By Morgan Ball
Tuesday, March 29th at 6:00 pm; the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Women in Ag staff set out to the World Food Prize Foundation Building in Des Moines, Iowa to celebrate Dr. Norman E. Borlaug’s 102nd birthday and International Women’s Day. It was very encouraging to see a record attendance of more than 300 with many new and familiar faces. All bringing a unique perspective and connection to the topic. The Women in Agriculture: The Road to Global Security celebration was hosted by the World Food Prize Foundation, Oxfam America, and Foods Resource Bank.
Once seated we heard from the Honorable Joni Ernst, Iowa’s first female senator and an agriculture advocate. “There are not many industries in Iowa that are not touched by Iowa agriculture,” said Ernst. Joni Ernst grew up in Red Oak, Iowa where she lived on a small farming operation with her family. After coming to Iowa State University; Joni spent some time internationally in the Ukraine with a farm family that grew tomatoes. They had no running water and just one bike for transportation. Once returning to Iowa; Joni wanted to give back to America. A country that she was proud of! Joining the US Military; Joni began her 23-year career path.
Senator Joni Ernst is a strong believer in empowering and inspiring women both in America and overseas. “There are four pillars that I live by,” stated Ernst, “The first is assuming risk, the second is showing leadership, third is extending service, and the final is reflecting gratitude.”
Women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. According to the FAO, 70 percent of employed women in Southern Asia and 60% in sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture. Agriculture is no foreign topic to women all over the world! But, there are a few factors that are limiting women from reaching full potential. In developing countries it is almost impossible for women to own and rent acres. Women feel the burdens of feeding their families on just a small patch of land. An FAO study showed that if women had the same access to resources as men, they could increase farm yields by 20-30 percent. The study also showed women are more likely than men to spend additional income on food, clothing, and education for their children. Closing the gender gap would greatly improve global food security.
For the second half of the program we had the opportunity to hear from featured speaker, Olga Tumax. Olga farms and leads 800 women in Guatemala. “In 1999, I began focusing on women and looking into ways we can help one another,” Olga tells us, “I wanted access to land even if it was not in my name; I went to my husband and asked how many square meters of land he would let me use.” She is the mother of seven children and through her empowerment was able to send all seven to high school; most children in Guatemala only complete third grade. “We were the first group in the community to build greenhouses. Men told us that we could not do it, but we proved them wrong and now run a sustainable operation. We are hoping to increase our markets,” said Olga. Olga is a powerful women who faces many difficulties. Some of which we take for granted in America with resources readily available. He difficulties include: water shortages, personal injury threats, limited access to resources (land, loans, machinery), and gender inequality. “We want to be like Ester in the bible and fight for our rights,” claimed Olga.
Olga excels in all four of Joni Ernst’s pillars. She has assumed risk, shown leadership, extended service, and is very full of gratitude.
Seeing that women reinvest 90% of their income back into the family makes it clear that if we want to increase global food security we need to work with women. Success in agriculture relies on a collaborative effort.
Nora Tobin, the Executive Director of Self-Help International,presented her organization’s work in empowering women in Ghana and Hugo Garrido from Foods Resource Bank’s food security program in Guatemala discussed his experiences with rural families in the region and the role of the church. Other speakers for the evening included Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation and Marshal Husain, Vice President of the World Food Prize Foundation.