Women can’t wait: Empowering women farmers

August 26, 2010
Written by Allyson Brown, Acting Operations Director for Concern Worldwide US
Photo by Jennifer Nolan

Tackling global poverty is no small feat. And to get serious, support must flow to those on the front line. In many cases its women farmers–many of whom are equally tasked with feeding their communities, raising families, and supporting their local economies. In light of the upcoming UN Millennium Development Goals, here’s our case on why we must empower women farmers.

The Summit on the UN Millennium Development Goals is fast approaching. If we are serious about beating global poverty, the empowerment of women farmers must be high on the agenda. Why?

Did you know that women produce more than half of the world’s food but earn only 10% of the world’s income?  And although women produce up to 80% of food in the developing world, they often are not able to grow enough to feed themselves and their families.

Over a billion people go hungry every day, and 60% are women.

This is not just today, this week or this month—it’s every day.  Hunger continues to be the single biggest risk to health worldwide and poses a greater threat than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Concern Worldwide passionately believes that we can and should give this crisis the attention it deserves, and that women play a vital, yet unrecognized, role in the fight against global hunger.

Agatha Akandelwa is one of these women. These days, she takes care of 21 people in her Zambian village, including her grandchildren and several children of sick and deceased relatives. But sometimes it’s hard to find food for her large extended family.

“Our food situation becomes very difficult every year, starting in about September and lasting right through until January. During that period we only get about one meal per day. I really don’t feel good during that time. As an adult, I can go all day without food and then get up and go to the field the next day, but I get really concerned for the children during the hungry times.”

Concern Worldwide works daily with women farmers like Agatha. We help provide them with tools, training and a little money to invest in seeds—and the women farmers have seen a significant impact. They’ve not only been able to grow enough to feed their families, but they’ve also been able to use the income from their surplus crops to send their children to school and keep their families healthy.

Women farmers are responsible for growing, harvesting, preparing and selling the majority of food in poor countries. They are on the front lines of the fight against hunger, but far too often they do not have a seat at the table with policy makers or aid organizations.

Until recently, policies designed to address hunger have failed to adequately value the role of women farmers as crucial players in providing their families and communities with food for both consumption and sale. There must be a reform of land tenure rights, as well as property and inheritance laws as measures to help women farmers succeed.

The US, with its new Feed the Future Initiative—a $3.5B commitment to improving the global food supplyhas already made investment in women and girls a key part of the program. Unless world leaders focus on women farmers, the target they set to halve poverty and hunger by 2015—one of eight UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) originally set in 2000—will not be reached. It’s that simple.

Concern Worldwide’s Women Can’t Wait campaign urges the international community to listen to women like Agatha and to increase support for women in the fight against global hunger. The campaign, which collects signatures via online petition, urges world leaders to allocate crucial funding in support of women in the developing world and to make sure that such funding actually reaches women to help bring about real, lasting change.

The campaign will culminate at the Summit on the UN Millennium Development Goals that will be held Sept. 20—22, 2010 in New York, at which time Concern representatives will present the signatures to the assembled dignitaries.