Message from UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut on the occasion of International Women's Day 2014
The equality and resilience of women means progress for all. Progress in our economic productivity, the well-being of our families and our resilience to global environmental challenges, including land degradation and climate change.
A majority of the women, however, lack the right to own or manage agricultural land. They farm abandoned, marginal or communal land, or land owned by others. But they are smart investors. As they have no stake on such land, they will fell trees for charcoal, without replanting. They will cultivate the land, often by the cheapest, yet most damaging land practices.
More than half of the land under agriculture is moderately or severely degraded. Deforestation for agriculture and charcoal production are the lead drivers. Every year, we lose 24 billion tons of fertile soil through erosion. Every year, we lose 12 million hectares to desertification and drought. For every hectare lost to desertification and drought, we lose the possibility to produce 1.6 tons of grain and to store the carbon emissions warming the Earth.
Women produce half of the world’s food, even though female farmers produce up to 30% below their male counterparts because they lack access to inputs such as seed, fertilizer and tools. A study of 34 developing countries shows that by improving access to inputs agricultural output in these countries could shoot up by up to 4% and cut the number of undernourished people by about 150 million people.
Today, more than 2 billion people depend on small scale farmers, and women play a pivotal role. They make up nearly half of the agricultural labor force. Securing their equality would not only benefit them, but everyone as well.
According to the 2012 Gender Equality and Development Report, you and I could increase our productivity by nearly one half, just by making sure women have equal access to jobs and managerial positions. This applies to occupations in the entire agricultural supply chain.
For women, land is too valuable and political an asset to be ignored, as demonstrated in our recent publication, Desertification: The invisible frontline. But it will not take a miracle for change to happen.
If we want to increase, our productivity, our food security and improve our resilience to climate change, if we want to reverse outmigration, water conflicts, civil wars and state failure, we cannot afford to leave half of humanity behind. We need policy incentives that, at the very least, place female land users, farmers and producers on par with males in their access to resources, knowledge and decision-making.
I congratulate all the disenfranchised women for their resilience and contribution to our collective well-being and progress, and applaud all those making an effort to secure equal rights for all.