A STUDY by the University of Edinburgh has found that empowering women farmers in low and middle-income countries is key to crop diversity.

Scottish university the University of Edinburgh and a team of international researchers analysed data from Burkina Faso, India, Malawi and Tanzania to explore the relationship between women’s empowerment and crop diversity – with the support of funding from Melinda and Bill Gates.

This data shows that involving women in agricultural decision-making, community groups and farm equipment ownership results in crops of a higher nutritional value being grown.

Research suggests that an increase in crop diversity could help to improve the year-round supply of healthy foods, protecting and supporting local communities.

Crop diversity has several other benefits, including environmental benefits, a reduced threat from pests and crop diseases and an improvement in soil fertility.

Dr Lilia Bliznashka, from the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We hope to encourage efforts to consider women’s empowerment in the context of agricultural production and food system resilience to support critical win-win agendas for women’s rights and for the provision of a healthy diet from a healthy planet.”

Although women make up more than half of the agriculture workforce, they often have less control over decision-making and ownership.

This research signals a need to involve women more in decision-making, in order to improve crop diversity and food supply.

The team behind the research said: “These findings suggest a pathway to improving global food supply, protecting the world’s low-income farming communities, whilst supporting women’s rights.”

Crop diversity brought by growing a wider variety of crops also allows farmers to adapt to market change and build resilience against unpredictable weather patterns.

This is especially important as crops produced by smallholders in low and middle-income countries are increasingly threatened by the growing impacts of climate change.

These crops are also vital to the livelihoods and food supplies of local communities.

Crop diversity was measured in three ways in the study: the number of crops grown, the number of food groups grown, and if the crops grown were nutrient-dense.

The research team says they have plans to “translate these findings into targeted interventions that support women and improve crop diversity, without adding to women’s existing work burdens”.

Studies carried out in South Asia suggested that supporting women farmers could improve crop production, but it was not clear until now if these findings would apply to other regions.

The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with the University of Edinburgh.

It also involved researchers from several institutes including the University of Oxford, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the International Food Policy Research Institute.