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All 120 women of the Hadj al-Dérib, a village in the Sahel region of Chad, are members of a committee which takes care of the cultivation of various crops as well as the granary and the mill. Credits: Lisa Krebs/Caritas Switzerland

All 120 women of the Hadj al-Dérib, a village in the Sahel region of Chad, are members of a committee which takes care of the cultivation of various crops as well as the granary and the mill.
Credits: Lisa Krebs/Caritas Switzerland

Caritas is marking International Women’s Day on 8 March by celebrating the work of women farmers around the world.

Women are more than ever at the forefront of sustaining family farms, but yet find themselves denied the same resources as men. This leads to hunger and traps women in a cycle of poverty. When it comes to farms, Caritas wants a level playing field between men and women.

Four out of every ten farmers in poor countries are women. They provide food for their families and support the local economy. But when it comes to having a fair share of land, animals, seeds, fertilisers, equipment and credit, women are discriminated against. Yields are lower as a result and everyone suffers.

Land is a key asset, yet there are big disparities in legal ownership or rental of land between men and women. In parts of Africa and Asia, women represent fewer than five percent of all holders of land rights. Take Malawi, where laws, customs and social roles do not give women the same opportunities as men.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that because women farmers are denied the necessary resources, 100–150 million people go hungry needlessly.

And a 2000 study of developing countries by the International Food Policy Research Institute found that as much as 55 percent of the reduction in hunger from 1970 to 1995 could be attributed to improvements in women’s status in society.

Caritas says it’s not just a question of productivity, but of justice. Giving women the same rights to resources on the farm as men is not only fair, but it will allow them to play a greater role in making the decisions that affect their communities and families.

Enabling women to exercise rights on rural land is one of the most significant steps that can be taken. It’s something that Caritas aims to promote and support.

Women’s cooperatives like Coope Tarrazù RL in Costa Rica supported by Caritas is one success story. There small-scale coffee growers join together to work on joint activities. At least 500 of the growers are women. The co-op protects them economically and also helps develop sustainable environmentally-friendly ways of production.

Renuka Chiran is another example of a woman farmer taking charge of her life and leading her community. She belongs to the Garos, an indigenous tribe in living in the lush forest covered hills of Mymensingh in Bangladesh. With the support of Caritas Bangladesh, she shows other farmers how to produce improved seed types with higher yields, better adapted to the local environment and suitable for organic farming.

She also trains them in the use of organic fertilizers made out of locally available resources, like fish waste, butter milk, coconut milk, papaya and banana.

Renuka manages one of the community “seed banks”, where high quality seeds conserved in mud jars, paddy straw and banana leaves are available. Villagers borrow the seeds and after a successful harvest, they return to the seed bank twice the amount they used in new seeds, so they can be distributed to other farmers.

Coope Tarrazù RL in Costa Rica and Renuka Chiran in Bangladesh are just two examples that show what women can do when we remove the obstacles that prevent them fulfilling their potential.

Women bear much of the responsibility for feeding families and communities. On International Women’s Day this year, Caritas urges the world to banish the discrimination and stereotypes which trap women in poverty and give them the chance to be full partners in global development.