Agriculture is an engine of economic growth and provides the basis for most livelihoods in developing countries. Women are a significant portion of the agricultural labor force, constituting an average of 43 percent in developing countries, with ranges from about 20 percent in Latin America to 50 percent in Eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Women are the majority of the agricultural labor force in more than 30 countries. They participate in many aspects of rural life – in paid employment, trade and marketing, as well as many unpaid activities, such as tending to crops and animals, collecting water and wood for fuel, and caring for family members.
However, women face many constraints – less land ownership, access to credit, extension and other services, and ability to hire labor – in the multiple activities they pursue. Increasing opportunities for women can have a powerful impact on productivity and agriculture-led growth. Women are just as efficient agricultural producers as men and can achieve similar yields when given equal access to resources, including training and services. Additionally, women tend to devote a larger fraction of their income to their children’s health and nutrition, laying the foundation for their children’s lifelong cognitive and physical development.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent. This increase could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4 percent and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17 percent, up to 150 million people. When women’s productivity and incomes increase, the benefits amplify across families and generations. Mothers who own land are better able to provide more nutritious food to their children and ensure their health and wellbeing.
Our office works to support the Feed the Future Initiative, which promotes policies that help enable women farmers to access and control physical and financial assets so they can become full and equal agricultural producers. In many cases, banks will not lend to women because they lack collateral such as land or other property. And, in many parts of the world, customary and traditional practices often prohibit women from inheriting or being able to buy their own land even if statutory laws allow it. Policies that make it easier for smaller groups with fewer resources to start a cooperative and work for a common purpose, such as Mozambique’s new Cooperative Law, can greatly help women.