By Rebecca Harshbarger
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in poorer countries.
Liberia's Chenoweth led the country's agriculture ministry at the age of 32, in 1977, but fled after a violent coup in 1980 that led to two civil wars. She returned to the post in 2009.
She has long advocated for gender-specific data about agriculture to help narrow gender disparities.
The lack of it, she said, can blind policymakers to the needs of female farmers, who often--due to legal and cultural restrictions on owning the land they farm--don't have the collateral required to borrow money to buy essentials, such as tools and fertilizers.
The Liberian government began gathering gender-specific farming data under the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration, which took over in 2005, the first African government to be led by a woman.
As this information has been gathered and released, the Liberian agriculture ministry has used gender-specific data to guide its agriculture sector, which employs about 70 percent of the country.
Now government and international aid trucks leave Monrovia with bags of seed and fertilizer labeled "women."
The data, Chenoweth said, has given female farmers "a fighting chance to have their share. They do not get an equal share of the supplies and they do not have equal access to the means of production, especially credit."
The ministry's efforts to support female farmers appear to be reaping benefits in the form of higher crop production.
Between 2008 and 2009, Liberia's production of rice and cassava--which are grown almost exclusively by women--increased 43 percent.
Helping female farmers, Chenoweth said, is a good investment in the country's future.
"Women are the largest producers but have been the most marginalized," she said. "We know that when we support women, more food and money goes into feeding children at home."
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Rebecca Harshbarger is a journalist based in New York. She started a media company called Africa Connections that connects African immigrants with independent news from their homeland. The company's pilot news site recently launched at www.ugandansabroad.org. You can follow Rebecca on twitter at www.twitter.com/rebeccaugust.
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