Although women make up 43% of the global agricultural workforce, the percentage of agricultural landholders or owners that are women is much lower at 20%, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).Landholders make the major decisions around resource use and management of control over land, which means they directly determine what gets produced and what resources are utilized.
While some countries boast as high as 40% of agricultural land ownership by women, as a whole, that number falls between 10-20% (FAO). There are a number of possible reasons to explain this. Perhaps there is a higher percentage of women participating in other industries. However, in some countries, there are certain laws or traditions in place that act as barriers against women to own land, which consequently prevents them from making key decisions regarding production operations.
This gender disparity goes beyond land ownership and extends across the food system. Women are more likely to own plots of land that are smaller or lower quality and have less access to crop improvements, such as fertilizers, various pesticides, and better seeds. They also tend to receive fewer years of formal or agricultural education, and a lower percentage of agriculture extension services from educational institutions and the government (FAO). All of these disadvantages can culminate in lower yields on women-owned farms, compared to those owned by men.
The FAO estimates that the 20-30% yield gap between men and women is not a result of a difference in skill but a difference in accessibility to resources. In practice, if women were afforded the same resources men have access to, they would be able to achieve equal yields and boost total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4%. Doing so could potentially reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 12-17% (that’s 100-150 million people).
Empowering women with resources and the ability to make decisions would also contribute to food security on a local level. According to FAO, women are more likely to take their additional earnings and reinvest them in their family’s nutrition outcome.
Needless to say, gender equality in the food system carries huge implications for food security everywhere.
As Apeel participates in global food system sustainability efforts, we can encourage conversation around addressing persistent inequalities. Since the limitations faced by women in our food system are multi-faceted, there may not be a single “silver bullet” solution that addresses such challenges. Rather, female farmer empowerment is a strategy that cuts across food system sustainability efforts and exists alongside many other significant programs aimed at achieving gender equality for women around the world, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN 2019).
Empowering female farmers will have a ripple effect of benefits that stretches far beyond food security. Working to ensure stronger land tenure rights for women and more equitable resource access is an important first step. All participants in the food system should continue to consider how products, initiatives, and partnerships can contribute to such efforts around the world.