Remarks by Ertharin Cousin at the Symposium on Women’s Leadership and Economic Growth - Yokohama, Japan

Delivered on: 31 May 2013



President of the Republic of Malawi Her Excellency Banda, 

Mayor of Yokohama Ms. Hayashi,

Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Abe,

Vice President of JICA Ambassador Domichi,

Ladies and gentlemen:  

It is an honor for me to be here in Japan and to visit this beautiful country a second time, one year after my last visit.

I thank the Mayor and the people of Yokohama for your support to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and for the advocacy and fundraising efforts through which you have shown heartfelt solidarity with the more than 90 million hungry poor that WFP serves with food assistance.

Our partnership with the City of Yokohama brilliantly reflects the generosity of all the Japanese people.

I also want to thank the organizers and participants of today’s event for your vision and your commitment in coming together on the margins of TICAD V for this important discussion about women’s leadership and economic growth.

President Banda, your leadership on the issues of sustainable food and nutrition security are legendary and highly regarded.  As you well know, in Malawi today, and also in other countries across the developing world, women are the essential catalytic agents for unleashing unprecedented economic growth and positive social change. 

In fact, in developing countries, 79 percent of economically active women spend their working days producing food, many working in agriculture.  Women are 43 percent of the farming work force.  Yet, yields for women farmers are at least 20 percent lower than men.  This is because women have less access to improved seeds, fertilizers and equipment.   But we know that providing women farmers of developing countries greater access to resources could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by up to 150 million people.

So, at WFP, we invest in women’s empowerment.  We connect women farmers to markets by buying directly from them, and – working together with UN Women, FAO, IFAD and others – we help improve women’s access to seeds, credit, technical know-how, policy and legal support.  We help rural women farmers more fully realize their potential for increasing the availability of food.

I would like to join the other speakers presenting here today and tell you another Kenya success story.  Let me tell you about Rhoda Vata Kitalu in Mwingi County, Kenya.

Before 2009, Rhoda, like too many other women, was a subsistence farmer.

Beginning in 2009, Rhoda joined with other women in her community to learn soil and water conservation techniques supported through a jointly sponsored food-for-asset programme.  She told us:

‘Since these simple techniques were introduced, my crop yield has improved, even with the little rain we receive. I used to harvest about 270 kilogram bags of maize but now I get 450 kilograms, which helps me to pay the school fees for my children.’

Recently, Rhoda received support in the form of a 1,500 liter tank to harvest and store rainwater. 

‘This is a dream come true for me,’ she said.  ‘The water will not only reduce the amount of time I take to draw water from the river, but will also help me expand my vegetable farming and tree planting.’

One woman's story reflecting the true nature of this opportunity: one woman building one community, supporting the progress of one nation and one continent, ensuring that we move our world forward.

We want to see many more millions of women and girls around the world overcome the barriers of precedent and achieve their full potential.

WFP is proud to join in the opening of this event and we wish all of you a meaningful and informative exchange of ideas and experiences.