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Reports Says Empowerment of Rural Adolescent Girls in Developing Nations Will Increase Food Security

October 10, 2011 |

Children grow up fast and take on responsibilities early in rural areas across the developing world.  That’s especially true of some 283,000,000 rural adolescent girls living in developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and elsewhere, who from an early age work alongside their mothers and other family members gathering water, food and fuel and tending to livestock, farm fields and gardens. They also play a central role in the home, helping with food preparation, cooking, household chores and taking care of younger siblings.

Grandly ambitious in scale and scope, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, has released an extensive report that shines a light on the role rural adolescent girls play on farms and ranches in rural areas across the developing world.

The report entitled, ‘Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies,’ points out the strides in food security, agricultural development and the improvement of communities and rural economies that could be made in developing countries if adolescent girls figured more prominently in educational and rural agricultural development plans and initiatives. Catherine Bertini, 2003 World Food Prize Laureate, served as the publication’s lead author and chair of the project that produced the report.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs began gathering information for its ‘Girls Grow’ report in mid-2009. Spanning 15 months, its aim was to “examine the nature of adolescent girls’ participation in the rural economic sectors of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean and identify opportunities and better equip girls and young women to be agents of social and economic change.”

According to recent estimates, global food production will need to increase 70% by 2050 to meet increasing demand and keep food affordable and accessible.  Much of this increase will need to come from the developing world, the ‘Girls Grow’ report notes.

“If the world is to meet the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050, we must invest in the human capital of those with the potential to transform agricultural economies – adolescent girls,” said Bertini in a press release issued by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “Already, they carry much of families’ burdens; with opportunity, they can be major change agents for rural communities and nations.  As nations are rediscovering the importance of agricultural development, we want to ensure that the new definition of rural economies’ strengths includes the critical role of adolescent girls.”

While there’s more arable land in developing countries around the world, as well as an abundance of labor, their populations are also growing.  Although more than 3 billion of the world’s 6.9 billion people live in these arable rural areas, more than 60% of them live in poverty, 34% in extreme poverty, according to the report.  Moreover, this cycle of poverty is perpetuated across generations.

Empowering rural adolescent girls would go a long way towards breaking this cycle, according to the report authors.  “The developing world’s roughly 283 million rural adolescent girls can help reverse the poverty of rural people and put nations on the path to greater food security,” states the report.

The report’s recommendations and conclusions call attention to the ways that national governments, bilateral donors and aid agencies “can better support rural adolescent girls’ personal and professional development, health and safety, and in turn, to spur long-term economic growth and social stability at the community, national, and regional levels.”

At heart, the ‘Girls Grow’ report is a call to action.  It calls on governments worldwide and all stakeholders to do the following:

  • Expand opportunities for rural adolescent girls to attend secondary school.
  • Equip rural adolescent girls to be entrepreneurs, workers, and managers in the rural economy and beyond.
  • Prepare rural adolescent girls to be major stakeholders in agriculture and natural resource management.
  • Empower and provide opportunities for rural adolescent girls to have an active voice in household, community, and national decision making.
  • Provide rural adolescent girls with comprehensive health information and services.
  • Improve rural adolescent girls’ safety and security.
  • Count girls and measure progress.

“Now is the time invest in rural adolescent girls,” says Marshall M. Bouton, president, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “The international community is renewing its commitments to agricultural development, and increasingly women, who make up almost half of the world’s agricultural workers, are benefiting. This study finds, however, that progress will only be sustainable if investments are also made in the world’s future farmers, entrepreneurs, and managers – rural adolescent girls.”



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