Want a more peaceful, secure world? Give women farmers a seat at the table

Want a more peaceful, secure world? Give women farmers a seat at the table

11/17/16

Originally published 11/16/16 on thehill.com

This past July, President Obama signed the Global Food Security Act into law. Despite being divided as a nation on so many topics, the bipartisan support required to get the Act passed and signed reflects the transcendent and unifying nature of the battles we face: against global hunger, against climate change, and against poverty, inequality, and violence. 

As a chef and advocate for global hunger, I’m proud of the way the United States has demonstrated its leadership and generosity by passing the Act. As a woman, I’m pleased the Act recognizes that, when it comes to establishing a more peaceful and equitable world, women are unmatched.  

 

And now, for the first time ever, the United States has a comprehensive, coordinated global food and nutrition security strategy – released on Oct. 1 – that puts women at center stage. 

This is important for several reasons. The responsibility of feeding nations falls on the shoulders of women farmers – often in places where, if the land itself isn’t hostile, her government or her fellow citizens may be. Because of her gender, a woman farmer faces innumerable institutional barriers to accessing land, credit, and education, making the difficult business of farming that much more challenging.

Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to Mozambique with CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. We spent three days traveling throughout the country to see the work they are doing, in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, to address food insecurity for families in some of the most remote communities. It was a pivotal moment for me to witness firsthand the challenges these communities – particularly mothers – face when it comes to accessing food in the face of climate change.

Presently, Mozambique is facing extreme drought conditions due to the El Niño weather phenomenon, which has impacted more than 40 million people across southern and eastern Africa. In fact, this is the worst food security crisis in more than 35 years in the region, where more than 70 percent of the population relies on agriculture.

As the region works to recover from such devastation, the Act strengthens programs like the ones CARE has operated in Mozambique since 1984 that empower women and girls and protect natural resource management. The Act also supports efforts to improve agricultural livelihoods – from offering training, seeds and tools to strengthening infrastructure to expanding conservation practices that protect the land.

Smallholder farmers, many of whom are women, manage to grow 80 percent of the food eaten in all of Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Yet, if they were empowered with the same productive resources as their male counterparts, women farmers could increase yields by 20 to 30 percent

Yield increases of that magnitude would mean enough food to feed up to 150 million more people every year. Imagine it: 150 million fewer men, women, and children going hungry, simply because women farmers are empowered with the basics. That’s why the Act finances tools and training targeted specifically at women farmers.

Because so many women in emerging nations are involved in farming, the targeted assistance included in the Act means that millions more women will be better armed with the knowledge they need to transition from growing food for subsistence to running their own farm businesses. 

There are parallels between what’s happening in American agriculture, with its growing recognition of the contributions of women farmers, and the way the Act empowers women farmers in emerging nations to take on the leadership roles that they’ve historically been denied. It recognizes that poverty, gender inequality, and agricultural productivity go hand in hand – that to solve one challenge, you must back strategies that account for them all. This applies whether your farm is in Mozambique or the United States.

In order to address the global challenges of the future, women in every country must be educated, encouraged, and empowered to take on the world’s food, fuel, and fiber needs. A woman farmer will thrive in an environment that validates and respects her contributions, that extends a hand up when she needs it, and offers a seat at the table because she’s earned it. If we do those things, her community and her nation will thrive, too.

Chef Carla Hall is a co-host on ABC’s popular lifestyle series “The Chew,” and is best known as a competitor on Bravo’s “Top Chef.” She owns Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen in New York City and Carla Hall’s Petite Cookies, and is the culinary ambassador at the new African American History Museum in D.C. She also has several cookbooks, including Carla’s Comfort Food: Favorite Dishes from Around the World and Cooking with Love: Comfort Food That Hugs You.

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