Food is as important to a culture as language. It’s a tool for communication, a source of social engagement, the foundation for many religious practices, and a platform for human expression. And understanding the culture of food means understanding women’s role in food systems across the world.
While women make up more than half of the world’s population and nearly half of its farmers, their contributions to agriculture are at best largely unnoticed and at worst almost universally ignored.
“As goes the fate of women, so goes the fate of the world,” write the authors of Nourished Planet, a new book out this month from the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition and edited by me, Danielle Nierenberg, president of the nonprofit Food Tank.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), if women farmers had equal access to resources—land, credit, education, extension services—these workers could increase their food production by 20 to 30 percent and lift as many as 150 million people out of hunger and food insecurity. With about 815 million people going hungry worldwide, that’s no small number.
Women make significant contributions to agricultural production, rural economies, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management; and building resilience to climate change. Their activities typically include sowing and harvesting crops, caring for livestock, processing and preparing food, collecting fuel and water, engaging in trade and marketing, and caring for family members’ nutritional needs. This is all in addition to their role as primary caretakers for their households.
Nourished Planet highlights women across the world that are making monumental change in the food system, from female PhD students in Jamaica developing workshops for small farmers on climate-adaptive irrigation strategies, to women dairy farmers in Ghana starting a co-op to pay for their children’s healthcare and education.
Women need the same access to land, education, and inputs that men currently are offered.
To find these, policymakers, community leaders, and elders need to value the work of women and youth, not only as farmers and food producers but as nutritional gatekeepers, caretakers of rich agricultural traditions, and stewards of the land and biodiversity.
Creating a more sustainable food system means not only acknowledging women’s pivotal role in nourishing our planet, but also uplifting women in their current efforts and potential to be pioneers of change. Click here to read more and order the Nourished Planet