What did the Nutrition for Growth compact deliver for smallholder women farmers?

by 31st Jul 2013
Supporting women smallholder farmers like this one is one of the most effective ways to tip the balance away from under-nutrition and poverty. © CARE Supporting women smallholder farmers like this one is one of the most effective ways to tip the balance away from under-nutrition and poverty. © CARE

The leaders of the G8 came to the UK over a month ago and David Cameron hosted a ‘Hunger Summit’. While the summit did pledge up to $4.15bn (USD) to tackle malnutrition did it take the opportunity to boost public investment in the small holder farmers that feed a third of the world’s population?

860 million people who go hungry every day

860 million people who go hungry every day and as we made clear with fellow INGOs in the Hunger Alliance, CARE believes women small holder farmers are a pathway to achieve change. Small scale farming - typically under two hectares - provides 80% of the food for the market places and households across developing countries.

And women produce 60-80% of this food. So it’s not large scale agri-business on immense, prairie-crossing tractors that are the drivers of food productivity in countries where food insecurity is prevalent. It's women.

Our programme experience has proved to us that investing in the skills, the health and empowerment of women farmers and delivering agricultural services to them, is one of the most effective ways to tip the balance away from under-nutrition and poverty.

A CARE programme in Bangladesh decreased stunting in children by one third in just three years across 400,000 households, largely due to investing in women. We worked to improve their literacy and numeracy, helped them to create nutrition gardens so they could grow their own food and encouraged them to become active members of their communities.

In another food security programme acceptable mean food consumption score values increased by 30 percentage points in just two years, and the focus of interventions – from extension services to health and nutrition training? Women.

The Hunger Alliance’s recent investigation into smallholder agriculture found that empowering women, focusing on nutrition gardens and complimentary health, water, and extension service targeted to women are needed to ensure sustainable smallholder agriculture contributes to better nutrition.

Why does investing in women work?

Research by the World Bank has shown that women are consistently more likely than men to invest in their children's health, nutrition, and education. It is therefore women's productivity in particular that translates into better health and nutrition for the poor as a whole.

In the 25 years, from 1970, half of the decrease in food insecurity was attributable to improvements in women's status in society, in female education and in health. But gender inequality, power imbalance, lack of property rights or access to education, hinder their role in household decision-making. Women may account for 60-80% of food production in developing countries but they only receive 5% of small scale agriculture investment.

Women hold responsibility for both food production and childcare in developing countries, so focusing investment on the skills of women farmers is one of the most effective ways to tip the balance from malnutrition and poverty into good health and greater prosperity for them and their families.

And what did the Nutrition for Growth Compact say about it?

The Compact talks about the importance of focusing on nutrition. It talks about investing in agriculture and other sectors for nutrition. It talks about investing in maternal health to improve nutrition. But it doesn’t talk about women as the mainstay of food production in developing countries.

£2.7 billion pledged to directly tackle under-nutrition, £12.5 billion committed towards nutrition sensitive interventions. Investments may increase, but there’s nothing to say in the compact that this is in the right direction. Nutrition interventions can deliver excellent value for money - an average $15 return for every $1 spent on direct nutrition comparable or superior return to investments in irrigation, water and sanitation, or infrastructure, according to the compact.

So if well directed service interventions in agriculture, haven’t been directed at women until now, what would the returns be if they were?

Luckily there are still more eggs in the basket with other processes coming up that provide further opportunity to make this point: October’s annual meeting of the Committee on World Food Security will focus on smallholder agriculture, there’s the UN Secretary-General's Zero Hunger Challenge to ensure adequate food for all by 2025; and there’s still the target-setting for the post 2015 Development Goals.

So donors, decision-makers, tell us, what more evidence do you need?


Larissa Pelham

Larissa was formerly CARE’s Food Security Advisor responsible for providing technical advice on any aspect of CARE’s work that involves food security. Her role involved advising country offices on their food security programming; coordinating knowledge and response in food security with other NGOs and the UN system; and guaranteeing that CARE and others learn from how CARE’s work with climate change, adaptation and resilience, governance and private sector engagement impacts on food security, in order to continually improve our work.

Her previous work has covered research, programming and advisory roles across a range of NGOs, UN, multilateral institutions and think tanks. She has specialised in how social protection, safety nets and disaster risk reduction contribute to food security and poverty reduction. Her work has covered Asia, Africa and Latin America, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa and the Horn of Africa, in particular.