Close to a billion people worldwide go to bed hungry every night, and at least six out of ten are women. It’s ironic, because women in developing countries are largely responsible for feeding their children and growing the food that will feed their families. Around the world, the traditional image of a farmer is not a man on a tractor but a woman farming a piece of land about the size of a three-car garage.
That’s why we’re excited that governments, civil societies, universities, and private companies have begun investing in long-term programs to combat hunger and invest in farmers worldwide. Through the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative, women are being recognized as playing a major role in tackling global hunger.
Over the next few days, G8 leaders from the world’s biggest economies will meet on critical global issues, including the challenge of feeding the world’s seven billion people. Here are seven things we at Women Thrive believe any program—whether from government, an NGO or private company– have to do to succeed by reaching women.
- Work with female farmers, who often play very different roles than men in agriculture. Women often grow different crops, work at different times of day and have different priorities than male farmers. Coming up with a one-size-fits-all program usually means you don’t reach women farmers.
- Ensure property rights for women, so that they can actually own the land they farm and gain control over their crops. Over and over, I’ve seen that women work on the farm, but don’t see the income from it because it’s usually men who own the land and take the crops to market to sell.
- Increase access to credit and financial services, so that women can properly save, and purchase seeds, fertilizer, and other tools to increase their productivity.
- Provide women farmers with time and labor-saving tools, which would make farming, cooking, and marketing easier and would allow women to carry out their household and childcare responsibilities more efficiently.
- Enhance transportation and technology infrastructure such as irrigation and roads, which would save women time and increase their income. But make sure they are roads from villages to local markets, not just four-lane highways from export-processing zones to ports.
- Expand skills training to women farmers so that they are more successful and productive in their work. And that might mean going to train them in their homes instead of setting up a training station far away from the village when women have children to look after at home.
- Integrate natural resource management, which simply means teaching women how to conserve things like water, land, and fuel to increase productivity as well as preserve the environment.
Women in developing countries may seem remote and far away but the more I travel the more I realize how much we all have in common. Mothers around the world just want to the basic dignity to feed and provide for their families. And simple, targeted investment can have an enormous gain. If women can feed their loved ones and themselves with maize, cassava and plantains, they can transform their families, communities, and societies. And since women are the majority of farmers in some areas, this makes an enormous impact on food security. We will all be the better for it.
For more information about Women Thrive Worldwide, please visit: http://www.womenthrive.org/