Agriculture and Food Security

Addressing key gender barriers to agricultural productivity and empowering women and girls across agriculture and food systems is vital to ending world hunger. The multiple roles women play place them at a critical nexus in food security, resilience, and nutrition.

Sector Overview

As women increasingly engage in food systems as entrepreneurs, women mostly remain concentrated in small-scale food processing and tend to serve local, often informal markets. Despite their important roles in food systems, women remain significantly underrepresented in leadership positions across food systems and in government, collectives, research, and the private sector.

Youth and older adults, LGBTQI+ individuals, persons with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, and Indigenous Peoples also face structural inequalities within food systems. As such, there is a need for more research to understand and address the ways that gender intersects with age, sexual orientation and gender identity, ethnicity, and other social and contextual factors to compound food insecurity for certain groups.


Food Security

Gender norms influence access to resources and markets affect how women and men participate in and benefit from agriculture and food systems. The difference between men and women farmers’ agricultural productivity (measured by the value of crop production per unit of cultivated land) ranges from 4 to 25 percent. Drivers of the gap include women’s lower access to education; land; labor; technology; productive assets; finance and risk management tools; extension services; and lower use of key agricultural inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizer. Partnership status, household composition, and social norms also drive the gender productivity gap in some contexts.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index has shown that poor access to credit, limited group membership, and high workloads are among the most pressing constraints for both women and men in agriculture, though women are more negatively affected. In addition, women spend three to seven times more time than men on unpaid domestic and care tasks, their disproportionate unpaid care burden resulting in more limited mobility and time dedicated to more remunerative work.15 Women are also more likely to have unmet demand for and limited control over financial tools and services. The gender gap in registered users of digital agriculture solutions ranges from 62 to 70 percent.

Women could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent if they had the same access to productive resources as men, reducing the number of hungry people by 12-17 percent globally. Addressing the restrictions faced by women-owned and -led formal and informal businesses and tackling the gender norms and power imbalances in household-level decision-making can improve the growth potential and profitability of their businesses. Likewise, evidence suggests that applying transformative interventions that engage men and boys, affect gender roles and norms, and address gender-based discrimination in policies and practices in agriculture can yield gender equality outcomes alongside increased food security and economic well-being for both women and men.


Empowering women and engaging men in childcare can improve diets, hygiene, and use of nutrition services, contributing to a well-nourished population. As women’s incomes rise and they have greater control over expenditures, child nutrition improves through better diets and health care. Women’s empowerment, specifically their involvement with agricultural production and income decisions, is positively correlated with exclusive breastfeeding of children younger than six months (one of the most effective ways to ensure a minimum adequate diet), positively affecting child health and survival. Workplace support for breastfeeding is necessary when facilitating off-farm employment for women. Engaging men in childcare and health may enhance bonds between fathers and their children, improve women’s and children’s well-being and nutrition, and increase couples’ joint decision-making and men’s well-being.


Gendered roles and access to resources mean that women and girls have less capacity to reduce, mitigate, and manage risks and stressors, such as natural disasters and outbreaks. Women and girls frequently act as “shock absorbers” in times of crises, eating less to leave food for others in their household. Women who work in agriculture and food systems may be more exposed to risk than men for many of the same reasons that women’s farm productivity is lower, that is, fewer assets, less mobility, and more limited access to information and services. Women who are forced to resort to negative coping mechanisms are exposed to further risks including gender-based violence. LGBTQI+ individuals may face additional risks and stressors and greater challenges mitigating and managing them, because in many contexts they have weaker legal rights and protections, are excluded from family and social networks, and have more restricted access to social safety programs.

Promising Approaches

  1. Promote women producers’ improved access to extension services, finance and financial services, seeds, fertilizers and irrigation (among other climate-resilient agricultural technologies and innovation), and markets through bundled programming.
  2. Enable women’s participation in diversified off-farm economic activities as processors, entrepreneurs, traders, and wage workers for more resilient and remunerative livelihoods in agriculture and food systems.
  3. Address discriminatory gender norms to promote more equitable decision-making over household and community resources, allocation of household financial resources, and roles in caregiving and workloads. Engage both women and men to promote positive nutrition behaviors, women’s education, and allocation of household financial resources to nutritious foods.
  4. Promote group-based approaches and women’s collective action, which enables them to attain greater access to financial resources, increased income earning opportunities and social benefits, and greater confidence and self-esteem.
  5. Promote women’s engaged leadership in decision-making, governance, research, and food-systems organizations at all levels, as well as in managing and governing land, freshwater, marine, and other natural resources.
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