Manar Al Hinai: Empower women to fight food insecurity

Closing the gender gap in farming would not only tackle the food security problem, but could result in positive social and economic effects for the future of farmers’ children.

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In the coming years, the world faces a number of serious issues from a consistently rising population to global warming and water scarcity. But perhaps the most alarming issue is food security.

By 2050, the global population is expected to grow by 2.3 billion people, and food demand could rise by 60 per cent.

The UAE is one country that faces this issue, as it is heavily reliant on importing most of its food and demand will only increase with the growing population.

This issue was highlighted in a recent article in The National, where Saif Al Shara, the assistant undersecretary for agricultural affairs and the animal sector, said the UAE’s geographical location, water scarcity and a growing population led to a review of the country’s policies.

A solution is to “build an agricultural sector that was economically viable and environmentally friendly”, he stated. However, that will take years to emerge.

The Government also provides financial support to UAE farmers and encourages food production.

But what is interesting is that the solution to the global food dilemma literally lies in the hands of women. Forty-three per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries is female. Women comprise nearly 50 per cent of the agricultural labour force in East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization states that women are just as good as men at farming, but that a lack of resources and support leads to lower yields.

Closing the gender gap in farming would not only tackle the food security problem, but could result in positive social and economic effects for the future of farmers’ children.

So what seems to be impeding women farmers from generating high yields?

The current issue of National Geographic highlights some of the reasons.

In developing countries, where a considerable amount of food production occurs, the percentage of women landholders is only 10 to 20 per cent, with the highest rates in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the lowest in Oceania.

The second issue is that in most countries, the share of women who own small farms and have access to financial credit is 5 to 10 per cent lower than men. Less access to credit makes it harder for women to buy fertilizers, thus affecting food production.

The third issue is the amount of livestock owned by women farmers. They are less likely to own large farm animals, leaving them to small-scale dairy projects.

And the fourth and most important issue is education. Women have less access to education, especially in rural areas. The education gap between men and women is largest in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Less education translates to less knowledge when it comes to finances and managing a business. It also affects the education and knowledge of the future generation of farmers. A farmer raised by an educated mother has advantages over one that was not.

The solution lies in helping countries to realise this issue and appreciate that solving it could improve economic output.

Closing the gender gap is not only good for women, but also good for the agricultural society and a country’s wider economy.

If governments help in closing the gender gap, this could increase the production yield in developing countries by 4 per cent and this could reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 130 million.

Governments should also support the education of women in rural areas and introduce them to programmes that would help them in their agricultural businesses – such as basic knowledge of farming, how to deal with livestock and introductory courses on accounting and business management.

Some governments might argue this would require a budget of its own and that they are currently unable to cater to the issue, but that is a small amount to pay when compared with the output and income that is lost as a result of this gender gap.

Food security is an alarming issue, indeed, and one that our children and grandchildren will have to bear the most. However, a series of actions today could help in easing their burden and have a positive effect on economies and societies across the globe.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer based in Abu Dhabi. Follow her on Twitter: @manar_alhinai