Women operate 14 percent of the two million farms in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And in some developing countries, women comprise up to 80 percent of the agricultural labor force.
Women are running more farms and ranches and producing a greater value of agricultural products than ever before. But they face a variety of challenges, including discrimination and lack of access to inputs, credit, and land.
In the United States, the number of women farmers has grown dramatically in just the past five years – with a 30 percent increase in women farm operators from 2007 to 2012. And the Midwest is leading the way in giving a voice to women in agriculture. Chicago-resident Erika Allen was featured in the book Farmer Jane for her food security activism and her artistic vision of Chicago as a city that produces for its food and energy needs. And the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN) is connecting women farmers, ranchers, landowners, students, and activists to one another about sustainable agriculture practices.
But in developing countries, women farmers need more investment to overcome the agricultural gender gap that hinders their productivity. Women farmers typically achieve yields that are 20-30 percent lower than men, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Studies suggest, however, that women could achieve the same yields as men if given equal access to resources - including inputs, land, credit, and loans.
Bridging this gender yield gap and increasing women farmers’ production could reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 12-17 percent.
Fortunately, there are organizations around the world that are empowering women with the tools they need to succeed. This year, I am serving on the Advisory Board for the 3rd Annual Women Deliver conference which brings together more than 5,000 participants from Ministries of Health, Parliaments, leading civil society organizations, and global companies to inspire and promote investment in women around the world.
Empowering and investing in women farmers can significantly increase their productivity, reduce hunger and malnutrition and improve their livelihoods.
What Chicago initiatives do you know of that support women in agriculture?