The Invisible Face of Agriculture:
How Technology and Education
Shape the Lives of Women
By Amy H. Fonseca
Is this who you think of when I say farming and agriculture?
The statistics indicate women and girls are not who you and I typically associate with agriculture. That’s because around the globe, women represent the Invisible Faces of Agriculture—their roles in the economy often underestimated and work in agriculture overlooked.
Studies have shown that women and girls produce between 60% and 80% of food in most developing countries, and still represent 60% of the world’s chronically hungry. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, if the world’s women farmers had the same access to resources as men, 150 million people could remain out of poverty.
These numbers lead us to ask what could happen if we used technology and education in agriculture to increase the human and financial capital of women around the globe? Would it provide a solution for the nearly 800 million people in impoverished countries who struggle with ongoing availability of food daily?
What might happen if she also became a ‘paid’ face of agriculture?
No doubt, we would see more of this…
Data confirms that when impoverished countries improve agricultural productivity, their economy grows. And when women control an income, they focus their spending on their children’s nutrition, education, and health. That’s why food security and women are a powerful antidote to poverty! But only recently have food security programs begun taking a different focus and approach—targeting women as drivers of change. Organizations like CARE, USAID, and WHO have recognized the significant impact on increased household welfare when programs focus on improving the lives of women.
So, the real question becomes how can we increase food security and decrease gender inequality for women in impoverished countries who have weak land rights, lack of equipment, no childcare, and little access to credit? Can education and the use of technology by women and girls play a role in increasing food security?
We believe the answer is yes! Here’s how:
Education Drives Change
According to the UN’s report, Gender Equality and Food Security, the education of women is “the single most important determinant for food security.” Over the past 25 years, there has been a 55% reduction in hunger which has been associated with the increase of education for women and girls.
And one of the most significant outcomes of education is the ripple effect it has on the entire community. A study in Kenya found that increased education resulted in women farmers who planted coffee trees more readily and also became role models for other women in their community. When one woman was educated and successfully farming coffee beans, other women in her community adopted coffee farming too. The results inidcated these women were also more likely to mimic the success of other women than men. Yes, this proves to us once again the power of women Role Models.
The rapid expansion of mobile phone networks is promising, but women are 14% less likely to own one.
Technology Equals Access
When we educate girls and women, they adopt new technology and find access to services. A woman’s role as the primary homemaker influences the amount of time available for agriculture and education. Simple technology such as improved cooking stoves, access to village water sources and public transportation can increase time women and girls spend farming and learning.
More advanced technology, such as mobile phones could become crucial to food security. The rapid expansion of mobile phone networks is promising, but women are 14% less likely to own one. In some instances, a text message can inform farmers what crop prices will fetch in local markets. Women farmers can also learn about technical information related to farming that they can’t receive from male extension workers due to cultural and social norms. But we must not forget that even when women have access to this technology, they may not know how to use it. Women farmers are more likely to engage with technology when they are literate or have a support system to teach them. Of course, this leads us back to the value of education.
It’s our time to walk toward the Frontier of education, gender equality, and increased food security for all.
But We Need You
We understand that education and technology are not the only answers to food security, though. There are many complex social and cultural norms to be unraveled and understood. And men, we need you! Ensuring that men are active participants in the empowerment of women is essential to helping redistribute current beliefs about women’s roles in society.
Yes, all of this seems like an insurmountable task, but we know this for sure: it’s our time to walk toward the Frontier of education, gender equality, and increased food security for all. And we need you!
Not sure how? It starts with one step, like this…
Or if you feel like running, try this…
You can begin with one small step. Perhaps you can learn more about food security and women in agriculture by checking out a few of the links below. Just get started. Put one foot in front of the other and go!
References: Gender Equality and Food Security—Women’s Empowerment as a Tool against Hunger, International Food Policy Research Institute, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations , Global Greengrants Fund, World Health Organization, CARE, USAID