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Further investment in agricultural research is essential if we are to avert a global famine caused by inadequate crop yields and a growing population in the coming decades, according to the director of the Global Wheat Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.
Women have a key role to play in reducing food loss at the production, post-harvest and processing stages, but face many barriers in doing so. Such research could help bring these issues to the fore.
The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that one third of all food produced for human consumption — or 1.3 billion tonnes a year — is lost or wasted. Food loss is more common in low-income countries with restrictions in harvesting, storage, cooling, infrastructure, packaging and marketing systems. In recognition of this, the FAO's recently unveiled reforms include a focus on both food loss and waste. [1]
Female farmers in many low-income countries are responsible for growing and processing crops that are most susceptible to postharvest loss, such as tubers, fruit and vegetables. In Africa, for example, women play an important role in processing cassava, whose high perishability means that as much as half the crop can be lost after harvest.
Despite being central to agricultural systems around the developing world, poor women face well-documented barriers to preventing food loss. They may lack knowledge about food standards so their produce is discarded at market, they may have limited access to tools for efficient processing, or they may be excluded from producer associations through which products can be stored.
The FAO's Policy on Gender Equality commits it to promoting equal access to productive resources for men and women through, for example, conducting gender analyses to inform all its interventions. [2] This means that its new focus on food-loss reduction should be informed by an analysis of the challenges to food-loss reduction that poor women face.
Many stories have been told about innovative ways in which female farmers mitigate against food loss, such as solar drying techniques for fruit preservation or inventing ways to pickle vegetables. [3]
To ensure its gender policy leads to real change, the FAO — as well as other international aid agencies that take gender equality seriously — should fund research that compiles and analyses stories such as these to boost its attempts to reduce food loss.
Henrietta Miers has worked across Africa and Asia as a gender and social development consultant for 15 years, specialising in gender policy. She is senior associate of WISE Development, a consulting company that focuses on boosting the economic opportunities for poor women.


[1] FAO The Director-General’s Medium Term Plan 2014-17 and Programme of Work and Budget 2014-15 (FAO, June 2013)
[2] FAO FAO Policy on Gender Equality: Attaining Food Security Goals in Agriculture and Rural Development (FAO, accessed 30 July 2013)
[3] Think.Eat.Save Women Winning the War Against Food Waste and Food Loss (Think.Eat.Save, 8 March 2013)