Every year, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) provides more than eleven million schoolgirls with food to help keep them in education and around three million vulnerable women with special nutritional support. This year, on International Women’s Day (March 8), WFP is celebrating how empowering women can boost global efforts to end hunger.
“Giving women the power to make choices over their lives is one of the first steps towards a world with zero hunger,” said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. “In every country where WFP works, women are front and centre in programmes to tackle the problems of food insecurity and undernutrition. We work with women farmers, traders, nutrition workers, school cooks and we serve millions of schoolgirls, pregnant women and nursing mothers.”
This year’s United Nations theme for International Women’s Day stresses that “Equality for women is progress for all.” One example of a WFP programme that focuses on women’s advancement is Purchase for Progress, or P4P, an initiative that helps smallholder farmers, particularly women, become competitive players in the marketplace by producing food for sale and use in WFP programmes.
In Ghana, almost half of the 1,500 smallholder farmers participating in the P4P initiative are women. In northern Ghana, where women traditionally reap, thresh and process rice for sale using tedious manual methods of parboiling, P4P has provided farmer groups with rice threshers and reapers as well as semi-mechanized parboilers to ease the physical burden of their work.
By using the tools provided by WFP, smallholder women farmers like Afeshetu Sumani, who lives in the village of Kpalsi in Tamale region, have drastically reduced the amount of time they spend parboiling rice, from three hours to 30 minutes. No longer exposed to the intense heat and stinging smoke she had to endure using traditional methods, Afeshetu feels empowered to produce more.
With support from other partners including UN Women, Women in Agricultural
Development of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and FAO, WFP has developed a P4P Gender action plan to address the specific challenges women face. WFP is targeting to train over 700 women this year.
“WFP has strong partners who provide women farmers with training in areas that they have identified themselves to improve their ability to compete in the marketplace, including food fortification, literacy and time management,” said Pippa Bradford, WFP Representative and Country Director. “Listening to their needs has been key to P4P’s success in Ghana.”
A report by WFP’s sister agency the Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that closing the gender gap in agriculture by giving women farmers more resources could bring the number of hungry people in the world down by more than estimated 100 million people. The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011 report found that women lacked access to land, credit, tools and seeds that could boost agricultural production.