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Katie Nguyen  – WNN MDG Stories
Young girls carring basketsof cocoa pods on their head
A girl carries a basket of cocoa pods on her head during a harvest in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province on August 24, 2010. Yusuf Ahmad/REUTERS

 (WNN) LONDON: What would happen if women farmers were given the same opportunities as men?

Their agricultural yields could grow by 20 percent to 30 percent. National output could rise by 2.5 percent to 4 percent.  The number of malnourished people could be reduced by 12 percent to 17 percent.

That’s what U.S.-based think tank, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, has concluded in a report highlighting the critical role adolescent girls could play not only in driving economic development, but also in helping the world feed itself in the future.

The international community is waking up to the importance of agriculture, amid warnings the world will have to produce 70 percent more food if it has a hope of feeding a projected 9 billion people by 2050, Catherine Bertini, the report’s lead author, said.

Most of the needs will be in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia where communities will have to significantly increase their productivity to grow enough food to go around.

The key is to harness the potential of the people who will make a difference in agriculture — adolescent girls and women.

“We believe girls can transform rural economies,” Bertini, a former executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), said.

“This report shows how investing in girls can not only support those girls but can support the long-term needs of the world by helping to improve the agricultural production and  economic well-being of all communities,” she said at the launch of the “Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies” report in London on Friday.

Girls and women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, the report said, without necessarily being paid, owning or having inheritance rights to the land they cultivate, or even having a say in what crops they grow.

Not only do girls receive little credit for all the back-breaking work they do in the fields, they are also responsible for tending to livestock, fetching water and firewood, handling household chores and taking care of the younger children in the family, Bertini said.

Despite their crucial role, rural adolescent girls face a triple problem.

“The challenges of location, age, and gender often combine to create a triple disadvantage. Girls are frequently undervalued within their societies—their existence, their contributions, and their potentials often given little credence,” the report said.

“Rural adolescent girls commonly bear heavy work burdens. They often fulfill their duties while suffering from malnutrition. They may have little or no time or opportunity for even the most basic education. The doors to productive economic livelihoods are often closed to them.”

The report offered seven recommendations:

1) Expand opportunities for rural adolescent girls to attend secondary school

2) Equip rural adolescent girls to be entrepreneurs, workers and managers in the rural economy and beyond

3) Prepare rural adolescent girls to be major stakeholders in agriculture and natural resource management

4) Empower and provide opportunities for rural adolescent girls to have an active voice in household, community, and national decision-making

5) Provide rural adolescent girls with comprehensive health information and services

6) Improve rural adolescent girls’ safety and security

7) Count girls and measure progress

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Katie Nguyen

(Editing by Lisa Anderson)

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©2011 Women News Network – WNN
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