Fields of the future

How women farmers could significantly reduce world hunger

Addressing world hunger

There are 200 million fewer hungry people today than there were 25 years ago.

Yet 795 million people on earth still do not have enough food to lead a healthy, active life. That is one in every nine people on earth (1).

But one answer to reducing world hunger has been in front of us the whole time.

The answer is women.

If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.

SOURCE: FAO via World Food Programme (2)

Women and poverty

Despite progress, women are more likely to be living in poverty - women and girls account for six out of 10 of the world’s poorest and two thirds of the world’s illiterate.

When men and women have equal opportunities and freedoms, economic growth accelerates and poverty rates drop more rapidly for everyone (3).

This is why reducing inequalities between women and men is critical.

The cost of inequality

Women produce over half of the world's food (4), yet they do not always have the same rights as men.

It is no secret that women are not equals in many societies. Traditional laws and cultural attitudes can make it hard or impossible for women to own land, access finance or be involved in business decisions.

For women farmers this disadvantage means lower yields.

Despite working longer hours than men, without the same facilities, yields for women are 20%-30% lower.

SOURCE: IFAD (5)

Women farmers are hindered at every turn. They own less than 20% of available land and do not have the same access to training, services, finance or tools that men do (6).

With equal access to resources and services, women farmers could bridge the gap with their male counterparts. Meaning more produce for everyone.

Enabling women to take control

Increasing women farmers’ access to resources and services will increase the amount they can grow. That means more food for all.

But more food is not the only benefit.

Women reinvest up to 90% of their earnings back into their households. Compared with 35% for men.

SOURCE: UN (7)

When women farmers can grow enough to make a surplus, their incomes increase. That means there is more money available for families.

Meaning school fees can be paid, there's better access to healthcare and there's increased investment in other income-generating activities.

Small steps towards breaking the cycle of poverty.

Narrowing the gap

Progress is being made. But slowly.

Compared to 20 years ago, women have better access to education, the gender pay gap has narrowed and women have a greater voice in politics.

Despite this, women remain greatly disadvantaged.

Seeds of change

When given the opportunity, women farmers have proven their ability to increase their yields, enhance their incomes and invest in their family's future.

Here are three examples from VSO projects around the world that see women farmers driving their own development.

Change in action

Bangladesh

Progress is being made towards gender equality in Bangladesh. Yet gender inequalities remain - made worse by extreme poverty and harmful gender norms.

Nowhere is this truer than in farming communities.

In Bangladesh, women are more likely to:

  • Have less control over family resources like money and land
  • Be refused credit
  • Have less experience of and information about markets and the outside world
  • Lose out to male relatives thanks to patriarchal inheritance laws
  • Be blamed for issues in the family if they work
  • Receive lower pay and work longer hours

Catalyst for change

Women farmers in Bangladesh have proven their ability to increase their yields and income. Not only is this beneficial in itself, but it is acting as a catalyst for change.

"Empowered women have healthier and better educated children"

Anna Fälth of UN Women

Working together, growing together

28-year-old Selina Kerketa is the secretary of an all-female farmers group, which has 30 members in Durgapur, Bangladesh.

The farmers group is part of the ‘Growing Together’ programme which aims to make farming more profitable for thousands of small-scale farmers.

The project includes work to help farmers:

  • Produce higher yields through training in modern techniques
  • Diversify the types of crops they grow to be more competitive and resilient in markets
  • Access to machinery that reduces physical labour
  • Join new farmers’ groups to increase their bargaining power - leading to better prices

Selina has seen her income increase and is making plans to reinvest in her business and support her children:

"Together we are learning in the field and I apply these lessons to my own field. I’ve learnt how to properly plant vegetables, how to measure and apply fertiliser, this was all new for me.

"We are sure that we will have a lot of good produce this harvest. In our joint field we can see that there will be good fruit.

"This harvest we will sell in the market as a group. Working together we can get a better price. I hope to sell more produce in the future and I’m confident that I can do this."

"I plan to keep the extra money for my children’s education, and for investing in my crops."

Women leading their communities out of poverty

Ghana

Women play a vital role in cocoa farming. They labour during the harvest and between seasons their small businesses provide what may be the family's only source of income.

Through VSO’s Cocoa Life programme, female community members are trained by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and VSO. They go on to mentor other women to develop their business, farming and leadership skills.

Community spirit: Juliana's story

Business is booming for Juliana. She produces gari, a powdered product made from grated and dry-fried cassava and a staple of the Ghanaian diet.

Before joining the programme, Juliana could produce around 10 bags of gari per production session - today that figure is closer to 100.

A single mother who is also responsible for her sister’s children and her parents, she has many commitments, but she has been able to re-roof her house and is also building a new house for her parents.

She went on to form a group of 30 female entrepreneurs to pass on what she's learned. They support each other to grow their businesses, and have a collective savings scheme, which members can draw on in crisis times.

Next on the agenda for Juliana is encouraging the women to develop backyard gardens, which is part of a drive to ensure women know how to provide a varied and nutritious diet for their families.

Read more of Juliana's story

Looking to the future

Uganda

Years of conflict in northern Uganda saw children and young people displaced. Education suffered and opportunities to make a living disappeared.

Young people, such as mother-of-five, Kevin Lamaro, were facing a bleak future.

But things are changing. Through agricultural training and the formation of farming cooperatives Kevin and her women farmers group are going from strength to strength.

Surviving on God's mercy

“Before I joined the farming cooperative, I had nothing. I didn’t have any animals, or chickens and I wasn’t able to use land," says Kevin.

"I couldn’t afford to buy any products for my baby. I say we only survived on ‘God’s mercy’."

"I joined this [farming] group in 2013 and things began to change."

Turning things around

After joining the farmers group, Kevin began to build a future for herself and her children.

"I started to receive training. I learned how collaborating as a group and working hard meant we could earn enough to meet our basic needs," continues Kevin.

"I was able to sell some soya beans, save the money and buy a goat. That in turn helped me buy some pigs. I now have 18 pigs. We also have three acres of maize now, and soya beans, five cows and six goats."

"Before I started this work, none of my five children were able to go to school. Now they go to school. "

"I hope to build a house soon and push my children right through to the degree level of education. I’m in a good place now."

Read Kevin's full story

When women are held back we all miss out

Women farmers produce half of our food – despite facing challenges at every turn.

Think what it would mean for the 795 million people who are hungry today if we closed the gender gap.

Gender equality could reduce world hunger. It could lead to better nutrition and more investment in families and communities. Even an end to poverty.

Investing in women farmers is the right thing to do and it benefits everyone.

Sources and credits

Sources

1. FAO via World Food Programme
2. World Food Programme
3. UNDP (PDF)
4. FAO
5. IFAD
6. FAO and WEF
7. UN (PDF)
8. FAO (PDF) via Farming First
9. UN Women

Image credits

Title image:
Suchanda Ekka, Durgapur, Bangladesh. ©VSO/Allison Joyce

Cost of inequality:
Monica Oroma, Uganda. ©VSO/Ginny Lattul

Land rights statistics:
Uganda. ©VSO/Ginny Lattul

Enabling women to take control:
Women farmers, near Rangpur, north west Bangladesh. ©VSO/Allison Joyce

Access to resources:
Naomi Mamman, Nigeria. ©VSO/Tim Maynard

Change in action:
1. Durgapur, Bangladesh. ©VSO/Allison Joyce
2. Selina Kerketa, Durgapur, Bangladesh. ©VSO/Allison

Women leading communities out of poverty:
1. Amanse Aboabo, Ayensuano District, Ghana, ©VSO/Sanjay Awasthi
2. Juliana Aboaagyewa, Ghana, ©VSO/Tim Maynard

Looking to the future:
1. Uganda. ©VSO/Ginny Lattul
2. Kevin Lamaro, Uganda. ©VSO/Ginny Lattul
3. Kevin Lamaro, Uganda. ©VSO/Ginny Lattul

When women are held back we all miss out:
Naomi Mamman, Nigeria. ©VSO/Tim Maynard

Credits:
Uganda. ©VSO/Ginny Lattul

Text and graphics

Text and graphics by Nick Adie