Although the contribution of women in the agriculture sector has increased significantly over the years, they still lack equal access and state recognition, said speakers at a discussion yesterday.

Around 98 percent of the work performed by men is added to the gross domestic product (GDP), while the proportion is only 47 percent for women.

Besides, women also ensure the nutrition of family members as they are directly involved with rearing and food production.

Speakers made the remarks at a discussion on “Transforming Agri-food Systems to Improve Nutrition in Secondary Cities: The Role of Women” organised at The Daily Star Centre in Dhaka by Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture.

Women should be brought under technical assistance programmes, like skill development, and financial assistance such as providing credit to rural women, according to the speakers. They also emphasised ending wage discrimination between men and women in agricultural work.

Syeda Zinia Rashid, senior programme officer at the Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh, said the country has around 50 to 60 percent of women in the agricultural labour force. However, they did not get equal access to agricultural inputs compared to their male counterparts.

“The gender gap is a major challenge for women’s empowerment. Our agricultural sector needs women empowerment to utilise their resources and decision-making capabilities out of their income,” she said.

Md Farhad Zamil, country director of Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, said women are facing a significant challenge as they have limited access to resources, market information and technologies, which limits their productivity and income-earning potential.

During his keynote presentation, Arif Hossain, CEO and executive director of Farming Future Bangladesh, said the country’s women spend 16 hours on average per day in household chores and agricultural work. “This contribution is equivalent to over $601 billion.”

“Only 10 percent of female farmers in Bangladesh have access to formal credit. Social norms and gender stereotypes limit women’s participation in agriculture as well as their ability to make decisions and negotiate with male family members and other stakeholders,” he added.

Md Shahid Uddin Akbar, CEO of Bangladesh Institute of ICT in Development (BIID), said in urban areas, women are playing a crucial role to ensure nutrition as adolescent girls, entrepreneurs and decision-makers related to the food consumption habits of families.

Speaking as chief guest, Corinne Henchoz Pignani, deputy head of cooperation at the Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh, said, “Bangladesh is facing many challenges like climate change, food security for an ever-increasing population, the after-effects of the pandemic and the global slowdown impact of trade due to the Russian invasion.”

“In Bangladesh, we see the impact of the global situation every day and the food is becoming expensive for the poorest people. On one hand, Bangladesh has an amazing and beautiful story of development, which makes you [people] proud. On the other hand, many people are still facing the challenges to access food,” she said.

To reduce the pressure, Corinne suggested bringing the country’s stakeholders together to address policy issues to ensure food security, in terms of policies, guidelines and infrastructure.

Among others, Alessandra Roversi, programme officer of The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC); Klaus Kraemer, managing director of Sight and Life Foundation, a Switzerland-based nutrition think-tank; US Rokeya Akhter, national gender specialist of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); and Pedro Andrés Garzon Delvaux, FAO’s food system policy economist, spoke at the discussion.

Simon Winter, executive director of Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, delivered the closing remarks.

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