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How Female Farmers Could Solve the Hunger Crisis

How Female Farmers Could Solve the Hunger Crisis

Apr 15 2014
Fighting gender inequity in global farming.

It's spring, and as sporadic rains fall on thirsty California, I am thinking about a certain biblical promise. Found in Hosea, it follows an assurance that God will heal, revive, and raise Israel up again: "He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth" (NASB).

From a literary perspective, this comparison sounds just right. If God were an element, he'd be rain – soft yet torrential, the only remedy for desperate thirst and drought. But in Hosea's agricultural society, this promise was also literal. Rain was a saving grace, the invaluable resource that allowed crops to grow.

Today, rain still represents survival to rural families in the developing world. Small-scale subsistence farmers stake their lives on agriculture, relying on what they can grow to feed their families, earn an income, and send their kids to school. Armed with few resources, basic elements like water, seeds, and good soil mean the difference between hunger and health.

Yet, around the globe, millions of female subsistence farmers don't have equal access to basic resources to cultivate the land and sustain their communities. Mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives represent the backbone of the rural economy, especially in the developing world. They grow the food their families eat, cook meals, sell excess produce at market, and care for the household.

According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, women make up nearly half of the rural workforce, yet receive only 5 percent of agricultural extension services, such as training and seeds. Despite their role in the rural food system, female subsistence farmers remain one of the most under-resourced demographics in the world.

This gender inequality carries desperate consequences. Lack of basic tools and training means women grow and harvest significantly lower yields than men – not because they can't farm as well, but because they don't have necessary resources. In fact, female farmers do more to increase food security in rural communities than men. Women cultivate vegetable gardens and edible crops close to home, which allows them to watch their children and cook meals. In contrast, men tend to travel further from the house to grow cash crops like tobacco, coffee, and corn – crops that do little to supplement diet.

If these women could achieve the same yields as men, studies estimate that 150 million undernourished people in the developing world would have enough to eat. This number should both shock us and move us to action, ensuring that female farmers have the tools they need to feed a hungry world.

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