Empowering women farmers to end hunger and poverty

In South Sudan, Oxfam trained producers in good cultivation, storage and marketing techniques. Elizabeth is now cultivating new vegetables. “With the money I make, I can send my children to school and pay for healthcare” she says. Photo: Tim Bierley/Oxfam
In South Sudan, Oxfam trained producers in good cultivation, storage and marketing techniques. Elizabeth is now cultivating new vegetables. “With the money I make, I can send my children to school and pay for healthcare” she says. Photo: Tim Bierley/Oxfam

About 80 percent of the world’s food is produced by small-scale farming. Women make up on average 43 percent of this agricultural labor in developing countries. They are the majority in some countries. In South Asia, more than two thirds of employed women work in agriculture. In eastern Africa, over half of farmers are women.

Yet, they produce 20 to 30 percent less than men farmers because they face two compounding layers of exclusion - as smallholder farmers and as women.

Equalizing this gap could boost agricultural output and decrease global hunger by 17 percent.

By working together, women farmers in northern Ghana are fighting food shortages during the long hunger season.

Mary lives in Goziir, Northern Ghana with her husband and six family members. Mary has benefitted from Oxfam’s projects to help small-scale farmers increase their crop yields, build energy efficient stoves and have access to small loans.

Last year she doubled her maize harvest. Now she wants to share what she learnt at the farmer field school with other women in her community. They already pool their money in a savings group. By working together, they are fighting food shortages during the long hunger season in northern Ghana. (Photo: Adam Patterson/Oxfam)

Gender inequality in farming: the barriers holding back women

Agriculture is more likely than other sectors to provide diverse opportunities for empowering women. However, women farmers are held back by barriers that prevent them from feeding their families and reinvesting in their livelihoods. They face restrictions related to their gender while also experiencing the financial struggles shared by all small-scale farmers.

  • Women do not receive the same support as men farmers do. They have less access to land, loans and machinery.
  • Women are heavily involved in domestic activities including caring, cooking and cleaning, which remain hidden economically.
  • Women are disproportionately affected by climate change and face greater exposure to climate risks due to the same barriers that reduce their productivity.

With the help of local women’s rights organizations, Nurlina, from Indonesia, has equal rights with the fishermen - and she continues to fight for all women to have the same rights.

Nurlina has been fishing since she was 12 years old. She learned how to fish from her uncle and became a fisherwoman to be able to provide for her mother and sibling. But in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, where fishing is usually done by men, she faced sexist comments and was stopped from being officially recognized as a fisherwoman.

But she didn’t give up. Now, with the help of local women’s rights organizations, Nurlina has equal rights with the fishermen - and she continues to fight for all women to have the same rights. “I told [the local government official], I can catch fish and steer a boat as well as the men. If you don’t believe me, you can take a ride with me.” (Photo: YKPM)

Supporting women farmers would help hundreds of millions fight hunger, poverty and climate change

Growth in small-scale agriculture is two to four times more effective at reducing hunger and poverty than any other sector, and women farmers are playing a central role. They produce a huge amount of food for their families and surrounding communities.

Yet, little action has been taken to ensure that they have the resources they need to improve their livelihoods, tackle food insecurity and build their communities’ resilience to climate change.

Governments must break down the barriers that are holding back women farmers and preventing them from accessing critical farming inputs. They must ensure women have secure land rights, and provide women with vital funding and support for farming and adapting to climate change.

Such support would protect their rights and boost their productivity. It would unleash the potential of hundreds of millions of women farmers to effectively reduce poverty and hunger.