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Opinion: Invest in women to halve Africa's hunger

Support to Africa's hardworking female farmers will reap bountiful harvests.

Africa's women farmers do most of the agricultural work and a focus on them could boost the continent's agricultural productivity. Here, Juliana Dabire, an organic cotton farmer, carries twigs from her field to make organic fertilizer near Gora village in Burkina Faso, March 19, 2009. (Katrina Manson/Reuters)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Over 200 million additional people have been pushed into hunger in the past three years as a result of the food and financial crises. The U.N. estimates that some one billion people now go hungry.

Empowering women small scale farmers through financial support and technology is key to sustainable agricultural development, and can work towards the Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger by 2015, according to "Fertile Ground" a new report by ActionAid.

Small scale farmers are responsible for 90 percent of food grown on the continent, and produce about half of the global food supply.

Ironically, 75 percent of hungry people in the world are small holder farmers.

Almost all agricultural policies assume that farmers are men, a fact that renders women voiceless in terms of policy making. ActionAid believes that investing in women will boost food security more than ever as women constitute the majority of farmers in most African countries.

Up to now, women farmers have been virtually ignored and discriminated against by governments and donors — despite producing up to 80 percent of food in Africa, women own only one percent of the land and receive only 7 percent of extension services and one percent of all agricultural credit.

To achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger the U.N. estimates that an additional $40 billion per year is required globally.

Recognizing that a 10 percent budgetary allocation by low-income countries will cover only part of the investment needed, donors must make a guaranteed upfront commitment to closing the gap, so that the ambitious efforts required to reduce hunger by 50 percent become operationally practical.

To achieve this, the focus of public investment should be shifted to low-cost, sustainable techniques.

Training and advice by agricultural specialists who visit women farmers in the fields are needed to support such initiatives. These techniques can help reduce climate risks to the benefit of women and poor farmers.

Governments in the developing world have very constrained budgets, with low levels of tax revenue and insufficient aid, and currently spend relatively little of their available funds on agriculture.