Today is International Women’s Day, with the theme “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”, drawing attention to the rights and activism of rural women, who make up over a quarter of the world population and nearly half of the world’s farmers, and who have been largely left behind in development efforts.
In this blog post, Peggy Miars, the new President of IFOAM – Organics International, looks at the challenges and opportunities female farmers face – and some of the inspiring actions already being taken around the world.
Driving Change in Agriculture, Nutrition and Rural Development
Women are the backbone of the rural economy, especially in developing countries. As primary caregivers to families and communities, women provide food and nutrition and are the human link between the farm and table. In that role, women can be the change agents for agriculture, nutrition, and rural development.
Opportunities, But Added Responsibilities
We have seen a rapid increase in the number of women farming around the world, who describe themselves not as the wives of farmers or the daughters of farmers, but as farmers.
Globally, women tend to have less land to work with and less access to labor and capital. For these reasons, more women are pursuing opportunities in sustainable and organic farming, where they can farm on smaller, diversified plots of land with less equipment. This added responsibility often comes on top of household and child-raising duties. While there is satisfaction in growing nutritious food and feeding a family, female farmers also experience increased stress and fatigue. As an additional challenge, most business dealings and decisions are still made by men.
Furthermore, we have seen increases in female-headed households in areas of civil war and disease. These issues further intensify the already heavy workload of rural women.
A Global Movement
As we continue to face the growing challenges of climate change, food insecurity, and illness, I believe it will be women who come to our rescue. Time and again, women have come together, particularly in rural developing areas, to create solutions and strengthen their families and communities.
One example in the United States is Annie’s Project, an NGO dedicated to strengthening women’s roles in the modern farm enterprise. They provide free online resources include business planning, estate planning, insurance, taxes and transition planning. While these resources are developed with U.S. farmers in mind, they can be used as guidance for women farming around the world.
I’ve read with interest and admiration about tribal women in India who have chosen to produce safe and nutritious food, achieving food security and a better livelihood through organic farming1, and about women in Uganda who were empowered to improve their household food and basic needs for security and wellbeing through membership in an agricultural cooperative2. Recently the World Bank spotlighted the work of female agricultural change agents in developing countries around the world.3 The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IASTD), commonly known as the World Agriculture Report4, includes an entire section on Women in Agriculture that leaves no doubt that respecting the basic rights of women is by far the most effective means of fighting hunger and poverty in a sustainable way.
Organic agriculture is now an essential part of that picture, and our continued support for organic agriculture internationally is necessary to build on the current momentum and promote positive outcomes worldwide.
1Mahapatra, B. (2017, July 03). India, tribal women are leading the conversion to organic agriculture. www.lifegate.com.
2Lecoutere, E. (2017, May). The impact of agricultural co-operatives on women’s empowerment: Evidence from Uganda. Journal of Co-operative Organization and Management.
3World Bank. (2017, March 07). Women in Agriculture: The Agents of Change for the Global Food System. www.worldbank.org
4Food and Agriculture Office of the United Nations. (2009). Agriculture at a Crossroads. www.fao.org