Today we are facing a global food, nutrition, and climate crisis. Over the past few years, nearly 100 million people have been added to the global count of chronically hungry worldwide. Food prices have jumped almost 80%, pushing thousands of families on the brink into poverty and hunger. Environmentally damaging agricultural practices such as deforestation compound the CO2 emissions that are causing greenhouse effects. Chemically enhanced fertilizers contaminate the ground and strip the Earth of necessary nutrients.
We cannot build sustainable democracies, economies, or solutions for climate change and food shortages if we do not fully incorporate women in policy responses. There isn’t a better story to illustrate the disconnect between the reality of women and the theory of policy than this food crisis and the agricultural strategies that aim to address it.
In our agricultural policy, we fail to consider issues like nutrition and food security, climate change, and the significant but often unrecognized fact that 70% of the world’s farmers are women. Women produce 90% of the staple food crops, such as rice and maize—the crops that feed the world. Women also prepare these crops for household and community consumption, eating last or not at all when food is scarce. And women do the majority of tasks that involve close proximity to the environment, such as farming and fetching water, and hence shoulder a disproportionate amount of the danger associated with pollution and climate change.
Women’s agricultural empowerment is the next frontier for the global women’s movement. When women produce the majority of the world’s food but own less than 2% of the land, it becomes an issue of economic as well as gender justice. Women have the right to enjoy the profits of their labor and the peace of mind of knowing their daughters can inherit the land they farm. Women have the right to eat a full and balanced meal and to work in an environment not poisoned by toxic chemicals. And we have the ability to realize this vision.
There are several programs underway that can jump start the revolution. For example, at Women for Women, we’re teaching women sustainable farming techniques that maximize profit and nutritional value while supporting environmental preservation, community agricultural, and economic development. Women learn to farm a diversity of crops for household consumption and higher profits, at the same time as they are equipped with techniques that enhance the ecological balance of natural ecosystems.
In Rwanda, where land is at a premium, and in land-rich Sudan, in partnership with local government, we have secured a long-term land lease that enables women to control the land they farm and access the highest returns on their labor. Women in South Sudan are on track to earn double the per-capita GDP after only six months. Also in Rwanda, women learn to construct vertical kitchen gardens, which maximize soil efficiency and make a significant impact on household nutritional security. Women farmers turn grain bags, tires, and other household items into vertical planters and use their livestock’s natural animal waste for fertilizer.
In my work with women farmers, I have seen that, as in so many other sectors, women are the key to our success in agriculture and environmental policy. Women are integrating environmentally friendly practices into agriculture production. They are cultivating the crops that will combat food and nutrition crises and stimulate local markets in the time of economic crisis. I’ve heard much talk about a green revolution, but rarely are women’s voices taken into account in our conceptions of it. The time has come to make those voices heard, to make agricultural and environmental policy reflective of those who are most impacted by it. The green revolution is a women’s revolution.