Throughout human civilization, women have served significant roles in the development of agriculture. Women comprise almost half of the agricultural labor force in many developing countries. Despite their increasing number, they often remain invisible in global discussions since their potential is limited by financial, ownership, and educational barriers.
Following the United Nations’ sustainable development goal of “leaving no one behind,” some female farmers, researchers, and entrepreneurs shared their insights on how the world can close the gender gap and achieve food security.
Eradicating the social barriers preventing women’s advancement in different cultures is the first thing to do, according to Professor Ruth Oniang’o, winner of the 2017 Africa Food Prize. More often than not, women were traditionally left to unpaid farm work and household tasks while men had a variety of learning and capital opportunities. The discourse must now revolve around how people, regardless of gender, can attain equal opportunities to level the playing field, such as letting daughters take over farms, according to Katrina Sasse, an Australian cereal farmer.
Preparing women farmers through training and technology will also be a big help in making agriculture more accessible. According to a post-doctoral researcher at Auburn University, Esther Ngumbi, the effects of climate change are already making it more difficult for women to farm or fish. However, innovative technologies can help alleviate the related problems. While this solution is also applicable to men, Ngumbi emphasized that women are often more vulnerable to the effects of climate change on top of also taking care of their vulnerable children. Combining access to the latest technologies with proper education will be a game changer in agriculture, especially in the information age, according to Entrepreneur Mercy Melody Kayodi.
Women farmers are also often disadvantaged in getting financial support because of strict banking requirements, and without proper financial support, women will continue lagging in agriculture, according to Jamaican poultry farmer Shelly-Ann Dinnall. Financial institutions, particularly in rural areas, should help close the gender gap in agriculture by allocating resources specifically for women or by giving them additional micro-financial opportunities, such as in credits and insurance, Dinnall added.
Women farmers are front liners in agriculture, often wearing different hats as farmers, mothers, and community champions. According to Sasse, many of the women farmers she met are passionate about farming and motivated to further develop agriculture. However, there is still a lot of work needed to help women farmers maximize their full potential in alleviating food insecurity.