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Closing the Productivity Gap for Women Farmers

September 19, 2011

Keep an eye on the reports, webcasts, and blogs from this week’s busy schedule of the Clinton Global Initiative, the launch of the World Bank’s World Development Report “Gender Equality: The Right and Smart Thing to Do”, and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s “Women and Agriculture: A Conversation on Improving Global Food Security” moderated by Nick Kristof.

What you might see, from looking through early talking points and agendas, is an unprecedented public convergence of data, success stories, and political (and moral) imperatives around the critical role of empowering women in agriculture and the resultant overall productivity increases, improved nutritional outcomes, and increased food security which could be obtained from increasing women farmers’ productivity.

  • Sunday night, World Bank President Robert Zoellick launched the 2012 World Development Report with a thoughtful piece in Politico summarizing key messages from the report. The WDR—the first dedicated to gender’s role in economic development in the history of the Bank—highlights the “stickiness” of gender inequality despite significant progress in women’s empowerment globally. Notably, Zoellick highlighted the frustratingly persistent inefficient allocation of resources—labor, credit, and inputs—between women and men farmers resulting in as much as 20 percent reduced yields and lost overall productivity growth.
  • Monday, we heard Secretary Clinton re-committing USAID’s Feed the Future to centering women farmers and launching a $5 million for innovation fund, accessible from large scale research institutions to local NGOs, to invest in approaches that close the gap between women and men’s access to agricultural resources, like fertilizers and post harvest storage technologies.
    At the same talk, we heard Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Helen Keller CEO Kathy Spahn remind the audience of a simple but robust data point: that increases in women’s agricultural production + control over income from the marketing of surplus = more household investment resulting in improved nutrition.
  • Tuesday, at the Clinton Global Initiative we will see USAID Administrator Raj Shah, World Food Prize Laureate Dr. Gibesa Ejeta, and Nick Kristof discuss challenges to coordinating efforts for a global breakthrough in nutritional improvement. Getting more food, income, and household influence into the hands of women will likely be a central policy recommendation from the panel.

What I’ll be working on in the foundation is how to harness this upsurge in political capital to scale up smart, prioritized investments that get more inputs, knowledge, and income into the hands of women farmers.

We’re close to a real breakthrough that converge two economic imperatives—increased investment in agricultural development and increased investment in women’s empowerment. Investing in women farmers might be the highest leverage dollar we spend in the war on hunger and poverty.

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