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Editorial (March 2013)

Women farmers produce the majority of the world's food but own less than 2% of the world's land (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Women farmers produce the majority of the world's food but own less than 2% of the world's land
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, they say; in the same vein, simple answers to complex questions should probably be treated with caution. How to feed 9 billion by 2050 is certainly a complex question. Yet the staggering fact that women farmers, who produce the majority of the world's food, own less than two per cent of the world's land and receive only ten per cent of agricultural credit does at least suggest a good place to look for answers. If we really do 'get out what we put in', tackling gender discrimination and investing in the world's food producers has to be a major part of the mix, when it comes to ending poverty and hunger.

Of course it's not a total solution. Some even ask whether 'how to increase production' is the right question. In My perspective, Robin Bourgeois of the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR) suggests that using our resources to both produce enough and distribute it more fairly is perhaps the paradigm shift we need, if we are to feed the world. And in Points of view, food and agriculture specialists discuss a range of options to tackle malnutrition, with diverse opinions on the potential offered by biofortification of staples, renewed emphasis on minor crops and the importance of empowering and educating girls.

Meanwhile, the government in Papua New Guinea has its own strategic plan for agricultural development. PNG was the world's eighth fastest growing economy in 2012, based on strong growth in mining and oil. The government now plans to invest in road networks, extension services and food safety standards, to boost agricultural production, trade and exports. Investing in food safety also appears In pictures, with efforts to control aflatoxins, dangerous poisons widely found in maize and groundnut crops.

Investment is also a key issue in The Global Farms Race, a new analysis of the land-grabbing phenomenon, reviewed in Books. Taking a more dispassionate approach than many, the authors point out the long history of land acquisition by foreigners, and the benefits that it often has for host countries. Given the slow down in agricultural yield growth, they conclude that additional investment, whatever its source, should not be dismissed out of hand.

Overcoming the constraints that prevent women farmers from maximising their potential is complex (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Overcoming the constraints that prevent women farmers from maximising their potential is complex
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

In 2010, Susan Eve Oguya and her two business partners won €10,000 in an international technology challenge, to invest in their M-Farm online marketing service. These three young, Kenyan software developers - all women - now have 7,000 users benefitting from crop price information, collective selling of produce and collective buying of inputs. Six thousand more farmers are targeted in a new phase of the project.

Women's talent for innovation also features strongly in Focus on gender in agriculture. In Cambodia, for example, women have shown much greater interest than men in refining their aquaculture systems through community based science. And in Rwanda, a number of women who have benefitted from training as agri-business entrepreneurs are now advising both men and women in their communities on agricultural and business matters. Other issues tackled in the section include achieving legal empowerment of women in West Bengal and efforts to ensure gender-inclusion in East African dairy development efforts.

In compiling this edition, we've been lucky to work with numerous organisations and individuals who are committed to achieving a fairer, healthier world for men, women and children. If you are involved in work that you think would interest your fellow New Agriculturist readers, or you have a comment on what you've seen in this edition, please get in touch with the editorial team - we'll look forward to hearing from you.

Date published: March 2013


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