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Statement by IFAD President to the the second non-aligned movement: First ladies summit

Panel 1: National experience in ensuring women's access to land and credit to reduce hunger

First Ladies,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

First let me thank Her Excellency, Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, First Lady of the Arab Republic of Egypt, for inviting me to participate as the keynote speaker in today's panel on how women's access to land and credit can reduce hunger, on the occasion of the Second Non-Aligned Movement First Ladies Summit on Food Security and Women's Access to Resources.

Last year's food price crisis is believed to have pushed more than 100 million people into hunger. The number of people who are malnourished now exceeds 1 billion. 

Hunger and poverty are primarily rural issues.  In spite of a growing urban population, the majority of hungry people in the world continue to live in rural areas of developing countries and depend either directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods.

These are the people with whom and for whom IFAD is mandated to work. These are the people who work on the 500 million smallholder farms worldwide, who produce 80 per cent of the food consumed in the developing world and who feed one third of the global population.

These smallholder farmers hold the key to global food security. By supporting them to produce more food, we improve the availability of food and increase their incomes to purchase the food they need.

In developing countries, women perform the vast majority of agricultural work, producing between 60 and 80 per cent of food crops. It is also the women who carry the main responsibility for meeting the food, water and fuel needs of their families. 

Although women are increasingly the farmers of the developing world, they have grossly inadequate access to the critical assets and services that are necessary to increase their productivity and improve their incomes. 

Given the central role women play in their communities, not only as mothers and caregivers, but as women and farmers, it is true to say that rural women hold the key to food security. That is why, if we are serious about reducing global poverty and food insecurity, we need to make significant progress worldwide in advancing both women's empowerment and their status in society – particularly with regard to land and credit.

Access to land

Land is fundamental to the lives of poor rural people. It is a source of food, shelter, income and social identity. Reducing people's vulnerability to hunger and poverty depends largely on their having secure access to land.

Yet women often have weak land rights, or are denied rights entirely. In many countries, women cannot legally own or inherit land and they depend on their male relatives for user rights. 

Without secure land tenure, women are unable to access vital resources for enhancing agricultural productivity such as credit and inputs like fertilizer.

Fortunately some changes are taking place, and recent land reform programmes are making it possible to secure women's access to land.  In India, some states have made concerted efforts to allocate land to women.  In Brazil, the land reform agency in 2000 finally acknowledged the legal norm of joint property, which was established in the 1988 constitution.  While in South Africa, the national agrarian reform policy mentions the importance of and need for gender equity.

A number of agricultural development programmes supported by IFAD and other agencies also demonstrate how greater access to land improves incomes as well as increases women's empowerment.

In The Gambia, an IFAD project combined land improvement and land reform.  The community redistributed land on an equal basis to those who had provided the labour for reclamation.  As the majority of the reclamation workers were women, they made up 90  per cent of the land beneficiaries.

IFAD's Hills Leasehold Forestry and Forage Development Project in Nepal granted landless households access to forest land and enhanced women's skills to increase their productivity.  About 20 per cent of the titles were registered in women's names.

Finally, in Honduras, a project supported by the World Bank provided credit to landless rural families to buy land and funds to improve the land's productivity. By including women's activities in the business plans, husbands and wives had equal access to land and other production assets.  As a result, 20 per cent of the women acquired land and the average income of the families increased by 130 per cent.

Access to credit

As shown by the project in Honduras, credit is another means by which women can access land.  Unfortunately, only about 10 per cent of poor people living in rural areas of developing countries have access to even the most basic financial services.

And more particularly, women smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs often remain excluded from formal sources of credit – either as a result of cultural traditions, or because of lack of collateral and financial skills.

Microfinance has proven to be successful in opening up livelihood opportunities for women, who have proven to be better at repaying loans than men.

With this credit, women start micro-enterprises which give them greater autonomy, allowing them to participate more fully and with greater authority in the economic, social, and political decisions that affect their lives.  In fact, the entire household benefits – as abundant empirical evidence shows, incomes earned by women are more likely to be invested in the education, health and nutrition of their children.

But while microfinance enables women to establish micro-enterprises that help reduce their vulnerability to shocks, women need more significant capital to expand their businesses and lift them out of poverty. Yet, in order to access the formal banking system they require land titles.

This is why IFAD and other donors are directly addressing this particular challenge by supporting rural finance programmes for rural women. Let me give you three examples. In Bangladesh, the Agricultural Development and Intensification Project worked with local NGOs in organizing savings and credit groups that focused on improving the income generation prospects of small-scale farmers, women-headed households and destitute women.  Forty-five percent of the women used the loans to buy land. 

In Ghana, an IFAD project improved women's market access and income generation by providing them better access to capital.  Women were given access to irrigated land through the project, and as a result, they played a greater role in the management of irrigation which translated into a greater voice in household and farm decisions. 

Also in Bangladesh, the Grameen Bank is providing large, longer-term loans for women to buy housing and land.  The land must be registered in the woman's name both as security for the loan and to increase her control of assets.  Doing so not only improves repayment rates but also reduces the divorce and abandonment of women.

These project examples demonstrate how strengthening women's access to productive assets such as land and credit, not only contributes to gender equality but also to the reduction of hunger and poverty.


In closing, I should like to call on national governments to scale up these successful efforts to enhance women's access to land and credit.

Given your power and importance, I also call on the First Ladies to influence trends in development and to promote women's rights to equality and access to natural resources and assets.

Correcting the imbalance between rural women's responsibilities on the one hand, and their rights and resources on the other is essential if we are to make progress towards reducing hunger.

The protection of women's rights and their empowerment is key to the progress of any nation.  Giving them respect as women, a voice, and equal access to services and assets – most critically land and finance – is essential not only for their advancement but for that of the whole nation.

Only then will rural women be able to fulfil their potential and be a major force in reducing poverty and achieving food security for their countries.

Thank you.

15 November 2009, FAO, Rome, Italy