Food security must focus on women - UN
London - A policy aimed at ensuring future security of food supplies must centre around the world's 500 million smallholder producers, many of whom are women who farm less than 2ha of land, a leading UN official said on Wednesday.
"Unless they are at the centre of the future strategies for food security, we will not get it right," David Nabarro, the UN Secretary-General's special representative for Food Security and Nutrition said.
Nabarro said the food security challenge was about ensuring access as well as expanding production over the coming years.
"Our main concern right now is with the very unequal access to the food which is already being produced. Although there is enough food to go around right now, over 900 million people are chronically hungry," he said, at an event organised to coincide with a Chatham House conference on Food Security.
Ann Tutwiler, deputy director-general (for knowledge) at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, told the conference that improving the productivity of women farmers was a key goal.
She noted that studies in Burkina Faso showed women smallholder farmers had access to fewer inputs such as fertilisers, resulting in an average drop in yields for sorghum, for example, of 41%.
"If we narrow that [gender] gap, we can help more than 100 million people out of poverty and hunger," said Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Fan said around two billion people were affected by "hidden hunger" as they don't get the micronutrients they need. This can damage health and mental development.
"The challenges remain, particularly as the population continues to grow," adding some projections suggested there would be more than 10 billion people by the end of the century.
"Business as usual is not enough. New technologies are needed and they have to be smallholder friendly, environmentally friendly and gender friendly," he said, adding women farmers had less access to land, water and agricultural services.
UN's Nabarro said smallholder farmers were "the most important actors" in determining the ways in which water, land and energy were available for future generations.
"They can prove to be very effective as custodians of the environment. They can also, if they are not helped, have a negative impact on the environment," he said.
Nabarro said smallholder farmers were most easily able to improve production if they are helped to organise into groups such as co-operatives.
Michael Nkonu, Executive Director, Fairtrade Africa said investment in production organisations was a key priority.
"Producer organisations are going to be a key area of making the change and we need to continue to focus on that," he told the conference.