Women’s empowerment in agriculture is integral to food security across the Arab world

Achieving food security in the Middle East and North Africa continues to be a priority for countries in the region, and empowering women as agricultural transformers is an integral part of achieving food security goals, agreed female experts at Expo 2020 Dubai’s Women’s Pavilion on Thursday.

Speaking at the ‘Women Making the Desert Bloom’ event, panellists shared different strategies to encourage and enable women farmers and scientists to create a more sustainable future for all, ranging from government infrastructure to technological innovation, training and knowledge exchange. The session formed part of Expo 2020 Dubai’s Food, Agriculture & Livelihoods Week, which runs until 23 February.

Dr Tarifa A Alzaabi, Deputy Director General, International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), said: “Agriculture is the single largest employer in the world and a great example of how gender inequality undermines global efforts to achieve food security and nutrition. Smallholder farmers provide up to 80 per cent of all food in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, yet women smallholders have far less access than men to different assets, inputs, training, as well as extension services. If women had equal resources and opportunities, they could increase yields by 20 to 30 per cent, and the number of hungry people globally could be reduced by up to 150 million… What’s more, studies indicate that gender-balanced teams improve innovation and productivity, and scientific breakthroughs are more likely if there is a large number of women researchers in teams.”

Dr Wafa Faisal Al Yamani, Scientist and Environmental Researcher, Soil Quality Department, Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, described a collaborative project between the UAE and New Zealand to enhance food and water security. The research was implemented in a 200,000-hectare forest that contains more than 20 million trees, and the study’s findings proved insightful for the region as a whole.

Dr Al Yamani also praised how the UAE’s gender-equal system enables women to pursue careers in agriculture and the environment, ultimately driving further innovation. “The UAE government offers equal rights and opportunities for both men and women from education to professional work. The fields women work in is then a result of their personal preference, as well as culture and community acceptance, and that’s why empowerment programmes are so important in encouraging young girls,” she added.

Technology can meaningfully support female agriculture workers, although more development is needed in regional languages, said Dr Marwa Hassine, Researcher, National Agronomic Institute, Tunisia. Dr Hassine described how an app developed by her team has helped women to produce high quality crops, and another that allows farmers to promote and sell their products directly to the end user. 

Dr Sherine Fathy Mansour, Associate Professor of Agricultural Economics, Desert Research Center, Egypt, emphasised that “women are the key to progress in the future of food and agriculture”. Dr Mansour highlighted the organisation’s work in providing training to farmers in several Egyptian regions to help increase profits and develop businesses through crop care and diversification with grains such as quinoa.

Food, Agriculture & Livelihoods Week unites change-makers, innovators and stakeholders from across the global food value chain to spotlight food systems that are more productive, more inclusive of poor and marginalised populations, environmentally sustainable and resilient, and deliver healthy and nutritious diets for all. It is the ninth of ten Theme Weeks held throughout the six months of Expo, forming part of Expo 2020’s Programme for People and Planet, as an exchange of inspiring new perspectives to address the greatest challenges and opportunities of our time.