Imagine a scenario where every person in the United States, Canada, and Mexico went to bed hungry each night. Then double it. That’s about how many people around the world suffer from chronic hunger—a staggering 821 million souls.
Children are hit particularly hard: more than 150 million kids suffer permanent harm from not being able to eat the right kinds of food.
Unfortunately, after decades of progress, things are now getting worse, not better. The number of chronically hungry people in the world is increasing. Because of climate change, up to 600 million more people are at risk of hunger by 2080 and 25 million more children could be malnourished by the middle of the century. A changing climate and environmental degradation, coupled with farmers’ lack of access to resources, information and market connections, all conspire to keep families mired in poverty.
If we are to succeed in tackling this enormous global challenge, it’s essential that we address one of the main causes of food insecurity — gender inequality.
Playing a vital role in global food production and the way families eat, women farmers’ contributions are largely unacknowledged and unappreciated. Women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor force and are responsible for the overwhelming majority – nearly 90 percent – of household food preparation. Too often, they lack access to necessary information, resources, and support. If they had it, as many as 150 million fewer people would go to bed hungry every night.
But I have seen the transformation that can happen in communities when women farmers have access to information and resources. In Chimaltenango, I met Maria who shared her story of converting a rented plot of land into an income producing field as a result of crop rotation and fertilizing strategies learned through CARE in Guatemala. She hired other women to help farm the beans, tomatoes and sugar peas, which became the source of a lot of jokes from the men farming nearby fields. “They stopped laughing at us when our fields brought in more than theirs and we were making more money than they were!” And the men really stopped laughing when Maria was able to purchase the land. I’ve seen these kinds of stories from Guatemala to Malawi. They demonstrate, again and again, the resilience and power of women to change not only their own futures, but breaking the cycle of poverty for generations to come.
Through She Feeds the World, our global programmatic framework to improve the food security and nutrition of poor rural households, CARE is developing, testing, and scaling impactful approaches to strengthen women farmers’ capacities. We work directly with women like Maria to build their skills and confidence in sustainable agriculture, market engagement, gender equality, and food and nutrition security. We also work with men and boys to help unburden women by: assisting them with various domestic tasks, ending violence in the household, and including women in decisions related to the use of household income and productive assets (e.g. seeds, livestock, agricultural production, etc.).
The world we seek – one of food and nutrition security for all – requires action by all. CARE is deepening our engagement in advocacy, particularly at the national and regional levels in the countries where we work, to advance policies that enable the scale up of our learning to millions of farmers globally. At the same time, partnerships with PepsiCo Foundation, USAID, UN Food and Agricultural Organization, Cargill, and many more allow us to spread best practices, tools, and breakthroughs in the field with programs around the world, ensuring women farmers receive the knowledge and tools they need to increase agricultural production and reduce hunger and poverty.
You too can act to support women small-scale farmers – to fight with them against hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. A mere one percent of the U.S. budget goes toward poverty-fighting programs, but that one percent is under threat to be cut. Learn more about it here and share with your friends, your family, and your elected officials that you support a strong US foreign assistance budget that keeps funding levels steady. That funding is critical to women small-scale farmers on the front lines of hunger and inequality. And it’s vital to U.S. leadership and to healthy futures for millions of children.