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Empowering women vital for world food supply

21 March 2012, Reuters Africa

By Michelle Martin

LONDON (Reuters) - Empowering female farmers in developing countries is crucial to solving the world's food problems as an era of food price spikes looms, the chair of a panel which advises governments and donors on agricultural development in Sub-Saharan Africa told Reuters.

"If we're going to feed the world and in particular if Africa is going to be fed, we need every tool we can lay our hands on to make that happen and one component of that is to ensure that women fulfil their potential as farmers," Gordon Conway, Chair of the Montpellier Panel, said as the group launched a report on African agriculture.

"Women are constrained by the fact that they don't have enough access to productive resources and they don't have enough access to assets and if they did they could increase yields on farms by 20 to 30 percent, which would have a really big impact," he said.

If women upped their production by this amount, the agricultural output of developing countries would rise by between 2.5 and 4 percent, potentially slashing the number of undernourished people by 12 to 17 percent, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

It is therefore crucial that women's needs and rights are at the heart of all rural development programs instead of merely being added on as an afterthought, Conway said.

"This isn't an extra - this is fundamental to achieving growth with resilience," he said.

Women account for around 43 percent of agricultural labourers in developing countries, according to the FAO.

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