Empowering women to promote food security

New York, USA. September 26, 2011. – Women have a special role for assuring that household income is spent in food and thus are key actors in promoting better nutrition and food security in poor families, pointed out José Graziano da Silva, Director-General Elect of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this week in New York.

© Michael Gross

“Mothers assure that food first is not an empty slogan,” said Graziano da Silva, during the event Women and Agriculture: A Conversation on Improving Global Food Security, hosted by the United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, on September 19, 2011, in New York, during the United Nations General Assembly.

In the conversation, Graziano da Silva presented his experience in designing and implementing the Zero Hunger food security programme in Brazil. He highlighted the need to supplement the income of poor families through cash transfer programmes to enable them to escape from the hunger trap and pointed out the benefits to local economies.

According to Graziano da Silva, this is a way to tie emergency response with long-term action. “It’s not true that you need to address emergency situations first and then begin to focus on structural change: you need to address both at the same time,” stressed Graziano da Silva.

The Director-General Elect of FAO recalled that, initially, the decision to channel grants through adult women in the eligible families was met with resistance from different sectors. Today, around 90% of the over 13 million monthly conditional cash transfers of Bolsa Familia (one of the most important components of Zero Hunger) are delivered electronically to women in the families.

Graziano da Silva also noted that the concept of Brazil’s Zero Hunger programme was based on the US Food Stamps program: “You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to do good things. You just copy and adapt them.”

Opening the event, the US Secretary of State noted that female farmers have access to fewer resources than male farmers. “ If all farmers, men and women, had access to the same resources, we could increase agricultural output by 20 to 30 percent.  That would feed an additional 150 million people every year,” said Hillary Clinton.

In his intervention, the President Kikwete of the United Republic of Tanzania defended the need to guarantee that women have rights over the land. “One thing that we really need to do to help women is to make sure that they have access to property rights”, said Kikwete.

In its 2010-2011 State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA), that focuses on women and agriculture, FAO presents key recommendations for closing the gender gap in access to land, rural labour markets, financial services, social capital and technology. Guaranteeing that women share legal rights over the land with their husbands is one of the points mentioned by the report.

Kathy Spahn, president and CEO of Helen Keller International; Reema Nanavaty, director for economic and rural development of the Self-Employed Women’s Association; Paul Polman, chief executive officer of Unilever; and  USAID Administrator, Raj Shah, also participated in the Women and Agriculture: A Conversation on Improving Global Food Security event that was moderated by New York Times columnist Nick Kristof.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and current FAO Director General Jacques Diouf also attended the event.

During his 3-day mission to New York, Graziano da Silva met and discussed with different authorities matters related to food and agriculture. Among others, he met with Presidents Felipe Calderón of Mexico and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil; the Minister of Agriculture of Costa Rica, Gloria Abraham; the Deputy Minister of Foreign Relations of Panama, Francisco Alvarez de Soto; the United States Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Esther Brimmer; and current FAO Director-General, Jacques Diouf.