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Salt cured fish is sold at the Grand Marché in Lome, Togo

Taking Action for Women in Agrifood Systems

By Dina Esposito, Feed the Future Deputy Coordinator for Development and USAID Global Food Crisis Coordinator

Taking Action for Women in Agrifood Systems

By Dina Esposito, Feed the Future Deputy Coordinator for Development and USAID Global Food Crisis Coordinator

Women have always worked in agrifood systems, but these systems have not always worked for women. That’s because barriers have stood in their way, preventing them from making their fullest contributions. Furthermore, we know that those contributions are significant in helping to end hunger and widespread in benefiting their families, communities and even entire economies.

Last year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) “Status of Women in Agrifood Systems” report showed us just how slow progress has been in closing the gender gap in agriculture over the past decade. Women’s productivity has plateaued. Their access to irrigation, livestock, land ownership and extension services has barely budged over the past decade. Also, they are facing these challenges at a time of immense global shocks. But the report also underscored the enormous opportunity right in front us — if we adjust our approach. One key finding that I keep going back to is this: If women in the agrifood system had access to the same services as men — not more, just the same — we could achieve a $1 trillion jump in global gross domestic product and reduce food insecurity for 45 million people globally. This should be a clear call to action for all of us. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do.

Inspired by the report’s findings, USAID launched a new commitment – Generating Resilience and Opportunities for Women – last year. Known as GROW, it doubles our annual investments in gender equity and women’s empowerment in our food and water security programs to $335 million a year, beginning this year. Through three pillars, GROW will tackle urgent challenges women are facing in food and water systems, including climate change, while unlocking opportunities for them to advance economically – ultimately benefiting their families, communities and societies at large through improved food security, resilience and economic growth.

Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger initiative led by USAID, is also contributing roughly one-third of the $1 billion invested annually to efforts that directly contribute to women’s economic empowerment. Part of this investment is through the Feed the Future Innovation Labs, where researchers from more than 20 American universities work in partnership with national research systems to co-create innovations, tools and approaches to sustainably reduce global hunger, poverty and malnutrition. Over the last decade, Innovation Labs have helped to build professional skills for over 100,000 women and provided graduate education and training for nearly 2,000 others.

Bangladeshi woman prepares dairy products

Last October at the World Food Prize in Iowa, I was pleased to announce the new Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Cereals and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Irrigation and Mechanization Systems. I also announced a collaborative effort between the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Animal Health that will focus on the zoonotic disease Brucellosis, which can have devastating impacts on pregnant women and drastically impact the livelihoods of pastoralists and farmers.

I’m proud of USAID’s work under GROW and other initiatives to support women in food systems and our recent efforts to set clear and ambitious targets to hold ourselves accountable to driving greater change. In addition to the GROW specific targets, Feed the Future has also set the goal of ensuring parity between men and women in our programs when it comes to their access to finance. I encourage other organizations to also take stock and set ambitious targets to advance gender equity and women’s empowerment in agrifood systems. USAID looks forward to sharing lessons learned and tracking progress in collaboration with our partners to assure that the next FAO stocktaking report is a celebration of progress.

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