Women Can Plow Under A Global Hunger Crisis

08/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Ritu Sharma Author of Teach a Woman to Fish: Overcoming Poverty Around the Globe, Senior Visiting Fellow with CSIS and IYF

This article was first published by The Boston Herald on July 6, 2009.

This week, 4 million more people worldwide will go to bed hungry. Seven out of 10 of them are women. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that the total number of hungry people has topped 1 billion. The world's poorest citizens can only afford a third as much staple food as they could three years ago.

Last month, while traveling in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, I met with rural women who wake at 4 a.m., walk miles to fetch water and prepare their children for school. Then they head to small plots of land that they farm (but do not own). After hours working in the 100-degree sun, the women return home to meet their children and prepare the midday meal of rice and greens. They return to their plots or to another task for several more hours, then prepare another meal for their children -- if there is food available. If they didn't get a turn at the community well in the morning, it's time to walk back and forth watering their crops, two cans at a time.

Such women are the most important players in global agriculture, but they are never at the table when grand projects to combat global hunger are hatched.

In most of the developing world, the typical farmer is a woman, working on land that is the size of a three-car garage. It's estimated that rural women produce up to 80 percent of the food in most developing countries.

The women I met are looking for a hand up, not a handout. Investing in women's access to land, water, fertilizers, farm labor, credit and education is the long-term solution to preventing a hunger crisis.

Our lawmakers are recognizing the importance of agriculture as an investment to achieve a lasting global economic recovery. President Barack Obama wants Congress to double U.S. assistance for global agricultural development to more than $1 billion in 2010. The bipartisan Roadmap to End Global Hunger and Promote Food Security Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Worcester) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), outlines a strategy for U.S. leadership on this issue.

The urgency to create another "better green revolution" is welcome if we spend not just more but smarter. It's time to refocus our attention from short-term fixes like food aid to long-term programs that give women, the bulk of the world's farmers, the seeds of success.