Global Food Security Act helps female farmers feed world

Global Food Security Act helps female farmers feed world

Publication info

Posted
7/21/16

Originally buplished by the Des Moines Register

President Obama signed the Global Food Security Act into law Wednesday with Republicans and Democrats equally represented as champions. Without question, the bipartisan passage of the Act by Congress, after nearly a decade of petitioning by CARE and other humanitarian organizations, is notable. Finding common ground is so elusive in Washington these days that the overwhelming passage of any piece of legislation is laudable.

But this legislation is extraordinary in its capacity to achieve results that will save and change lives around the world. At a moment in which our daily news is rife with stories of violence and terror, this is one of those rare pieces of truly good news. And most remarkable is the simple, yet unprecedented way the act enables these results: by empowering female farmers.

Nearly half the world’s farmers are women. Eighty percent of the food consumed in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia is grown by women. Yet women in agriculture face many barriers: lack of access to land, to credit and to education and extension resources. Research shows that if they had the same access to productive resources as their male counterparts, women could increase crop yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent and we could feed up to 150 million more people every year.

For many female farmers, empowerment means the difference between subsistence — eking out enough food from the land to feed their families — and running a farm business that increases their household income, improves their quality of life, and contributes to the economic security of their communities and nations.

It is clear that in emerging nations, much of the pressure to adapt to climate change will fall on the shoulders of female farmers. The Global Food Security Act helps finance climate-smart agriculture tools and training that help smallholder farmers increase productivity while curbing environmental damage and building resiliency in the face of climate change. These practices are critical to preserving fragile ecosystems, sustaining strong economies, and reducing rates of hunger and food insecurity around the world.

The act also reauthorizes funds that allow humanitarian organizations to respond to crises. It works in tandem with those around the world and right here in Iowa focused on addressing global challenges, including the recently announced 2016 World Food Prize laureates, who are being honored for their work in fortifying staple food crops with critical vitamins and micronutrients.

And, for the first time ever, the act will require the U.S. government, with input from partners like CARE, to develop a comprehensive agriculture and nutrition development strategy that specifically addresses the needs of women.

I recently traveled to Ethiopia, where CARE’s work with the Ethiopian government, U.S. development agencies and other humanitarian organizations demonstrates the combined impact of each element of the act. I saw firsthand the very human impact that this piece of legislation will have in the lives individuals, families and communities.

Ethiopia is an emerging agricultural success story. According to the World Bank, poverty in Ethiopia has been reduced by 33 percent since 2000. That improvement is thanks in large part to steady growth in Ethiopia’s agricultural sector and efforts by the Ethiopian government and humanitarian organizations like CARE to improve agricultural productivity, expand access to markets and boost in-country capacity building — including supporting female farmers. Agriculture now accounts for almost 41 percent of their gross domestic product and 80 percent of exports.

But today, the Ethiopian government and the international humanitarian community are standing together to avert the potential catastrophic effects of a different kind of emergency: the country’s worst drought in 50 years. The drought, linked to El Niño, has caused crop production to fall by 70 percent in the last year.

During the drought, CARE is working with the government to feed more than 500,000 people in rural Ethiopia. We’ve rehabilitated water sources to give more than 350,000 Ethiopians access to safe drinking water, despite the drought. We continue to work with Ethiopian farmers, many of them women, to share new farming and conservation techniques, link them to microfinance and other forms of credit and strengthen their resilience against climate change and future disasters.

One of the female farmers I met in Ethiopia said it all: “Please ask those that have so much to extend a hand so that we can feed and educate our children until the rains come again.”

The Global Food Security Act is an affirmative response to her simple request. At a time of political polarization and so much distressing news, it is heartening to know that we can work together to get important work done in Washington. And it is inspiring to remind ourselves that there are critical efforts — like empowering female farmers — that we can agree and act upon to achieve meaningful, positive, and sustainable change.

These women are part of a seed producers cooperative. There are eight women along with their husbands and they are growing improved forage on a quarter of a hectare of land in Ethiopia. Photo credit: Josh Estey/CARE

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