Investing in Women Farmers

Women farmers produce more than half of all food worldwide and currently account for 43 percent of the global agricultural labor force.1 Indeed, the global food and agriculture system depends more on the contributions of women farmers today than ever before. Women produce as much as 50 percent of the agricultural output in South Asia and 80 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.2 (See Table 1.)

Women Farmers Table 1

Women’s labor varies by country, ethnicity, and type of farming. In Indonesia, more women undertake labor-intensive, low value-added rice paddy farming while men typically take part in more profitable and mechanized rubber plantation work.3 In the United States, women represent a major proportion of the growing organic and smallholder farming trend, while men are more frequently involved in large-scale agribusiness.4 In countries throughout Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, women also work an additional 12–14 hours a week in invisible or unquantifiable roles such as providing child care, collecting firewood, preserving biodiversity, or cooking.5

In spite of women farmers’ essential roles in global and local food security, there is a persistent gender gap in agriculture.6 Women represent 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty around the world.7 Despite high levels of agricultural productivity, persistent inequity limits women’s full participation in local economies.8 Cultural norms and restrictive property or inheritance rights limit the types and amount of financial resources, land, or activity available to women. Studies in South Asia and throughout the Middle East also show that women receive lower wages and are more likely to work part-time or seasonally than men in comparable jobs, regardless of similar levels of education and experience—in Bangladesh, for example, only 3 percent of rural women take part in paid employment, compared with 24 percent of rural men.9

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