The Face Of Local Farming Is Female — So Is The Face Of Poverty

The role of women in agriculture is crucial. Such was the overarching, reoccurring theme throughout the discussions and deliberations that marked the three-day High Level Roundtable on Food and Nutrition Security and Sustainable Agriculture held this past month at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Women obviously play an integral role in agriculture and ecology worldwide, but equally evident is the disintegration of this role, disintegration into poverty and disenfranchisement, several speakers pointed out.

Ms. Vandana Shiva, founder and director of Navdanya International Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi, India, stressed that when we talk about agriculture, we are talking about gender equity as well. “Women also produce more than half of the world’s food and provide more than 80 percent of the food needs in food-insecure households and regions,” she stated in her book Staying Alive. Women are clearly the face of local

Female farmers not only produce sustainably to the benefit of their communities, but
they also produce efficiently, according to the FAO report “Women Feed the World”. Nigerian home gardens occupying only 2-5 percent of the farmland manage to produce around half of the country’s total output, said Ms. Shiva as she referenced to that report.

David Nabarro, Special representative of the Secretary-General on Food Security and Nutrition, pointed out that helping small-scale farmers, often women, could help all farmers become more resilient. However, women don’t get help; women don’t get emphasis because, economically, “women provide for the household, not the market, they have remained invisible as farmers, despite their contribution to farming,” as Ms. Shiva said.

Essentially, the economic competition on which modern agriculture, and agribusiness, has been founded focuses on profit over product. Though women may be able to provide in their communities and for their families, all while maintaining sustainability, they do not produce the sheer monetary profit on the international scale that agribusiness demands. Yes, women are crucial to agriculture. However, profit, production, and agribusiness have dissolved the integral female role.

“The face of poverty, all over the world, is predominantly female,” stated H. Elizabeth Thompson, Assistant Secretary General and Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Committee on Sustainable Development. Female farmers remain helpless, forced from their home in the center of food systems to the fringe of agricultural production, a socioeconomic trend that is incredibly disheartening considering the potential for female contributions to sustainable agriculture.

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