Integrating women’s financial inclusion into the Islamic finance agenda for the agricultural sector will go a long way to address food security, writes Maram Ahmed, a Visiting Fellow at SOAS, University of London.

Food security is a pressing issue. By 2050, according to the World Bank, the demand for food is projected to increase by 70 percent with an estimated $80 billion of annual investments needed to meet growing demand.

At the United Nations COP24 global climate summit that ended on Saturday, the effects of climate change on food production made headlines but less talked about are the producers of food, who are predominantly women.

Rural women are the backbone of food production and play a key role in ensuring food security.

A substantial number of the world’s farmers are women but they are often financially undeserved, which sets back agricultural output.

In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia 60 percent of agricultural workers are women, according to UN Women. This is followed by 30 percent in the rest of Asia & the Pacific/North Africa and 20 percent in the Arab States.

However, a lot fewer women than men have access to a formal bank account. In Africa alone, only 20 percent of women have at least one formal bank account compared to 75 percent for men, according to the African Development Bank.

Governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and financial institutions have a collective role to play in ensuring that women are taken off the financial sidelines with the agricultural sector being the lowest hanging fruit.

Agriculture is a great starting point to support Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries achieve the ambitious 2030 agenda for sustainable development as stipulated by the United Nations.

For the Muslim-majority countries of the OIC hoping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), unlocking the potential of Islamic finance could be key to increasing financial inclusion among women agricultural workers, and improving food security.

Up to now, the gender and Islamic finance dialogues often occur in parallel.

However, the Shariah-compliant sector can be the nexus between the two by taking a feminist approach to development.

One way to do that is through integrating women’s financial inclusion into the Islamic finance agenda.

What can be done? Among the huge scope for Islamic finance, experience suggests at least two possible local solutions with the Republic of Kazakhstan being a case in point.

The Central Asian country is rich in natural resources and is one the world’s top exporters of wheat.

Although the country is rapidly developing, it has a vast rural population with often limited access to traditional modes of financing. As such, microfinance institutions (MFIs) have been operating in the country since the former soviet state gained independence in the nineties.

Read the full article at Salaam Gateways.