Supporting Women in Agriculture

Supporting Women in Agriculture
By Howard Minigh, CEO, CropLife International

Today, more than one billion people work in agriculture around the world. In developing countries, 43 percent of those workers are women. Clearly, female agricultural workers play an important role in feeding the world.

While climate change, population growth and other factors present challenges to all farmers, women, especially in the developing world, often lack access to the technologies and innovations that can help them improve yields and increase income. Ensuring that women also have the tools to succeed is key to eradicating poverty and hunger worldwide, so I found it encouraging to see a focus on women in agriculture at this year’s World Food Prize event in Des Moines, Iowa, USA.

When they have access to technological innovation – mechanization, biotechnology, crop protection products, and other tools – female farmers benefit greatly. Because women perform tasks like manual weeding in disproportionally high numbers, advancements that reduce the need for this type of work can be life changing, and increase productivity.  These productivity advancements in turn improve day-to-day life for female agricultural laborers.  But they also benefit their families and communities over the long-term, as studies suggest that female farmers who increase their income reinvest that money into the family’s health and education.

An increased focus on women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) is also providing new opportunities. While more needs to be done – today in Africa, for example, only about 25 percent of agricultural scientists are women – educational institutions and private corporations are investing in women who want to pursue science and technology careers.  With an increased focus on mentoring and training, women in labs are getting the training and tools they need to help women in the fields.

The plant science industry is committed to helping female farmers and agricultural scientists in the developing world develop and access the latest innovations – from new agronomic methods to agricultural technologies – that reduce back-breaking labor and improve yields, income and nutrition for farm workers and their communities. That is why we continue to advocate for choice so farmers around the world can access the technologies that help them to succeed.  And in the developing world, a successful harvest can mean the difference between providing enough nutrition for a community or many going hungry.

Lydia Sasu, a farmer from Ghana, spoke passionately in Des Moines about the role of women farmers in Africa – and their desire for the latest technologies:

“In Ghana, women like me cultivate most of our country’s vegetables, cereals, and other food crops. Even with cash crops such as cocoa, which are mostly owned by men, we weed, harvest and transport the final product to marketplaces.

One major problem is that we don’t benefit from the latest technologies. Throughout North and South America, farmers take genetically modified crops for granted. From Africa, we look on in envy, wishing we could use the same tools to overcome weeds, pests and drought. We don’t need handouts from wealthy countries. We just need the same opportunities to succeed.”

As the international community commits to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and to protecting our natural resources while alleviating poverty, women in agriculture will be at the forefront, driving meaningful change in the developing world.  It is incumbent on private industry, the public sector and NGOs to provide those on the front lines with the tools they need to meet the challenges ahead.