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Rima Al-Azar of the FAO on Climate and Supporting Women in Agriculture

Rima Al-Azar is an international development expert and Senior Natural Resources Officer in the Climate and Environment Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Fluent in four languages, with experience in over 50 countries around the globe, her expertise includes social development issues such as gender, social inclusion, migration, citizen,  engagement, agriculture, rural and community-based development and poverty alleviation. She has also held several positions with UN agencies, such as UNDP, UNICEF, FAO, IFAD and WFP as well as with multi-lateral financial institutions, including the World Bank.

Al-Azar will be speaking at the 2019 Women in Food and Agriculture Summit in Amsterdam, so we caught up with her to talk shop on climate initiatives, agriculture—and the women working to make it happen.

The FAO is the UN technical agency responsible for leading the international effort to defeat hunger and achieve food security for all. The Climate and Environment Division of the FAO develops policies, planning and response towards the challenges of climate change and its impact on a grander scale within food and agriculture. “We are very much involved in helping countries understand the issues related to agriculture and climate change, and to give them the tools to better negotiate,” says Al-Azar. “We have hundreds of projects that are related to agriculture and climate change. So, it could be a livestock project in one country, it could be fisheries in another, or forestry.”

At the WFA Summit later this year, Al-Azar will be speaking on a stream dedicated to “Our Planet, Our Health,” specifically how new technology, techniques and corporate strategies can help to achieve sustainability. “Basically, how to increase production to feed the growing number of people that are living on the planet without destroying the planet,” she noted.

Climate change is one of the biggest issues the world is facing, and agriculture has a huge role to play in that. And women play an integral role in food production. From feeding their babies to feeding communities, women are responsible for nourishment in one way or another at every step of the value chain.

“For me, working on women in food and agriculture is one of the basic things that we should be working on because I think it’s absolutely unacceptable that in the twenty-first century you have people that don’t have enough food to eat or don’t eat properly,” she asserted. “We can live without a lot of things in the world, but food is not one of them.”

For Al-Azar, her unique perspective of the plight of women in food and agriculture has been defined by her work with developing countries. “I’ve always been working in the poorer parts of the world and not the richer parts of the world.”

Women in some of these regions deal with very specific challenges when it comes to agriculture; things like access to information, literacy to obtain the information where and when it is available, and/or an official form of identification.

“If you don’t have an ID it means you don’t exist. If you don’t exist this means you can’t take a loan from the bank, you cannot own a piece of land, you cannot have access to finances.”

“And then there might be laws in some countries that discriminate against women and that’s another challenge,” she says, “but of course this all depends on the country. In many countries, social norms are pretty well-specified. That the women tend to do this, this, and that—and the men do something else.” These types of tasks, ranging from getting water and tending chickens to tanning leather, may often be considered gender-determined roles, Al-Azar notes, depending on the area.

“So, you also have to be very culturally sensitive and understand in that particular culture what can and what cannot be done—or, at least, how can you do it gradually.”

Looking at the global business of agriculture, we asked Al-Azar what can be done to ensure women are supported at the boardroom level.

“This is a question you can ask for every-single industry and any country in the world,” she mused. “Start by hiring women in the first place and then give them the opportunity to grow. Also, provide more flexibility in the workplace. If a woman goes on maternity leave, you shouldn’t give her the choice of either having children or being promoted.”

But there is much work to be done. And this concept goes back to the beginning—helping the women working in agriculture in developing areas.

“The sky is the limit in terms of what you can do and what you should do because there is a need across the board in terms of working with women and both improving the quality as well as the quantity of what they produce and linking them specifically to market so that they get better prices for what they produce.”

“Women are fifty percent of the world so if you do not involve them completely you will always, by definition, be missing something. Because you can’t do anything properly if you don’t take into consideration fifty percent of the population of the world.”

Rima’s story and more from real women working in food and agriculture can be found at: www.wfasummit.com. In 2019, we’re celebrating the women who work to feed the world—shining a light on female leaders in the industry. Get involved—and join us at the Women in Food and Agriculture summit in Amsterdam, December 3-4, 2019. 

Rima Al-Azar, Senior Natural Resources Officer, (FAO) of the United Nations.

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