Food security focuses on women and land

Food security focuses on women and land

January 17, 2018

Food security focuses on women and land

Only by eliminating all gender inequalities once and for all, and by enabling women to access land and credit, can the existing production system be turned into an effective tool for the achievement of food security, environmental sustainability and social sustainability.

“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. The fifth from the set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations is unequivocal: gender equality must be pursued if social sustainability is to be achieved. 

But, as Bina Agarwal pointed out during the last edition of the BCFN Forum on Food and Nutrition, gender equality is also the starting point for environmental sustainability, given its strong connection with agriculture and food security, particularly in developing countries.

Agarwal, an economist of Indian descent and currently a professor at the Global Development Institute, at the University of Manchester (United Kingdom), has always been engaged in the battle to promote gender equality, which in many countries is still a distant prospect, and its absence in a huge obstacle to the attainment of the environmental sustainability and social sustainability goals envisioned for 2030. Her publications, which include 12 books and over 80 academic articles, deal with political economy and provide gender perspectives exploring diverse but interconnected topics, such as land and property rights, environmental management, sustainable development, food security, technology in agriculture, and the many inequalities that are still endemic in modern societies. 

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In your view, what are the weaknesses of today's existing policies, and what should be done to truly achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030?

This is a very complex issue, but I think it's important to point out what I think are the two main players that come together on the path to sustainability: women and the land. The ability to solve, at least in part, the problems associated with women's rights and with their access to and management of the land is crucial in developing countries, given the huge impact of these aspects on agriculture and food security, among other things. 

Why are women's rights so important from the point of view of sustainable agriculture? 

The reason is quite simple. We find that the face of the farmer in the world is increasingly female. In sub-Saharan Africa and most of Asia, women actually account for over half of the agricultural labor force. Today we are looking at something like 45 to 55 percent, but the proportion is constantly growing because, for a variety of reasons, more men than women tend to leave the farming sector.  

How would you describe the importance of agricultural and arable land, other than its more obvious “basic” role for crop and livestock farming?

Land is the main input for agriculture. Without access to land there is no access to credit, to the technologies that can lead to a truly sustainable agriculture, or to the farming subsidies provided by governments. Agricultural land is the main production resource for farmers; it enables them to grow crops and to have access to the facilities I have just mentioned, which are useful tools for them to make advances on the path of sustainability and to achieve their full potential. 


When we talk about land, what are the problems faced by women working in agriculture?

In the majority of developing countries, women and men don't have equal access to land. Such access is gained through family inheritance, state or government provision, or the market; in all three cases, women are extremely disadvantaged compared to men in terms of rights and opportunities for ultimate success.

What are the wider implications of all this and what kind of strategies need to be adopted in order to solve these problems?

Unless there is a drastic change and gender equality is achieved, there will be huge risks for food security not only at the family level but also at the national level. 

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This is why I am convinced that an important part of the future sustainability agenda should be women's rights to land, as is also emphasized by the fifth sustainable development goal. Now we need to work out how far it's possible for all this to be implemented. 

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