02Jul2014

Girls, will you lead global food security? Knowledge of farming is the key!

Ensuring food security around the world will require a change in the food distribution system. At present, there is enough food in the world, but it is unequally shared because of differences in purchasing power. Dr. William Dar described three types of people in the world: “about 1.2 billion ‘over consumers’ [who eat more than they need for good health]…; 3.5 billion “sustainers” [who eat what they need to thrive];…and 1.2 billion ultra-poor who barely survive…” (1). What can we do to better meet this basic need for food for all people?

Women farmers hold the future of the world’s food security in their hands. In most developing countries, women provide the bulk of agricultural labor to raise and harvest crops. They fetch water and feed their families nutritious, low-cost meals. Their Self Help Groups (SHGs) boost collective action in agriculture. Farmers need to know what crops they should grow for their climate and land conditions and the best agricultural practices they should follow. With this knowledge, farmers can increase crop yields in a sustainable way and communities will enjoy better health and prosperity.img_04801

The Sehgal Foundation trains women farmers in the district of Alwar in Rajasthan, India how to demonstrate sustainable practices in farming. These women farmers are called Krishi Sakhis (agricultural friends) and are responsible for teaching the other women in their SHGs. Since the majority of women are illiterate, they use pictorial training materials to teach others. Krishi Sakhis also help the women farmers to set up field demonstrations on soil health management. On the farmers’ fields, Krishi Sakhis guide the farmers to plant half in the traditional way and half using modern sustainable farming practices. They organize ‘field days’ at various stages – germination, flowering, fruiting and before harvest – so that farmers can see for themselves the difference in crop growth between traditional and modern methods. They also educate male farmers in their villages. Their communities appreciate the updated knowledge they share.

As with all sectors, society needs women’s leadership in the agriculture agricultural areas of business, academia, government and NGOs. Though many farmers in developing countries are women, agricultural science professionals, faculty and students at the higher education level are predominantly male.

Parents and teachers should work to raise girls’ interest in fields relevant to food nutrition and security. It is important that more women receive higher education in agriculture and gain experience for leadership roles in agricultural fields. There are many disciplines to choose from – agronomy, plant breeding, natural and environmental sciences, agricultural economics, agricultural extension and communications, to name a few. Biodiversity is important for food security. Dr. Dar reports that people have identified more than 50,000 edible plants, but only a few hundred of them are part of our food supply, half of which comes from sugarcane, rice, wheat and maize. The cultivation of these and other plants can improve food and nutritional security for human beings.

Interested in food security? Encourage girls to study agricultural sciences so that more women can assume leadership roles at all levels of the food production system! Empower them with skills and knowledge in sustainable agriculture to ensure enhanced productivity and food security.

Sehgal Foundation, Gurgaon, Haryana, India, is an initiative of the S.M. Sehgal Foundation, India. Sehgal Foundation promotes sustainable rural development with emphasis on water management, sustainable agriculture and agricultural income enhancement, and rural governance. Please see website for more information.

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1 Dr. William Dollente Dar is Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India. He is the author, with Arun Tiwari, of the book Feeding the Forgotten Poor: Perspectives of an Agriculturalist(Orient Black Swan 2012). Data and the discussion of biodiversity in this blog post are drawn from his book.