You are here

Women play lead role in global food fight

In most American homes, women shop for and prepare the food that feeds their families. No easy task on a farm when time is short and seasonal work crowds out mealtimes.

But it doesn't compare to the challenges of women around the globe who spend entire days preparing meals. They walk miles to secure safe drinking water and harvest their food by hand from 3-acre plots.

Jacqueline Morette's visit to the U.S. last fall brought these struggles close to home. The central Haiti farmer (shown above) heads the United Women's Association of Pouille, an Oxfam America partner.

Infrastructure and earthquake damage dominate Haiti's news. A less visible obstacle undermines food security.

"As you might know, we have a big gender gap in Haiti," Morette says. "We seek to narrow that gap by improving women's incomes."

Closing the gender gap in Haiti and other countries isn't a do-gooder's cause. It's a matter of life -- and death. Although women own less than 15% of land worldwide, they produce 50% to 80% of the world's food.

"I'm thankful for training I've received, and that as a woman, I've been able to take part," Donalia Lungu, a Zambian farmer says through a translator at World Hunger Day. "I'm thankful because now I can feed my family."

Lungu was widowed in 1996, with four children to raise. She is receiving training from the Zambian Eastern program that works closely with the Foods Resource Bank.

Morette and Lungu visited Des Moines, Iowa, thanks to the World Food Prize Symposium's effort to bring farmers from developing countries.

"It's unusual for women to have a say," she says. "Because of this training, women are able to speak up and make decisions. They're trained in fish farming and beekeeping. They learn about sustainable conservation and how to use manure, crop rotations, and cover crops to improve the soil."

Lungu puts a face on the struggles faced by women in developing countries:

  • Seven of 10 of the world's poor are women.
  • Women own about 1% of the world's assets and have access to only 10% of the world's income.
  • About 60% of the world's minimum wage workers are women.
  • Women make up two thirds of the world's 781 million illiterate people.
  • Of the world's estimated 104 million school-age children, 60 million who are not in school are girls.

Many of these women are victims of war and genocide and live with HIV/AIDS. Unlike Duddeda Sugunawa, who grows 2 acres of rice and 1 acre of maize in India, most don't receive ag training because they're seen as farmwives, not farmers.

One of the recipients of the 2010 World Food Prize, Joy Luck, realized 20 years ago that efforts to improve crop and livestock management weren't reaching the hands-on farmers: women. As the executive director of Heifer International, Inc., Luck initiated Women in Livestock Development (WiLD). It complements Heifer's global efforts to enable poor farmers who receive help to pass on the gift to other families (Phone: 800/422-0474; Web:

Educational gains are being made in countries like Zimbabwe. In 1991, 67 girls for every 100 boys were enrolled in post-secondary education. In 2008, there were 97 girls for every 100 boys.

Building global food security is critical to world peace. Gender equality and maternal health are two millennium development goals. Investing in women farmers and improved farm methods would plant the seeds for a bumper crop of human capital.

During her visit to the U.S., Lungu spent time at the home of Sarah Beams in O'Fallon, Missouri. "She marveled at the microwave, clothes dryer, flushing toilet, and other conveniences," Beams says. "She was overwhelmed by our abundance of food at the grocery store."

As we take a fresh look at reducing global hunger, remember women farmers like Morette, Lungu, and Sugunawa. They literally are the ones who are feeding the world.

Read more about

Talk in Women in Ag

Most Recent Poll

Which device do you feel is most vulnerable to a cyber attack?