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Meeting women farm leaders: What’s the vision for the future?

By Sundeep Vaid

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze delivered inspiring speeches reaffirming their commitment to smallholder farmers, especially women and youth, at the 35th session of IFAD’s Governing Council today. After the morning session, coming to the Farmers’ Forum side event on “Women’s Leadership” was like pulling up our sleeves and getting down to the nitty-gritty of development work.

Women farm leaders from different parts of the world sat down in working groups, based on language, to discuss their vision for the future gender and youth dimensions of family farming. Some of the points to ponder were:

Once such a vision for the future takes shape, what is the role of the Farmers’ Organizations and IFAD in getting family farms to such a point in the future?         

What will be the challenges to this vision?·         

What can IFAD do to overcome these challenges and support the scaling-up of best practices?

Clare Bishop-Sambrook, Senior Technical Advisor, Gender and Poverty Targeting in IFAD, explained how IFAD and FAO support women in community-development projects. She expressed the hope that recommendations coming out of this session would provide input and guidance to shape our work – and influence how farmers’ organizations see the role of IFAD.

The groups came back with quite graphic visions of the future, as you can see from their drawings, shown here.

Gabriela Zarate, Youth Coordinator of COPROFAM, said that even though men helped on the farm, the major weight of the work is with women farmers. Her organization’s vision for the future is that men, women and youth participate equally in farm work, household activities and community initiatives such as formation of farmers’ organizations.

All three working groups came back with similar visions for the future where: 
  • All members of the family – men, women and youth – equally share ideas, work and the fruits of their labour
  • Family farms not only engage in subsistence agriculture but grow cash crops to augment family income 
  • Each family has a stand in the village market to sell their produce or have some access to markets through adequate roads and other rural infrastructure.
The challenges and areas that the women farmers identified for IFAD support are:
  • Capacity building for women and youth as defined by themselves at the organizational level
  • Sharing experiences using the best knowledge-sharing tools
  • Promoting policy dialogue to reinforce the decision-making role and capacity of women and youth at all levels.
The session revealed that in any part of the world, the challenges faced by women farmers and youth are strikingly similar. The women did not shy away from expressing what they expected IFAD to do to turn their vision into reality.