Food and sustainability

A resource to value

There are an increasing number of women farming, but in some countries they are subjected to grueling working conditions. Recognizing women’s skills is a way to help promote sustainable development. Producing food to feed tomorrow’s population (over 9 billion individuals in 2050, according to the most reliable estimates) requires a female workforce, though not to the detriment of women’s quality of life. This is the conclusion drawn by the document “The role of women in agriculture” produced by the FAO, the United Nations organisation working in food and agriculture. According to the latest available data, referring to 2011, 43% of the agricultural workforce and 47% of the fishing workforce is composed of women. And women, while representing the minority percentage of workers in this sector, produce 70% of available food, a percentage that, in Africa, rises to almost 80%. Without women, we’d already be struggling to feed ourselves today.

More hours in the fields
“In many countries the quality of life of female food producers is very low and this can have an impact on the sustainability of the model in the long term,” explains Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank, a non-governmental organisation promoting initiatives for food and environmental sustainability. “Data from the United Nations highlight how women across the globe are discriminated against simply because they are women.”
The numbers, however, are indisputable: though in absolute terms there are more men than women in the fields, it is women who spend more time cultivating what their family will eat and what will make a profit. At the source of this discrimination are cultural elements, of which not even large international companies are immune: a 2009 study by the FAO showed that if the tasks of taking family cattle out to pasture and collecting water or wood to produce energy were included in the figure of economically active women, in some countries the percentage of active women increases from 20-25% to above 80%, like for instance in the Dominican Republic.

Sustainable policies
“Being sensitive to gender issues can help resolve improve food security and the lives of families,” explains Nierenberg. And though in developed countries like Italy we are seeing women return to agriculture with avant-garde and high quality products, in others, like in Chile or Sub-Saharan Africa, the focus is on promoting initiatives to improve women’s belief in themselves and their commercial skills, through an increased awareness of market demand, though without losing local crops that make less profit but which are extremely important for feeding the family and fighting malnutrition.
Policies for women in agriculture therefore also include experiences such as female cooperatives which organise the time of individuals such as to collectively meet the needs of children and families as well as those of the fields.

30 inspirational examples
“Food Tank highlights women in agriculture—from farmers to advocates and entrepreneurs who are helping nourish both people and the planet,” explains Nierenberg.
All young women in the world can draw inspiration from Karen Albuja, a young women from Ecuador who has started to produce and sell medicinal herbs grown respecting the principles of environmental sustainability. Or they can look to the experience of Leanne Brown, the author of Good and Cheap, a recipe book for people living in the most developed countries in the world but who have less than 4 dollars a day to feed themselves healthily.
Laura D’Asaro and Rose Wang, with their company Six Foods are trying to convince Americans that snacks made of insects are healthy and ecologically sustainable. Trang Tran, in Vietnam, has convinced farmers not to burn rice stubbles, a practice that generates fumes that harm the environment and health, and instead to reuse them to cultivate mushrooms.
These models differ according to the country in question, but they share an objective and work method: to use female intelligence to promote the wellness of the individual and the wellness of the society in which they live.

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