Women Are Key to Fixing the Global Food System


Danielle Nierenberg is and Emily Payne*

NEW ORLEANS, United States, Jul 10 2018 (IPS) – According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, women make up about 43 percent of the agricultural labor force worldwide, and in some countries they make up 80 percent of all farmers. In addition to tending crops, most women—particularly in the Global South—are also responsible for seed saving, animal husbandry, grain processing, and other tasks related to growing food. This is in addition to cooking, cleaning, and taking care of sick elders and children.

It’s women farmers who produce the food that families eat. While male farmers often focus on growing commodity crops like maize, rice, and soybeans, women raise the fruits, vegetables, and small livestock that nourish families each day.

But if women had the same access to resources as men, they could raise their current yields by 20 to 30 percent—this would lift as many as 150 million people out of hunger. So when considering the global food system crisis, women should be at the top of mind.

Nourished Planet, a new book put forth by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, highlights stories of success through women’s efforts in agriculture throughout the world. Examples range from female PhD students from Jamaica developing workshops for small farmers on climate-adaptive irrigation strategies to women dairy farmers in Ghana starting a co-op to pay for their children’s healthcare and education.

The book goes on to highlight that, across the globe, women often have little agency over their own lives. They often lack the same access to resources—such as land, banking and financial services, education, and extension services—as male farmers. And in many countries, women aren’t allowed to own land or even inherit their land.

As farmers across the globe are aging, women need to be able to take their rightful role as leader of their land, farm, and family. The average age of the American farmer is 57 years old; in Africa, the average farmer is 60. When their husbands die, we need to ensure that the women of these households are able to maintain the land they have grown, cultivated, and lived on for often many generations.

Traditional power structures in the food system commonly ignore or undervalue the vital roles women play. Women need to be recognized for their part in feeding the world today, as well as empowered to grow their contributions into the future.

Across the globe, women are taking matters into their own hands by forming cooperatives and non-governmental organizations and innovating their way to a sustainable future.

The Women in Agriculture program in Nigeria is connecting women to vital extension services, and the Women Advancing Agriculture Initiative advocates for gender equality and access to information for women in Ghana. In America, the Women in Food & Ag Network is striving to create a global network to provide opportunities for education on economics and environment that promote a holistic view of agriculture.

Women farmers are letting governments, policymakers, and their own husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons know that we ignore women in the food system at our own peril.

A more economically viable, environmentally sustainable, and socially just food and agriculture system around the globe is within our reach. But it is an essential for farmers, eaters, businesses, policymakers, academics, funders, and anyone interested in contributing to a food system to value and support women to continue to grow our food, nourish our bodies and planet, and innovate to food system change.

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* Danielle Nierenberg is Founder and President of Food Tank. Emily Payne is a food and agriculture writer based in New York