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Rural girls linchpins to food security

CHERYL TEVIS 10/17/2011 @ 10:44am Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

“If you want to change the world, invest in an adolescent girl.” It’s the thesis statement of Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies, a 147-page report released just prior to the World Food Prize Symposium held in Des Moines, Iowa, this week.

“It’s not only about fertilizer, equipment and seeds, but human resources,” said Catherine Bertini, lead author of the report and former executive director of the UN World Food Programme. “As nations are re-discovering the importance of agricultural development, we want to ensure that the new definition of rural economies’ strengths includes the critical role of women and girls.”

Bertini said rural women and girls play a vital, but unrecognized role as farmers. They represent 43%-60% of the world’s farmers. According to the report, women produce over half the world’s food, yet own only 1% of its farmland.

Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies is a part of the Girls Count series by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It is jointly led by The United Nations Foundation, and the Nike Foundation, and supported by the Nike Foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UN Foundation.

The report shines a light on the status of rural women and girls and makes the following 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
  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                      

“Women are the world’s natural resource managers as well, and girls work alongside their mothers as they gather firewood and water,” Bertini said.

Despite the potential of rural adolescent girls, they often are the most disadvantaged. “They have little or no time or opportunity for even the most basic education,” Bertini said. “Investing in girls is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart, economic choice.“

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