Solving the Global Food Crisis Starts with Women's Rights
Posted on: Thursday, June 5, 2008
A version of this article was distributed through the Progressive Media Project.
Ana Chumba is facing a choice that no mother should ever have to make: whether to feed her daughter or send her to school. Ana is a small-scale farmer who also sells homemade tortillas to make ends meet. But this year, the cost of staple foods in Nicaragua, where she lives, has more than doubled. If she keeps her daughter out of school to help with the tortillas, they may be able to bring in enough to buy rice, cooking oil, and on a good day, milk. For most of us, the world food crisis has meant an annoying hike in our grocery bill. For Ana, already living on the brink of survival, it’s a true emergency.
Economists explain the food crisis as a perfect storm: rising demand for resource-intensive foods like meat, protracted drought, and more land being used to grow fuel instead of food.
More critical thinkers point out that long before biofuels became a household word, international trade rules had bankrupted millions of small farmers in the global south. Because of huge government subsidies to factory farms in the US and Europe, food imported from these countries became cheaper than food produced by local farmers. As a result, food producing countries like Nicaragua were turned into food importers, leaving people like Ana at the mercy of global markets.
But almost all public discussion has overlooked a critical fact: the majority of the world’s farmers are women. In the poorest countries, where the food crisis is at its worst, women grow and produce 80 percent of all food.
Does it really matter whether food is grown by a man or a woman? It does if you’re trying to hammer out new policies to resolve the food crisis. More and more policymakers now understand that boosting the capacity of small farmers to produce and sell food locally is a key part of the solution. What they haven’t yet grasped is that as women, many small farmers face gender discrimination that undermines their capacity to feed people.
For example, in many countries, women who grow the food that sustains the majority of the population are not even recognized as farmers. They have no legal right to own land. And women are routinely shut out of government agriculture programs. They lose out on access to credit, seeds, tools, and training that is more crucial than ever now that farmers must adapt to climate change. All of this means that policies aiming to resolve the food crisis need to also uphold women’s rights.
The global food crisis may be a perfect storm, but it’s no natural disaster. Hunger is a consequence of failed policies. Fortunately, policies can be changed. The next big opportunity is June 3, when world leaders will meet in Rome to devise new strategies for world agriculture. MADRE will be calling on them to ensure that agriculture programs promote women’s rights.
All government policies should respect human rights, including women’s rights. But when it comes to fixing our broken food system, the kind of small-scale, sustainable farming that women traditionally do is exactly the mode of agriculture that we need to expand. The Rome meeting should realign world agriculture policy with the interests of small-scale women farmers instead of giant corporations. If we can do that, we may just be able to meet the challenge of today’s global food crisis by feeding all people while protecting the planet.
By Yifat Susskind, MADRE Communications Director
Archives"Press Room" Home February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001
Kat Noel, Website & Media Coordinator
PHONE: +1 212 627 0444
MADRE & Our Partners Make News
Haiti: the neoliberal model imposed on the country is failing its citizens (The Guardian, February 5, 2014)
Human rights group slams Iraq over treatment of women in prison (Miami Herald, February 2, 2014)
New Ways to Evaluate Impact (Stanford Social Innovation Review, January 24, 2014)
Poverty, Homelessness and Gender Violence Remains High Four Years After Earthquake (Uprising Radio , January 17, 2014)
Empowering Haiti's rape survivors (CNN, January 14, 2014)