The invisible guarantors of food security

Rome-based UN agencies to honour rural women on International Women's Day

Rome, 6 March 2012 – Empowering young women who are agents of change in their rural communities will be the focus of discussions at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) on 8 March, International Women's Day.

IFAD will bring together the three Rome-based United Nations agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), to call for a renewed focus on young rural women, who are guarantors of household food security, but whose productive contributions too often go unseen.

The event will include a keynote address from IFAD President, Kanayo F. Nwanze, who in 2009 received the Global MDG3 Champion Torch from the Danish government in recognition of the Fund's commitment to promote gender equality and women's empowerment. José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of FAO, and Sheila Sisulu of WFP will also address the gathering. Angie Motshekga, South African Minister of Basic Education and Ertharin Cousin, United States Ambassador to the United Nations agencies in Rome, will participate in a panel discussion.

Lack of visibility for one-half of the world's population is the result of ingrained social and cultural traditions that place rural women at a serious disadvantage in their efforts to provide basic necessities for themselves and their families. Many women, particularly young rural women, lack access to productive resources such as land, credit and technology, and to vital resources such as health care and education. This invisibility creates a vicious cycle that impairs their ability to improve the quality of their lives.

"At IFAD we believe that more investment in improving the lives of rural women can create a virtuous circle of better education, improved health and higher income," said Clare Bishop-Sambrook, Senior Technical Adviser at IFAD. "The opportunity to transform their lives – not only of adolescent girls but also those of future generations – as well as spurring economic growth is one that IFAD continues to build upon."

It is possible to help rural women to overcome constraints that inhibit their productive contribution and overburden them in their reproductive role. What is required first, is the recognition and visibility of rural women's true role in production and reproduction in terms of economic value. Second, existing policies must be reoriented or new policies designed, along with supportive institutions and financial investments to achieve the first.

"With a growing proportion of the population aged between 15-24 years – many of whom are living in rural areas – it is vital to engage with them as IFAD strives to lift 80 million out of poverty," Bishop-Sambrook continued. "Given access to resources and services, they can become powerful agents of change in their families and communities."

Recently, speaking at the annual meeting of IFAD, Mario Monti, the Italian Prime Minister, congratulated the Fund on its work for gender equality and said: "A policy for women is really a policy for growth."

IFAD's supported projects and programmes focus on providing young rural women and men the skills and confidence needed to participate in community decision-making and to take leadership roles in local organizations, in order to improve their own situations while contributing their energy and creativity to their communities. Young women and men have the potential to become tomorrow's food producers but can be lost in the policy shuffle and overlooked when decisions are made.

"It is necessary that public investment, services and policies for agriculture and rural development be planned and implemented taking into consideration the different roles, interests and opportunities of women and men as farmers and agricultural workers," said Carlos Seré, IFAD Chief Development Strategist.

In Ghana for instance, IFAD supports a project that upgrades post-harvest processing facilities. Janet Gyima Kesse, from the Ashanti region in Ghana, has increased her processing of cassava from three 80-kilogram bags per week to 35 bags. Kesse said that people from Mali, Benin and Burkina Faso are now coming to purchase her products.

Studies indicate that, when women earn money, they are more likely than men to spend it on food for the family and the education of their children.

Note to editors

The event will take place at IFAD headquarters on Thursday, 8 March, from 9.30 to noon.

Journalists wishing to attend are requested to confirm their participation by sending an email to


Press release No.: IFAD/23/2012
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) works with poor rural people to enable them to grow and sell more food, increase their incomes and determine the direction of their own lives. Since 1978, IFAD has invested about US$13.7 billion in grants and low-interest loans to developing countries through projects empowering about 405 million people to break out of poverty, thereby helping to create vibrant rural communities. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized UN agency based in Rome – the United Nation's food and agricultural hub. It is a unique partnership of 168 members from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), other developing countries and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).