Thursday, January 24, 2013

Closing agriculture's gender gap

Empowering women and creating opportunities for farmers are two of Kiva's top priorities. So it's exciting to note that almost two-thirds of agriculture loans on Kiva benefit female borrowers.

Sangita on her poultry farm in Nepal. 

Most of us probably wouldn't think of agriculture as a female-driven sector. But in the developing world, women comprise 43% of the agricultural labor force. In fact, about 79% of women who consider themselves economically-active in developing countries identify agriculture as their primary source of income.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations just published a fascinating infographic, The Female Face of Farming, that effectively illustrates the influential role women play in the industry.

Looking at these statistics, it's easy to see that rural economies would cease to exist without women. At the very least, they would be unrecognizable. Yet despite their substantial impact on the industry, women continue to receive only a fraction of the compensation and resources men do for the same work. Whether it's rights to land ownership, credit, inputs, or even just training and information, there's a huge gender disparity.

Take for example the share of male and female agricultural land holders in developing regions. The FAO's graphic below shows that on average only about 10% of agricultural land is owned by women, which is a major gap given that women do almost half of the work. 

This gender gap isn't just bad news for women -- it negatively affects all family members. According to the infographic, a $10 increase in a woman’s income would yield the same results as a $110 increase in a man’s income in terms of improving child health and nutrition.

Notably, when positive changes do occur and women are empowered, they end up modeling gender equality to future generations. If a daughter grows up in a home where her mother is respected and justly compensated for her work, her future actions and mindset will be significantly different than if her mother worked grueling hours for unequal pay and had no influence on family decisions. Similarly, if a son is brought up by a mother who contributes equally to family income, he will likely show more respect for women in his own actions. This is how women's empowerment happens -- through small changes passed from generation to generation.

While today it's still true that women farmers yield about 20-30% less than men, this can be attributed to inequalities in resources and accessibility. If women were given equal access to resources, it's assumed that they could reach the same yield levels, boosting global agricultural output by 2.5 to 4%. While this may seem small, it's estimated that this increase could reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 12-17%.

On one hand, it is incredible to think that something as simple as equal access to resources across genders has the potential to so significantly decrease the number of hungry people in the world. Yet it is also disheartening that certain discriminatory traditions are so rooted in some developing countries that they inhibit their own growth.

Here at Kiva, we strongly believe in the power of women and their impact on the world around them. Since Kiva’s beginnings in 2007, over 66,000 women working in agriculture have been featured on the site.

Take for example, Chum, a mother of three from Cambodia who took out a $750 loan from Kiva to purchase more ducks for her duck egg business. Chum earns about $5 per day while her husband earns $1 per day working as a policeman. Chum’s 3 children are students and the extra income she now generates from her increased inventory allows her to pay for her children’s education and provide her family with greater financial security.

Kiva is thrilled to have connected our lenders so many strong, influential women like Chum. If you're interested in promoting economic development and women's empowerment (not to mention food security) click here to search for fundraising female agricultural loans!

Check out the FAO's Female Face of Farming infographic for more information and interesting statistics on the subject.

Have more questions about women in agriculture? Send them our way at