Shah: Women farmers are the key

Shah: Women farmers are the key

As he works to overhaul a Cold War agency long neglected and widely described as in desperate need of reform, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah says there’s a player in the development game: women farmers.

"We know the people who matter most aren’t the financiers, or the agriculture ministers, or the assistance workers and farmers. They are the women farmers who are the untapped solution to this problem," Shah said in a speech Thursday.

"Women are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of the food in countries where we work and when women receive gains in income, they are far more likely to spend those gains improving their families’ access to health and education," he said.

Crediting the personal involvement of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her ambassador for global women’s issues, Melanne Verveer, Shah said, "We now focus on women in everything we do."

How do they do that? For example, by focusing on farm products that "enhance" the standing of women, such as on sweet potatoes and legumes, and increasing financial services and educational support targeted at women.

Ambassador William Garvelink has been tapped to implemented the new Feed the Future initiative, along with a Deputy Coordinator for Diplomacy, which includes ensuring FTF is aligned with other food security-related programs and policies across the government. USAID is the lead implementing agency for this initiative.

Shah was speaking at a symposium put on by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which released a report Thursday entitled "Renewing American Leadership in the Fight Against Global Hunger and Poverty." The report proposes ways the U.S. government can help the 600 million rural poor in Africa and South Asia who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

"The solution to their plight lies in a sustained, long-term effort to increase agricultural productivity on smallholder farms," the report states. "Lacking for too long has been firm and sustained leadership from the U.S. president and Congress that commits America to strong partnerships with African and Asian institutions in a frontal attack on this critical cause of global poverty."

Shah said USAID is working to shift its focus to more locally driven approaches to food security and agricultural development, giving recipient countries more input into the aid process. And he hailed the Chicago Council’s focus on improving agricultural yields. "The Chicago Council report … asks the U.S. to lead a second green revolution, and we completely agree," said Shah.