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Women and Natural Resources Highlighted at Rio+20 Conference

Learn about Feed the Future's approach to gender and natural resource management

On June 21, on the margins of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the U.S. Department of State and USAID collaboratively hosted a side event on Women and Natural Resource Management, featuring a panel discussion hosted by USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg.

Panelists Jeannette Gurung, Executive Director of Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management; Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs; and Alice Madden, Wirth Chair in Sustainable and Community Development, addressed the deterioration of natural resources, as well as opportunities for engaging women in decision-making and leadership in sustainable natural resource management.

As part of its strategy to increase food security for smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future encourages sustainable and equitable management of land, water, and other resources. Women make up the majority of the agricultural workforce in many parts of the world, and thus play an important role in natural resource management and in feeding the world’s population. 

However, domestic and economic responsibilities and socio-cultural factors limit and marginalize women’s participation in community decision-making that affects their access to vital resources such as water, land, credit and markets. If women had the same access to productive resources that men have, they could increase yields on their farms by an estimated 20-30 percent and feed up to 150 million hungry people each year.

At the panel, Gurung, Jones and Madden discussed ways to change behaviors that facilitate gender inequality; the need for environmental stewardship via education and literacy programs; the need for men’s support in building women’s leadership capacity; the importance of holding institutions and donor communities accountable; and the lack of collaboration among women from all sectors as well as with local civil society organizations.

The Rio+20 Conference brought together world leaders as well as thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs, and other groups, to discuss and direct policy toward reducing poverty and advancing social equity while ensuring environmental protection on the planet. Food security and climate-smart agriculture were among the priority areas addressed at the conference, which explored ways to increase resilience and agricultural productivity in the face of growing pressures on the planet. The world’s population is projected to increase to more than nine billion by 2050, requiring up to a 70 percent increase in agricultural production. 

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