Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
A few weeks ago I spoke with women farmers in Niger who are growing vegetables in some of the harshest climatic conditions on earth. With severe drought a recurring problem in their country and across the Sahel, access to water for irrigation and to appropriate seeds, fertilisers, advisory services, and credit are all important for overcoming food shortages and malnutrition.
Rural women account for nearly half the agricultural labor force and are custodians of traditional knowledge about the land and their local environment. Backed by small development investments, rural women can lead the way in building food and nutrition security for their families and communities, and thus in building resilience to future extreme weather events.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that if women farmers have equal access to fertilizers, seeds, and tools, the number of hungry people in our world could reduce by as many as 150 million, and the total agricultural output in developing countries could rise by up to four percent.
In general, rural women in developing countries have the primary responsibility for cultivating crops, raising livestock, collecting water and firewood, and caring for families. Their family and domestic responsibilities are often heavy, leaving them with little time to generate cash incomes. A lack of access to modern energy sources adds to their burden.
Compounding these challenges, women in many countries cannot own or inherit land or borrow money. Worldwide, under 20 percent of landholders are women. In rural sub-Saharan Africa, women hold less than ten percent of the credit available to small holder agriculture.
UNDP works with partners to support rural women and their communities to tackle these challenges. Women in the village I visited in Niger were using the new access to water from a major reservoir and a well to diversify into vegetable production - which also helps boost nutrition in the community.
It is vital that the voices of rural women are heard in June when the international community meets in Rio de Janeiro at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The entrepreneurial spirit of rural women will help overcome global food security challenges and end the vicious cycles of poverty which hurt so many of the world’s people.