Agricultural policy is gender policy
The article below was written and distributed by IPS news agency.  It was published in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) #7111 dated 18 March 2011.  We thank IPS and SUNS for permission to re-distribute this article.
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Development: Agricultural policy is gender policy

Washington, 16 Mar (IPS/Matthew O. Berger) -- Eva, a Ghanian woman, was given five pigs and some training on how best to care for them. Eventually, her farm grew to 400 pigs and she was able to buy more land and a motorbike which she not only used for transporting her goods to market but for helping neighbours get to town and to hospital quicker.

Danielle Mutone-Smith, director of global trade and agriculture policy at the NGO Women Thrive, cites this as just one example of the way investing in women working in agriculture can pay major dividends for not only women's rights but poor communities and economic development in general.

The benefits of closing the gap that currently exists between the agricultural inputs available to women employed in agriculture and those available to men are highlighted in the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's annual "State of Food and Agriculture" report, released last week.

It found that women have much less access to fertiliser, seed varieties, livestock, equipment and other inputs, as well as to the credit and education that can help them expand production on their farms, and that this leads to lower productivity by women working in the agricultural sector compared to their male counterparts.

Though the picture varies across continents and cultures, this equation of lower production due to fewer resources is "the closest thing you could to a generalisation as far as women in agriculture goes," said Terri Raney, a senior economist at the FAO and editor of the report, at a discussion Monday in Washington.

It also found that even though the agricultural labour force in developing countries can be as much as 50 percent women, only three to 20 percent of all landholders in developing countries where data was available are women.

But increasing the resources available to women working in agriculture - what the report calls closing the "gender gap" in agricultural development - would mean a sizeable step not just toward gender equality or economic development but also toward combating undernourishment.

The FAO estimates that if women had the same access to resources as men, they would be able to increase their farm yields 20 to 30 percent, thus raising agricultural output in developing countries 2.5 to four percent. This figure could translate to 100 to 150 million fewer undernourished people globally, or a 12 to 17 percent drop from today's levels.

"We're talking about 100 million people whose lives could be changed by basically evening the playing field in some sense," said Mutone-Smith.

Raney added that, globally, women who are employed are on average more likely to be employed in agriculture than in any other sector. "So women are important for agriculture and agriculture is important for women," she said. "What I like to say is agricultural policy is gender policy since so much of the labour force is women."

Donors of foreign aid have been aware of this relationship for decades, but their actions have been scaled up in recent years. That may be due to both the increased awareness of the role that agricultural productivity plays in economic development and the increased awareness that women are crucial to that agricultural work, said Eija Peju, who leads the World Bank's work on gender in agriculture.

Gender issues emerged for good as a World Bank priority in 2007 with the implementation of a Gender Action Plan to increase women's access to jobs, land rights, financial services and agricultural inputs, as well as other policies ensuring that gender issues are taken into account in Bank projects.

"There has been attention paid for two or three decades, but it was here and there," said Peju, "That changed in 2008."

Pehu points to a project that helped women in Mali grow higher value produce to export and increase their incomes and a project in Kosovo to train and provide support to women who were unaware of their legal rights to land ownership.

Among the steps the FAO recommends for closing the gender gap in inputs is ensuring the equality of women under the law so that they are able to inherit land, open bank accounts and sign contracts, a process that requires not just changing official laws but ensuring that the laws are applied, said Raney.

The World Bank has been trying to help with this process in Ethiopia, where the government and donors are increasing women's land rights through both simple fixes - putting more space on land certificates for small photos and the name of both the husband and the wife - and more complex ones - mapping land holdings with satellite technology.

Other donors like the US also see women and girls as at the heart of global development investments, such as the Feed the Future initiative and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program.

This can be seen in US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's modification of the proverb "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime."

"If you teach a woman to fish," Clinton has said, "She'll feed her whole village." +