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Strengthen Global Agriculture - Invest in Women

October 27, 2011 | Amanda Keifer | Dialogue4Health

Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at an event during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The event, titled "Women and Agriculture: A Conversation on Improving Global Food Security," consisted of a panel of leaders from the UN, civil society, private sector, and government.In her remarks, Clinton noted that in a time when nearly 1 billion people are suffering from chronic hunger and we are doing our best to come to the aid of those in need, we must stay focused on the "long-term goal of strengthening global agriculture," in order to reduce hunger by producing more food and more nutritious food.

The world's population is projected to hit seven billion on October 31 and will continue to grow in the coming years. The UN estimates that global food production will need to increase by 70 percent by the year 2050 in order to meet this demand. However, the increasing frequency of droughts and other extreme weather events as a result of climate change poses additional pressures on the agricultural sector. So how can we meet the challenge of providing an adequate food supply to a growing population while still protecting the environment?

For Secretary Clinton - and the Public Health Institute's Center for Public Health and Climate Change - the answer is clear: a greater investment in women.

Women all around the world are mothers, leaders, entrepreneurs, decision-makers, and providers. In developing countries they are also the bulk of the agricultural workforce, involved in all aspects of production, from plowing and planting to harvest and taking the surplus to market. However, female farmers face considerable barriers to equal access to land ownership and other resources needed for effective socio-economic participation, as Center Director Cristina Tirado has written about.

In addition, women are more susceptible than men to undernutrition, which can be exacerbated by weather and climate changes. Loss of natural resources and agricultural productivity also increases women's workload and endangers their own, and their families', welfare. Therefore, as Clinton argues, we must focus on promoting food and nutrition security by investing in women's livelihoods.

In her speech, Secretary Clinton pledged $5 million for a "new gender program within Feed the Future," the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative. These funds will be used to support "innovative approaches to promoting gender equality in agriculture and land use and to integrate gender effectively into agricultural development and food security programs." Investing in women in this way not only improves their agricultural productivity and access to adequate nutrition, but also provides female farmers with the tools to adapt to and mitigate climate changes that impact their lives.

Amanda Keifer is a policy assistant with PHI's global health team. Follow PHI's global health team on Twitter @PHIGlobalhealth