ROME, Dec 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - If women farmers were given the same access to land, tools and credit as men, the boost to crop yields would dramatically cut world hunger, but this must be done fast before climate change closes the window of opportunity, hunger experts said on Friday.
Agricultural yields would increase by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men, said Neven Mimica, European Union commissioner for international cooperation and development.
"As a result, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world," he told a meeting of experts and government representatives, gathered at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to find ways of helping women farmers.
Children also have significantly better prospects for the future when their mothers are healthy, wealthy and educated, he added.
"If we are serious about putting an end to poverty and hunger once and for all, then we all need to step up our support for rural women," he said.
Women and girls make up 60 percent of the chronically hungry - often eating last and least in the family - Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim told the meeting.
They make up 45 percent of the agricultural work force - rising to 60 percent in parts of Africa and Asia - and own less than 20 percent of land, according to FAO.
They work on average 12 hours a week more than men in developing countries, and reinvest up to 90 percent of their earnings back into their households, the U.N. agency said.
Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of droughts in many parts of the world and changing temperature and rainfall patterns, requiring investment in new crops and techniques in many areas.
"In the absence of concerted effort to address the gender gap in agriculture in the context of the changing climate, rural women are at risk of being trapped in a downward spiral," said Maria Noel Vaeza, director of programmes at U.N. Women.
"Conversely, key initiatives that address this gap - such as secure land tenure, greater financial inclusion and access to information and markets - are also essential to accelerate the adoption of climate smart agriculture," she said.
Climate smart agriculture includes reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture - which with forestry and changes in land use contributes 21 percent of global emissions - and adapting to the impacts of climate change. (Reporting by Alex Whiting, Editing by Emma Batha.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)