Women, key partners in promoting biodiversity and environmental farming practices

October 29, 2014

Smallholder female farmers in Senegal, courtesy of the World Bank
Smallholder female farmers in Senegal, courtesy of the World Bank

The GEF recognizes gender equality as an important goal and a priority for the organization.

If female farmers had the same access to resources as men, 150 million fewer people would go hungry, according to the World Food Program. 

2014 marks the International Year of Family Farming. Across the world, 500 million smallholder or family farms produce 70% of the world’s food and provide 1.5 billion of the world’s poorest people a means of survival. Of these, 43% of agricultural laborers in the developing world are rural women.

“Women are the quiet drivers of change towards more sustainable production systems and a more varied and healthier diet,” the Food and Agriculture Organization affirms.

And the same rings true for environmental protection.

Saviors of biodiversity

Making up over a quarter of the total world population rural women are often highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the degradation of the land they depend on to survive.  What’s more the wealth of environmental knowledge of indigenous communities, of which, women are typically the stewards, makes them key partners in maintaining and promoting biodiversity, especially native plant species.

 “We are protecting biodiversity,” explained Anooradah Pooran, from Mauritius. “We are cultivating 32 medicinal plants.”

Pooran heads a women’s project which cultivates and processes Mauritius’ traditional herbs for export as tea. Funded through the GEF’s small grants program (SGP), the initiative has benefitted the community as a whole, providing for the education of indigenous children and even selling 10.000kw of electricity back to the national grid every year, thanks to their solar power system.

“It is providing 20 women with an income every month,” added Pooran. 

Despite making up around two-thirds of the female labor force in developing countries, women farmers receive only a fraction of the resources available to their male counterparts. As a result, any opportunity to boost their income and plough the profits back into the community is a boost, both for agricultural production and the protection of the environment.

Small Grants Program

The GEF, through the SGP aims to address this inequity and empower rural women to support themselves while also promoting the development of environmentally friendly cottage industries.

Currently, 92% of programs promote the active participation of women, enabling them to play an economic role in their communities.

“We have created a guide to help women find apply for grants,” explained Ixim Jacks, a SGP beneficiary from Guatemala. “It encourages women to look at the needs of the community and come up with proposals to solving them. “

The GEF recognizes gender equality as an important goal in the context of projects which receive GEF support. As a result, mainstreaming gender has been a priority for the organization, particularly since 2011 after the adoption of the GEF Policy on Gender Mainstreaming.

Six out of ten of the world’s poorest people are women.  Through gender mainstreaming, the GEF will advance its mission of attaining global environmental benefits as well as contributing to the goal of gender equality and equity, and social inclusion.