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U.S. Unveils New Tool for Tracking Aid to Women Farmers

By Charlene Porter | Staff Writer | 28 February 2012
African woman bending to examine healthy green plants (USAID/Tanzania)

This Tanzanian farmer shows off the first batch of sweet peppers grown by a women’s cooperative in their new greenhouse.

Washington — Women working modest plots of land in the developing world are diligent and knowledgeable farmers, international development officials say, and, with a little support, they could increase crop yields and make a huge contribution to feeding the world of the future.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a long-standing women’s advocate, supports this development strategy. At the same time, she knows the wisdom of an old adage: “Those things you can measure, you can change.” 

That is the background that led the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and partners to unveil the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) February 28. Describing it as a new tool for tracking their progress, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said the WEAI can serve as a means to help women farmers in poor countries produce more crops and gain greater power and influence in the agricultural economies of their countries.

Shah introduced the WEAI at the United Nations in New York, on the sidelines of a U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting.

In many developing countries, the majority of the farm workforce is female. Women are involved in all aspects of production, but they are 30 percent less productive than men, because, officials say, they don’t get the same access to resources. Shah explained the new strategy to change that.

“By giving women the same access as men to markets, technology, capital [and] tools to help them improve their productivity,” Shah said, “we know global food production can increase by as much as 30 percent, enough food to feed an additional 150 million people."

The WEAI is introduced as another policy tool in the Obama administration’s Feed the Future initiative. The administration launched the initiative in 2009 in response to an economic downturn, which pushed an estimated 100 million people back into poverty without enough to feed their families. The initiative is further intended to address the food needs of the future, which will be 70 percent greater than today by 2050.

“The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index will be used to monitor and evaluate Feed the Future programs and their impact on gender to ensure that our efforts are empowering women and supporting the essential role they play in reducing hunger and advancing prosperity,” Shah said.

Decades of development efforts in poor countries have not lifted the opportunities of women farmers, Shah said, so the WEAI is designed to make systematic measurements of whether the resources being invested in improving agricultural production do indeed achieve the desired outcomes.

The WEAI will measure the degree of influence women have in decisions about agricultural production, with respect to income, time and use of resources such as land and livestock. WEAI “marks a major advance in our ability to measure empowerment,” said Sabina Alkire, director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative at Oxford University. “In giving us new understanding of empowerment, it transforms our ability to better empower women and improve their lives.”

The Oxford Initiative and the International Food Policy Research Institute were USAID's partners in designing the indexing tool.

The WEAI has been evaluated in three countries — Uganda, Guatemala and Bangladesh — and it will be launched this year in 19 countries where Feed the Future is operating.