A new report, Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies, released today by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, describes how adolescent girls are contributing to rural economies and identifies what can be done to leverage these roles to increase food production and drive economic growth. The report is jointly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Nike Foundation, and the UN Foundation.
Returns on agricultural investments can be higher and more sustainable if strategies target girls. Adolescent girls, who receive only two cents of every development dollar, are the living infrastructure in rural areas and are many of the world’s future farmers.
Although agricultural development is rightly focusing on incorporating women farmers into supply chains, investments must also include girls if productivity gains and economic benefits are to last beyond this generation.
In adolescence, rural girls make critical contributions to their families at home and on farms. They manage the majority of household chores, working on average 20 percent longer than urban girls. Alongside their mothers, they are responsible for weeding and hoeing, transporting crops, tending livestock and transporting food. During adolescence, girls make pivotal decisions and develop skills and mindsets that impact their future family situation and economic productivity.
In spite of the formative nature of this stage, few girls are incorporated into agriculture or development activities: adolescent girls no longer qualify for programs targeting children, and they are not old enough to be considered women.
Incorporating adolescent girls into agricultural strategies will equip them to take advantage of growing opportunities in the agriculture and food sectors, extending the increases in productivity and economic growth we are currently seeing as a result of investing in women.
Programs that involve girls in agricultural training not only prepare girls for careers in agriculture but also hold the potential to increase yields when girls share know-how with their families. Initiatives that allow girls to access land and credit are also showing promising results.
The Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights, a grantee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is working with governments to provide landless families with micro plots for which daughters can be named co-inheritors. The land provides income for families and allows girls to enter marriage as future landowners, which increases their position as wives. BRAC, a Bangladesh-based NGO, has devised a microcredit scheme with flexible payment plans to extend credit to adolescent girls.
Offering girls agricultural training, land, and credit are just a few examples of interventions that can position today’s rural girls to continue the trend of increasing agricultural productivity and economic growth. Read Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies for more about rural adolescent girls’ role in agriculture.