Empowering women farmers in low and middle-income countries can lead to greater crop diversity – helping to improve year-round supply of healthy foods, research suggests.
Involving women more in agricultural decision-making, community groups and the ownership of farm equipment results in more crops with a higher nutritional value being grown, the study shows.
Growing a wider variety of crops brings environmental benefits, improving soil fertility and reducing the threat from pests and crop diseases.
The resultant crop diversity also enables farmers to adapt more readily to market changes, and builds resilience against increasingly erratic weather patterns, researchers say.
The team says these findings suggest a pathway to improving global food supply, protecting the world’s low-income farming communities, whilst supporting women’s rights.
Most of the world’s farmers are smallholders and women make up more than half of the agricultural workforce, but typically they have less control over decision-making.
An international team led by the University of Edinburgh analysed data from four countries, Burkina Faso, India, Malawi and Tanzania, to explore the relationship between women’s empowerment and crop diversity.
Previous studies in South Asia indicated that supporting women farmers could enhance crop production and diversity, but it was unclear whether the findings would apply to other regions.
Analysis revealed that greater involvement from women improved three measures of crop diversity – the number of crops grown, the number of food groups grown, and if nutrient-dense crops were grown.
In low- and middle-income countries, crops produced by smallholders are vital to protect the livelihoods and food supplies of local communities, but they are increasingly threatened by the impacts of climate change.
The research team plans to translate these findings into targeted interventions that support women and improve crop diversity, without adding to women’s existing work burdens.
The findings have been published in The Lancet Planetary Health.
‘We hope to encourage efforts to consider women’s empowerment in the context of agricultural production and food system resilience to support critical win-win agendas for women’s rights and for the provision of a healthy diet from a healthy planet’.
DR LILIA BLIZNASHKA
Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of Edinburgh and the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, DC