Empowering Women in Agriculture to Help Eradicate Hunger

IMG_6763 copyby Jo Anne Lyon

The United Nations named 2014 the “International Year of Family Farming” in an effort to highlight the potential that farming families have to eradicate hunger, preserve natural resources, and promote sustainable development. In addition, the Obama administration has been pushing to end hunger and malnutrition in Africa through initiatives that leverage private investments in agriculture such as Feed the Future, the US Government’s global hunger and food security initiative that focuses on small farms and women, and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, an international effort to encourage private investment in agriculture and nutrition programs.

With 842 million hungry people in the world, 98 percent of whom come from developing countries, we must leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding a solution to ending world hunger. And as it turns out, one important solution lies in the hands of women.

There’s no denying that women are very powerful individuals. In the United States alone, women’s participation in the labor force accounted for almost 58 percent of workers 16 years of age and older in 2012, and today women are leading such major entities as Yahoo!, IBM, and PepsiCo. Furthermore, women have traditionally been the key decision-makers in the home when it comes to food, family, health, and shelter.

So how exactly can women fight world hunger? The World Food Programme reports that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million. Empowering women in agriculture now is vital to improving the livelihood of future generations.

Sierra Leone bears the third highest maternal mortality rate in the world—one in every eight Sierra Leonean women risks dying during pregnancy or childbirth. Yet it is women in rural areas who are taking matters into their own hands, changing these numbers, and actively providing for themselves and their families’ health needs. One way they’re doing this is through World Hope International’s pineapple program. Women in Sierra Leone recognize that growing a year-round crop provides year-round income, which in turn means year-round spending money for food, health, and education.

Essential to this program is that women farmers are given equal access to all tools, trainings, and agricultural outputs, ensuring they are equally as able as the men in their communities to earn income from the sale of pineapples. As women are more likely than men to use their resources to improve the well-being of their family and community, the money women farmers earn from the pineapples is consistently invested into nutrition, education, healthcare, and savings. As a result, WHI’s farmer associations, 68 percent of whom are women, reap year-round food and job security from the program.

What we learn from Sierra Leone is that simple steps like providing women in agriculture with equal access to resources and opportunities go a long way towards increasing food security and reducing poverty. Let’s celebrate the “International Year of Family Farming” by tapping into the power of women to help fight world hunger!

The founder of World Hope International, Jo Anne Lyon is the first woman to be elected General Superintendent for the Wesleyan Church USA.

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