Women's role in sustaining global food security

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This article is the third in a series of articles related to Wikiprogress.


One dimension of progress is ensuring sustainable food security for all, a difficult task considering the recent financial crises and food price volatility. Climate change, which was the focus of the previous progress series article, also exacerbated this reality. In this context, investment in agriculture and food security projects from a gender lens is essential. This article highlights the role of women as major actors in sustaining growth and development in the agricultural sector as well as the major challenges they are facing when it comes to land management. It also brings to the fore some concrete initiatives coming from both civil society and governments.


“More than one billion people  - one sixth of the world’s population - suffer from chronic hunger. Each year, more than 3.5 million children die from undernutrition.”[1]

“Food security is defined as having four main components: availability, access, utilization, and stability. Families and individuals require a reliable and consistent source of quality food, as well as sufficient resources to purchase it. People must also have the knowledge and basic sanitary conditions to choose, prepare, and distribute food in a way that results in good nutrition for all family members. Finally, the ability to access and utilize food must remain stable and sustained over time.”[2]

Key bottlenecks

"Farming has always been women’s work, but according to most recent estimates, women grow a substantial amount of the food eaten by poor families. Yet, they still have much less access to knowledge, technology, credit, and land than men."[3]

More efforts are needed for a more inclusive agriculture, as sustainable global food security is dependent on the whole process, from food production to distribution, and women are clearly not sufficiently included in this value chain.

Equal access to land

Despite being responsible for between 60 and 80 percent of food production in developing countries[4], women rarely have access to or control over land. This jeopardizes their chances to use the land or its outputs effectively, for example for income generation or as collateral for credit.

More on access to land.

Also related: Women's access to land in sub-Saharan Africa, and Women and land tenure.

Equal access to markets

Due to the lack of information, education or capacity, women also have limited access to markets, and therefore they are unable to compete with larger producers, especially in a globalising context.

Create your article on women's access to markets.

A case-study: Liberian women and the agricultural sector

Key facts

  • Women make more than half of the agricultural labour force and about two-thirds of the trade and commerce labour force in Liberia, and a significant proportion of women work in smallholder agriculture or in informal non-agricultural sectors, such as trading and small-scale processing.
  • Also, twice as many women as men work in agroprocessing activities and the play a key role in linking rural and urban areas through their associations and informal networks.
  • Finally, women are reported to produce over 60 percent of the agricultural output[5].

Agricultural subsectors

  • Rice is the key staple in Liberia, followed by cassava.
  • Tree crops (such as rubber, cocoa and coffee) are also important as they account for 22 percent of GDP (in 2005) and represent an important share of export earnings.[6]
  • In contrast, the livestock sector (which mainly includes cattle meat, poultry, swine, and animal health) accounts for about 14 percent of agricultural GDP, but it could be higher if women were integrated into value chains.
  • Finally, Liberia’s fisheries sector account for 3 percent of GDP, but boosting artisanal fishery would bring enormous benefits to all and in particular to women, who dominate fish marketing.[7]

The example of Liberia actually reflects the reality of many African countries, and shows that women bring significant economic contributions to their country in terms of agricultural work. In particular, women can contribute to breaking the household’s poverty cycle if the conditions are provided for them to increase their income, as this has spillover effects in ensuring food security: women-earned income in Liberia is spent on basic needs such as food and education (which is not so much the case for male-earned income).[8]

A civil society event: The African Women’s Land Rights Conference

Over 160 Africa women (women’s and land rights activists, organisations including farmer associations, pastoralist groups, women survivor groups, lawyers, parliamentarians and academics) came to share their experiences of “losing access and rights to land”[9] at a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, organised by ACORD, Oxfam and ActionAid from 30 May until 2 June 2011.

The main objective of the conference was “to re-energize the struggle for women’s land rights and access to justice and reparation as fundamental human rights and the basis for women’s empowerment, and improved food security and social justice in Africa”.[10]

Among the recent initiatives to address land issues in Africa, there were new land laws and land titling projects (e.g. Ethiopia[11]) and the African Union Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa. The conference aimed to build on these recent successes and enable more information sharing on the issue of land and food rights, through case studies and discussions based on the experiences of the participants.

A donor’s perspective: the Feed the Future Initiative

It is important that donors implement the principle of inclusivity in the agricultural sector. Reducing hunger and ensuring food security by increasing agricultural productivity needs to be done in an inclusive manner: through their programmes, donors need to engage with new actors, from the private sector to smallholders. Similarly, they need to address the whole value chain, from production to distribution, and make sure that women are involved in all stages of the process.

Feed the Future is the U.S. global hunger and food security initiative. It was born out of the G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, in July 2009, where global leaders committed to act with the scale and urgency needed to achieve sustainable global food security. They also recognised that price volatility, underinvestment in agriculture and the recent financial crises increased dramatically the number of poor and hungry and jeopardized global progress toward meeting the Millennium Development Goals.[12]

Feed the Future reflects the U.S. government’s commitment to create new economic opportunities for women at the same time as to address environmental challenges, therefore leveraging accelerated growth and sustainable food security. See below the figure for the results framework of Feed the Future:

Feed the Future fig.JPG

Furthermore, this initiative encourages alliances between donor and partner countries to set targets for investments, to monitor and evaluate them and to track the progress of all combined efforts; in this respect, the initiative reflects the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, the Accra Agenda for Action and the Rome Principles.

See also

Other progress-related articles


  1. Feed the Future At a Glance, from the Feed the Future Website
  2. Feed the Future guide, USAID, May 2010, p. ii
  3. Farming is increasingly women's business, by John Mackedon and Elizabeth Petheo, Agriculture and Rural Development Department, available on Genderinag.Org, 2 February 2010
  4. Action Aid “Securing women’s rights to land and livelihoods: a key to ending hunger and fighting AIDS”, Action Aid briefing paper, p. 7
  5. Gender aware programs and women's roles in agricultural value chains, a policy memorandum, prepared by the World Bank’s Gender and Development Group (PRMGE) in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender and Development of Liberia (MOGD), p.1
  6. Gender aware programs and women's roles in agricultural value chains, a policy memorandum, prepared by the World Bank’s Gender and Development Group (PRMGE) in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender and Development of Liberia (MOGD), p.4
  7. Gender aware programs and women's roles in agricultural value chains, a policy memorandum, prepared by the World Bank’s Gender and Development Group (PRMGE) in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender and Development of Liberia (MOGD), p.5
  8. Gender aware programs and women's roles in agricultural value chains, a policy memorandum, prepared by the World Bank’s Gender and Development Group (PRMGE) in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender and Development of Liberia (MOGD), p.2
  9. African women fight for land rights, by Marc Wegerif, Oxfam, 3 June 2011
  10. African Women’s Land Rights Conference Website
  11. Ethiopian Women Gain Status Through Landholding, The World Bank, 21 April 2010
  12. Feed the Future guide, USAID, May 2010, p.iv

External links

  • African Women’s Land Rights Conference:
  1. Resources
  2. Blog
  3. Website

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