Women Farmers will Save Us

By Pierre Ferrari

March 17, 2014

Women Farmers will Save Us

Women farmers: The backbone of smallholder agriculture. They grow 60-80 percent of the food in developing countries yet own less than 1 percent of the Earth's land. Despite making up half the world's population, women have been marginalized in most societies throughout human history. 

What's it like to be a woman farmer, struggling to feed her family? As neither a woman nor a farmer, I honestly cannot say in my own words. So here's Brok Mom, mother of nine children, living in a hut in Cambodia.

Equipping women like Brok Mom with the resources and training they need to be successful smallholder farmers is what we at Heifer International do. The importance of their successes cannot be understated, for both their families and global community.

Enabling women to feed themselves and their children adequately is imperative. The health and development of the world's future generations can be affected negatively or positively through the nutritional health of their mothers. The 1,000-day window (between a woman's pregnancy and the child's 2nd birthday) is extremely vulnerable to the effects of undernutrition. Brok Mom's future grandchildren's health depends in large part on her ability to feed her daughters.

Heifer International has seen the value livestock adds to the health and wellbeing of impoverished families. For women farmers, owning livestock can be the difference between a family barely surviving and truly thriving. Animal-sourced foods provide protein, calories, minerals, trace metals and vitamins needed for maternal and child health. Extra income from the sale of surplus is used for improved housing, education and health care.

In great contrast to Brok Mom’s situation is the story of Arodia Uwimbabazi. After receiving extensive training and livestock from Heifer, she went from being a community outcast because of her HIV-positive status, to a leader everyone in the village trusts to care for their livestock.

Putting power into the hands of women farmers is essential if we hope to feed the growing global population. One of the key reasons there are so many hungry people in a world with 600 million farmers and herders is because nearly half of those are at a significant disadvantage because they are women. Women farmers, though equally capable, face challenges that cause them to grow less food than male farmers.

Women farmers typically:

  • Have less land to farm and probably don’t own that land
  • Own fewer farm animals
  • Have less access to improved seeds
  • Are less likely to get credit or insurance
  • Have lower education levels
  • Have less access to agricultural services

Providing livestock and training in its care to women smallholder farmers is largely how we will end extreme global poverty and hunger. The impact of empowering women farmers will have profound results: studies have shown that, if women farmers were on the same playing field as their male counterparts, there could be 100-150 million fewer hungry people. As we approach a global population of 9 billion, we can no longer afford a gender gap in smallholder agriculture.