September 2015 marked a key step in global development’s future. U.N. member states convened the Sustainable Development Summit to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 2 of the new agenda is to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”.

The SDGs don’t just represent a new level of ambition on eradicating hunger and malnutrition, they’re about leaving no one behind and about getting to zero for all not just some. The ambitious aim to eradicate hunger completely by 2030 seems a great next step. Extreme hunger and malnutrition remain a huge barrier to development in many countries. 795 million people are estimated to be chronically undernourished as of 2014, often as a direct consequence of environmental degradation, drought and loss of biodiversity. Over 90 million children under the age of five are dangerously underweight. And one out of four people still goes hungry in Africa.

The new SDGs will take on the challenge of solving chronic poverty and advancing global development in an integrated style. Goal 2 clearly addresses hunger, food security and for the first time sustainable agriculture. This Goal has eight targets including ending hunger and malnutrition, in particular amongst vulnerable groups; ensuring resilient agricultural systems that increase productivity and respond adaptively to climate change; and improving agricultural markets with increased rural infrastructure, technological advances, and better market performance for small-scale food producers like women, family farmers, and indigenous group. The SDGs aim to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people, especially children and the more vulnerable,  have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round. This involves promoting sustainable agricultural practices, improving the livelihoods and capacities of small scale famers and allowing equal access to land, technology and markets. It also requires international cooperation to ensure investment in infrastructure and technology to improve agricultural productivity.

It should be clearly understood that food security is not just about getting everyone enough nutritious food. It is also about access, ending waste, moving toward sustainability, efficient production and consumption. Irrigation and other investments in agriculture and rural development can help many and build pathways to sustainable future growth. My hope is that Goal 2 will strengthen this process of investing in agriculture for global development with its enhanced attention to both food security and sustainable agriculture.

Women produce more than half of the world’s food, yet own only two percent of titled land and receive less than 10 percent of credit available for small businesses. These inequalities must change if we ever hope to break the cycle of poverty and hunger in rural areas of the developing world. When women are given economic opportunities, they make investments that benefit not just themselves but their families and their communities. In Africa, where women are responsible for much of the continent’s agricultural production, sustainable agriculture depends on women adopting sustainable practices. Governments together with community based organizations need to initiate comprehensive farmer training programs for grassroots women. These trainings should cover topics such as organic soil management and proper use of organic fertilizers, crop rotation best practices, conservation methods, agro forestry and sustainability of farms cultivated by these Women. For women farmers, it is always hard to access the resources available due to the patriarchal contexts under which many of these farming businesses operate.

Due to cultural norms, women don’t reap the rewards of their labor.  Whatever they get from the crops that they grow doesn’t come to them most of the time. If sub-Saharan Africa is to eliminate extreme poverty, this has to change. Women need to be empowered in agriculture in order to increase productivity as when women have resources from their production they will always reinvest it in their children and in their households. Many changes have to take place for empowering women who work in agriculture, such as aligning laws in sub-Saharan Africa with international norms on women’s rights. Women need to be allowed to own land and have equal access to resources and basic public services and our governments should also get involved in the process of changing societal norms and breaking barriers to women’s economic empowerment.

If we enable and support rural women farmers to innovate and use climate-smart practices, it’s not only hunger and poverty that will decline: Economic growth will increase, jobs will be created and families, communities and countries will reap the benefits of women’s empowerment. It’s time we help women harness the power of agriculture as a tool not only for ensuring food security and improved nutrition for all, but for gender equality and women’s empowerment as well.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.

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