workforce in developing countries, and in some countries, they are as much 80 percent of the agricultural work force, women farmers’ yields are roughly 20-30 percent less than male farmers. If gender barriers were eliminated and women farmers were able to match the yields of male farmers, global malnourishment could be reduced by 12 to 17 percent. But improved conditions for women don’t only lead to higher yields – they benefit the wider community as well.
Education plays a role, and women who have attended school are better able to make independent reproductive choices, and typically have fewer children as a result. They are more likely to pursue their own ambitions and to serve others, a ripple effect that makes every effort empowering women multiply. From providing better access to credit to sharing knowledge of low-cost agricultural innovations, improving the income and livelihoods of women farmers translates to better nutrition for their families and communities, as well as fosters sustainability of the landscapes in which they operate.
While her work in the advancement of women in agriculture, Wangari Maathai focused on empowering and educating local communities, she simultaneously advocated for awareness of these issues on the global level. She demonstrated just how powerful engaging women to work in stewardship of agricultural landscapes and the natural capital can be, there is still considerable change that needs to happen. In the developing world, the gap in access to information and resources between genders and entrenched cultural attitudes are some of the barriers hindering the impact women have on a more sustainable and just agricultural sector. Women often lag behind their male counterparts in control of quality land, ownership of working animals, use of modern inputs in farming, and accessing credit and education opportunities. Yet a more inclusive and equitable agricultural system could yield immense benefits for both genders.
The Governing Land for Women and Men report outlines different constraints, challenges, and opportunities men and women face that should always be a consideration in designing policies, projects, and incentives related to land management, guidance documents like this will help make that principle a reality.