Empowering the world’s women farmers

Today is International Day of Rural Women and we have interviewed a woman who is helping to empower women farmers around the world to produce food more successfully

Dr Vivian Polar is an agronomist and social scientist who travels the world in her role as a gender monitoring and evaluation specialist for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, led by the International Potato Center.

“There are statistics that say women provide half the world’s agricultural workforce, but what is more important than that is the role and contribution they play on the world’s farms. Women often play a key role in feeding their families and local communities, alongside other tasks such as bringing up children. They may not play such an important role on many larger commercial farms, but without them many local communities would not survive.

Although there is gradual change, women still face challenges that many men do not. They often have to settle for more marginal, less productive land than men and do not have the same access to technology. However, communities that recognize and encourage the unique contribution women farmers can make can benefit enormously. Women often have a much more holistic view of agriculture, understanding its role in feeding a family nutritiously and making more uses of resources through recycling.

By engaging women in projects, the International Potato Center (CIP) has worked with communities to provide bio-fortified sweet potatoes in Africa and zinc and iron-enhanced potatoes in the High Andes, helping to transform local diets. In many cases we will share agronomic and nutritional messages with women in places where they naturally gather, such as health centers, rather than in more formal farm meetings in community spaces.

Giving women more power in decision-making is another way of transforming farming operations. Women are often responsible for much of the work on the farm, but it could be men who make the decision about what crops to grow and where to market them, even if those men are not involved in the day-to-day running of the farm because they work elsewhere. The greater appreciation of the needs of the farm from the women on the ground means they can make much more informed decisions that lead to much more successful outcomes. Examples of this include cassava processing operations in Nigeria and seed potato growing in the High Andes, where women have been able to build profitable and resilient operations.

Taking into consideration the needs of women when developing new technology or varieties is also essential. Their needs might be quite different to those of men, from a piece of farm machinery that can be used while carrying a baby to a nutritious and resilient potato variety that can feed families from the very marginal land that many women have to farm.

There has been a lot of progress in improving the conditions of women farmers around the world, but there is still plenty to do. Future progress will only be made if women are at the heart of developing new systems and technology that will make their lives and those around them better.”

To find out more about Vivian Polar’s work at the CIP see: https://cipotato.org/press_room/blogs/using-gender-research-increasing-adoption-agricultural-technology/

Program website: http://www.rtb.cgiar.org/

Bertha Azursa Clemente feeds her son
Bertha Azursa Clemente feeds her son biofortified potatoes that have a high iron and zinc content. Anemia is pervasive in her community in the Peruvian highlands. The International Potato Center works to counteract hidden hunger through biofortification and works with local communities to assure that the new varieties appeal to the local palette and preferences. Photo: Sara A. Fajardo for the International Potato Center
A female farmer in Bangladesh
A female farmer in Bangladesh has increased access to quality planting materials thanks to efforts to strengthen the sweetpotato seed system near her community. Access to quality planting materials for rural women can have a compounding effect on both yields and subsequent income. Photo: Sara Quinn/International Potato Center
Edna Jones of Tanzania
Edna Jones of Tanzania stands next to a net tunnel used to protect sweetpotato form pests and disease. An inclusive approach to technology development assures that both men and women are able to use and benefit from the innovations produced by agricultural research centers. Photo: International Potato Center