The hunger crisis is about gender
2022 has already been a year of food insecurity for millions around the world, made worse by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
And, while the grain leaving Ukraine is helping alleviate food insecurity in some countries, it is nowhere what is needed to fully address a worsening global hunger crisis — one that threatens to roll back decades of progress we have made in addressing food insecurity, malnutrition, poverty, and gender inequality.
We need to do more, and we have a choice and a chance now to act to help millions of farmers around the globe prepare for what is likely to be a disappointing harvest year and beyond.
The set of actions needed to address the crisis is extensive and diverse, but among the most immediate and impactful is a coordinated effort to get resources now — fertilizer, fuel, and market connections for this harvest season — to farming communities across the globe so they are not facing the prospects of barren fields, paltry yields, and food they cannot successfully harvest in the fall.
This is especially true for women farmers who comprise 50-60 percent of the agricultural labor force in low-income countries.
Yet these women are systemically denied equal access to seeds, fertilizer, fuel, information, and other critical inputs even in the best of years. They are frequently excluded from programs and trainings designed to support farmers and increase their yields. As a result, their productivity is slashed by up to 30 percent.
When tough times hit, things get even worse. As resources become increasingly scarce and prices go up, women farmers are the first to lose what little access they had, ultimately further driving down food production and driving up hunger and malnutrition.
An analysis by CARE found 150 million more women than men were hungry in 2021. This news reaffirms that hunger is not just about food. It is about access to food. And access to food is a function of gender — especially in times of crisis.
So, what is stopping us from supporting women farmers? One of the greatest barriers to agricultural development — and by extension, the strength and resilience of our entire global food supply chain — is an issue virtually absent from the current headlines around the crisis: gender inequality.
Since 2019, our organizations have been working together to help hundreds of thousands of women farmers gain access to the resources they need to increase productivity. We have seen firsthand the impact that empowering women can have on creating more secure supply chains and a more sustainable food system.
Moreover, prior to the conflict in Ukraine, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) estimated that eliminating gender inequality in agriculture alone would feed up to an additional 150 million people—17 percent of the hungry people in the world. Now, the need, and the potential impact of addressing this imbalance is only more acute since Ukraine’s pre-invasion food production fed 400 million people.
To do this, the world must come together now — with decisive action and bold leadership from wealthy, industrialized nations — to prevent the worst food crisis in modern times. We are already seeing emergency aid being mobilized to get food, cash, and other forms of support to hungry communities, and this is critical. But, with worst impacts still to come, and we must move fast to prevent this crisis from ballooning into a multi-year catastrophe. We must quickly mobilize resources to support farmers in developing nations — with special focus on women farmers — so that we do not lose this year’s harvest and so we can prepare for next year.
National governments have a role to play too — ensuring that agriculture programs and emergency measures put women farmers at the center, and make sure women do not get locked out of producing desperately needed food. Food and agriculture companies need to invest in women producers and suppliers.
We also need a commitment to diplomacy to keep international trade systems open, diversified, fair, and market oriented, so farmers throughout the world have access to the inputs they need and those facing hunger and malnutrition have access to affordable food.
Over the long term, this must be expanded into a more concerted effort to make food systems more resilient, diversifying domestic food production, and building the necessary market infrastructure to revitalize food processing and trade at the local and regional levels.
Throughout all these efforts, our actions must put women at the center. Remaining blind to gender inequality only serves to further reduce agricultural productivity, leaves more people hungry, drives food costs up higher, and leaves hard-working women farmers and their families in a perpetually unequal and disadvantaged state.
At the end of the day this is a global crisis, and just as disruptive and threatening as COVID-19 was, and we must act with the same urgency to respond. At its core, hunger is a gender inequality issue. If we are going to feed the world, we are going to have to sow the seeds of empowering women farmers now.
Michelle Nunn is CARE CEO and C.D. Glin is Global Head of Philanthropy & VP at PepsiCo Foundation.