Rome: Women in rural areas could help reduce by up to 17 percent the number of the world's hungry which currently stands at almost one billion, according to a report issued on Monday by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
If women had the same access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets as men, agricultural production could be increased and the number of hungry people reduced by 100-150 million, the Rome-based FAO said in the 2010-11 edition of its The State of Food and Agriculture report.
"The report makes a powerful business case for promoting gender equality in agriculture," FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said.
"Gender equality is not just a lofty ideal, it is also crucial for agricultural development and food security. We must promote gender equality and empower women in agriculture to win, sustainably, the fight against hunger and extreme poverty," Diouf added.
Yields on plots managed by women are lower than those managed by men - not because women are worse farmers than men, but because they do not have the same access to inputs, the FAO report said.
Giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources could increase production on women's farms in developing countries by 20 to 30 percent.
This could raise total agricultural production in developing countries by 2.5 to four percent, which could in turn reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent, or 100 to 150 million people, the FAO report said.
FAO estimates that worldwide 925 million people were undernourished in 2010, of which 906 million live in developing countries.
Women make up on average 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, ranging from 20 percent in Latin America to almost 50 percent in East and Southeast Asia and sub- Saharan Africa.
The report however, noted that where rural women are employed, they tend to be segregated into lower paid occupations and are more likely to be in less secure forms of employment, such as seasonal, part-time or low-wage jobs.
New jobs in high-value export-oriented agricultural industries offer better opportunities for women than traditional agriculture, the FAO report said.
"In many countries women do not have the same rights as men to buy, sell or inherit land, to open a savings account or borrow money, to sign a contract or sell their produce. Where legal rights exist on paper, they often are not honored in practice," the report's editor Terri Raney, said.
According to FAO government officials must be held accountable for upholding the law and women must be aware of their rights and empowered to claim them.