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How Women Farmers Could Feed More in Developing World

Women at work in the fields in Sarai Nayat, India

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Food prices continue to rise, threatening to push more people into poverty and hunger. Experts have been urging increased efforts around the world to increase agricultural productivity. A new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says one of the best ways would be to remove the barriers women farmers face that male farmers do not.

Women farmers are often less productive than men, but there are good reasons for that, says Agnes Quisumbing. She is an economist with the International Food Policy Research Institute. She says women farmers have fewer resources than male farmers.

The new FAO report says women make up forty-three percent of the world’s farmers. But only about ten to twenty percent of them own the land they farm. Without owning land, it is harder for them to get credit to buy inputs such as better seeds and fertilizers. In many countries, women are half as likely as men to use fertilizers to increase the amount of crops.

In addition, Ms. Quisumbing says many of the world’s women are raising their children at the same time they are farming.

The FAO report says helping women farmers could increase agricultural output in the developing world by as much as four percent. This in turn could reduce the number of undernourished people by as much as seventeen percent.

AGNES QUISUMBING: “Just helping women farmers have the same access to inputs and control of resources that male farmers have would really do a lot in terms of improving agriculture productivity, reducing hunger and malnutrition.”

Ms. Quisumbing helped write the FAO report. She says the report does not try to gain sympathy. It makes the case for women farmers based on business reasons.

AGNES QUISUMBING: “We hear a lot about how women are disadvantaged. And they tend to be very bleeding-heart arguments. But bleeding-heart arguments don’t necessarily tell heads of state to move their money.”

She says governments should support programs that help women farmers. These include financial support to help them buy better seeds and fertilizers. But she says policies in many countries also need to change.

She says many laws discriminate against women in the areas of property, labor force and marriage. Ms. Quisumbing says studies show that women are more likely than men to spend money on food, health and educating their children. And that means a better future for the next generation.

And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson with reporting by Steve Baragona. You can find transcripts and MP3s of our reports at You can also find us on Facebook and YouTube at VOA Learning English. I’m Bob Doughty.