Investments in this strategy aim to address gender gaps in agricultural value chains and increase the yields and incomes of women-run farms. This improvement, in turn, can reduce global hunger and increase overall economic growth. This high-level overview and associated metrics pack are intended as a gender lens complement to the Navigating Impact Smallholder Agriculture theme.


Dimensions of Impact: WHAT

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider the scale of the addressable problem, what positive outcomes might be, and how important the change would be to the people (or planet) experiencing it.

Key questions in this dimension include:

What problem does the investment aim to address? For the target stakeholders experiencing the problem, how important is this change?

Worldwide, compared to men, women perform a substantial portion of agricultural labor yet own fewer assets, such as land and livestock, and have less access to training, insurance, and key agricultural inputs, such as seeds, fertilizer, labor, and finance.

These inequalities lead women farmers to produce less crop and earn less income than their male counterparts. Investments to address these gender gaps could increase yields on women-run farms and raise total agricultural output in developing countries by up to 4%, reducing global hunger and poverty and increasing overall economic growth (1). Investments in this strategy can:

  • ensure women have adequate financing for agricultural production;
  • enable women to access technologies to increase agricultural efficiency and productivity;
  • increase yields of female farmers, reducing global hunger; and
  • raise income levels for female farmers and women-run farms, contributing to economic growth and alleviating poverty.

What is the scale of the problem?

Approximately 815 million people worldwide go hungry (3). Hunger is exacerbated by food waste, increasing use of crops for energy (including biofuels), and rapid population growth. By 2050, the global agricultural system will need to produce an estimated 50% more food to feed what will then be a population of nine billion (4).

In developing countries, women perform roughly half of agricultural labor yet produce 20–30% less than their male counterparts. Similar disparities exist in developed economies; for example, only approximately 25% of agricultural scientists are women worldwide (1). These disparities impact not only individuals and households but also food security, hunger, and economic growth more broadly (see Improving Food Security strategy for further guidance on metrics for food security and nutrition).


Dimensions of Impact: WHO

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider whom they want to target, as almost every strategy has a host of potential beneficiaries. While some investors may target women of color living in a particular rural area, others may set targets more broadly, e.g., women. Investors interested in targeting particular populations should focus on strategies that have been shown to benefit those populations.

Key questions in this dimension include:

Who (people, planet, or both) is helped through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

Indigenous Women: According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, indigenous women face triple discrimination in agriculture: for their gender, for their ethnicity, and for their socioeconomic status (5). Despite their substantial knowledge and experience protecting biodiversity, adapting to climate change, and varying nutritious diets, indigenous women are often left out of formal agricultural initiatives (5). Investments sensitive to their needs can help them use those skills to improve outcomes for them and their communities.

Low-Income Women: Some of the most abject poverty in the world is concentrated in farming communities, yet most poor farm families live in areas with high potential for agricultural development. Improving low-income women’s access to agricultural resources can greatly improve their profits from farming and food security.

Women in Emerging Markets, Especially in Rural Areas: Women comprise roughly half of the farming population in developing countries, and most individuals living in hunger worldwide are in emerging or frontier markets, where one in three preschool children is malnourished. Access to credit, training, and farm inputs is particularly limited in rural areas, placing even greater constraints on women, who make fewer decisions and own less land than men in the same areas. Investments to improve women’s access to resources in these contexts can improve their agricultural outcomes.

Women Who Are Unmarried or Widowed. In many countries, land rights are held by men or groups controlled by men, with women deriving (often tenuous) access to land through a male relative, usually a father or husband. Land is often inherited by a son or male relative upon the death of a parent. One study in Zambia showed that one-third of women lost their rights to land when their husbands died (6). Investments to facilitate women’s access to land can improve livelihoods, stability, and agricultural outcomes.

What are the geographic attributes of those who are affected?

While this strategy is particularly pertinent for women in rural areas of emerging markets, it can also be applied in developed economies. In the United States, for example, according to the Political Economy Research Institute, the gender gap in agriculture is among the highest in any occupation. American farms run by women generate nearly 40% less income than those run by men, after adjusting for farm assets, work time, age, experience, farm type, and location (7). 

Gender gaps in land ownership are widespread around the world:

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, women perform 48.7% of agricultural labor but comprise only 15% of agricultural land holders (8).
  • In Asia (excluding Japan), women perform 42% of agricultural labor and comprise but 11% of land holders (8).
  • In Latin America, women perform 20% of agricultural labor and comprise 18% of landowners (8).
  • In the Middle East and North Africa, women perform 40% of agricultural labor and comprise just 5% of landowners (8).


Dimensions of Impact: CONTRIBUTION

Investors considering investing in a company or portfolio aligned with this strategy should consider whether the effect they want to have compares to what is likely to happen anyway. Is the investment's contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How much and Who?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How can investments in line with this Strategic Goal contribute to outcomes, and are these investments’ effects likely better, worse, or neutral than what would happen otherwise

If properly tailored to the needs of women in specific communities, investments in this strategy will likely lead to neutral or better outcomes for female farmers.

How Much

Dimensions of Impact: HOW MUCH

Investors deploying capital into investments aligned with this strategy should think about how significant the investment's effect might be. What is likely to be the change's breadth, depth, and duration?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How many target stakeholders can experience the outcome through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

Roughly 1.6 billion women depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Increasing incomes and productivity will likely result in increased economic growth throughout their families and communities. According to World Bank estimates, growth in agriculture is, on average, at least twice as effective in benefiting the poorest half of a country’s population as growth in other sectors. This shift raises farm incomes, generates employment, and reduces food prices (9). For case studies on gender-related outcomes in agricultural investments, see ICRW’s Gender-Smart Investment Resource Hub.

How much change can target stakeholders experience through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

This strategy can increase gender equality, spur economic growth, and bring hundreds of millions of individuals out of poverty. In addition, more and better investments to bridge the gender gap in agriculture could reduce global hunger by as much as 17%, or 150 million individuals (10, 11).


Dimensions of Impact: RISK

Key questions in this dimension include:

What impact risks do investments aligned with this Strategic Goal run? How can investments mitigate them?

External Risk: Women will still be affected by gender biases ingrained in law or customary practices. Beyond land rights, inequitable treatment by gender may persist in family, marriage, housing, and inheritance laws, limiting women’s control of land and decisions related to agriculture and farming. Given gender-inequitable customary practices, engagement with and education of local officials and female farmers can help raise awareness of the gender targets and gender-equity laws that do exist. Such outreach can improve enforcement.

Stakeholder-Participation Risk: In countries with more pronounced gender inequality, women may be unable or unwilling to fully and openly participate as stakeholders in product or service design processes. Investments then risk being less than fully representational of local needs and desired outcomes, making product or service adoption less likely. Engaging community groups that may have knowledge of local needs, are already trusted by local stakeholders, and are confident in speaking honestly with investee businesses can help to ensure adequate representation of stakeholders’ needs.

What are likely consequences of these impact risk factors?

Failure to adequately address these risks could diminish the positive impact of investments or result in unintended negative consequences. For instance, increasing women's control of farming assets without adequately addressing concerns she may have for her safety as a result could lead to increased incidence of gender-based violence.

Illustrative Investment

Have a illustrative investment we should consider? Let us know!

Draw on Evidence

This mapped evidence shows what outcomes and impacts this strategy can have, based on academic and field research.

From the Field: Empowering Women to Improve Family Food Security in Afghanistan Wilcox, Clair Sophia, Stephanie Grutzmacher, Rebecca Ramsing, Amanda Rockler, Christie Balch, Marghuba Safi, and James Hanson. “From the Field: Empowering Women to Improve Family Food Security in Afghanistan.” Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 30, no. 1 (2015): 15–21. https://doi:10.1017/S1742170514000209.

The authors conducted a qualitative study on the University of Maryland’s Women in Agriculture Project, which builds capacity among female extension educators to work with vulnerable women to implement and maintain kitchen gardens. This paper explores contextual factors related to women’s food security and agricultural opportunities, describes key project activities and approaches, and discusses project success and challenges, sustainability, and implications for future programs.

Transforming Gender in Homestead Food Production Hillenbrand, Emily. "Transforming Gender in Homestead Food Production." Gender & Development 18, no. 3 (2010): 411-25. https://doi:10.1080/13552074.2010.521987.

This article is a qualitative study that presents the results of a long-running program developed by Helen Keller International (HKI), called homestead food production (HFP), which works exclusively with women in Bangladesh. It offers women greater strategic control over their mini-businesses, puts money from their sales into their own hands, and allows them to establish a direct business relationship with the market intermediary.

The Effect of Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture on Household Nutrition and Food Poverty in Northern Ghana Tsiboe, Francis, Zereyesus, Yacob, Popp, Jennie and Osei, Evelyn."The Effect of Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture on Household Nutrition and Food Poverty in Northern Ghana." Social Indicator Research, 138 (2018): 89-108.

This study examines the effect of women’s empowerment in agriculture on household nutrition—i.e. the availability of carbohydrates, protein, and fat—and household food poverty measured by monetary food shortfall. Overall, the results indicate that women’s empowerment positively influences nutrient availability and negatively influences monetary food shortfall. By decomposing women’s empowerment into its component domains, this study identified that the domains of Income, Production, and Leadership are areas for intervention to influence households’ nutrient availability and monetary food shortfall outcomes.

Gender, Assets, and Agricultural Development: Lessons from Eight Projects Johnson, Nancy, Kovarik, Chiara, Meinzen-Dick, Ruth, Njuki, Jemimah and Quisumbing, Agnes. "Gender, Assets, and Agricultural Development: Lessons from Eight Projects," 83(2016):295-311.

This theoretical research provides guidance for agricultural development programs on how to incorporate gender and assets in the design, implementation, and evaluation of interventions. All projects were associated with increases in specific assets or asset types at the household level, as well as improvement in childhood outcomes, but only half were able to increase women’s control or ownership of assets, and of those, only one, HKI’s Enhanced Household Food Production project in Burkina Faso, seems to have contributed to a reduction in the gender-asset gap.

Women’s Empowerment Mitigates the Negative Effects of Low Production Diversity on Maternal and Child Nutrition in Nepal Hazel Jean L. Malapit, Suneetha Kadiyala, Agnes R. Quisumbing, Kenda Cunningham and Parul Tyagi." Women’s Empowerment Mitigates the Negative Effects of Low Production Diversity on Maternal and Child Nutrition in Nepal," The Journal of Development Studies, 51 (2015):1097-1123, DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2015.1018904

The authors conducted a survey study in Nepal to investigate relationships between women’s empowerment in agriculture and production diversity on maternal and child dietary diversity and anthropometric outcomes. Production diversity is positively associated with maternal and child dietary diversity, and weight-for-height z-scores. Women’s group membership, control over income, reduced workload, and overall empowerment are positively associated with better maternal nutrition.

Decreasing Gender Inequality in Agriculture: Key to Eradicating Hunger Villarreal, Marcela. "Decreasing Gender Inequality in Agriculture: Key to Eradicating Hunger," The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 20 (2013): 169 - 177.

The authors argue that effective agricultural policies that are gender-sensitive will not only reduce the gender gap between men and women, but will also tremendously boost agricultural production, which will in turn significantly reduce chronic hunger and contribute to the attainment of all the development goals.

What Dimensions of Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Matter for Nutrition in Ghana? Malapit, Hazel Jean, and Agnes R. Quisumbing. "What Dimensions of Womenns Empowerment in Agriculture Matter for Nutrition-Related Practices and Outcomes in Ghana?" SSRN Electronic Journal, 2014. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2486810.

This quantitative study investigates linkages between women’s empowerment in agriculture and the nutritional status of women and children using baseline data from the 2012 Feed the Future population-based survey in northern Ghana. The results suggest that women’s empowerment is more strongly associated with the quality of infant and young child feeding practices and only weakly associated with child nutrition status. Women’s empowerment in credit decisions is positively and significantly correlated with women’s dietary diversity,

Women’s Land Rights as a Pathway to Poverty Reduction: Framework and Review of Available Evidence Meinzen-Dick, Ruth, Agnes Quisumbing, Cheryl Doss, and Sophie Theis. "Women's Land Rights as a Pathway to Poverty Reduction: Framework and Review of Available Evidence." Agricultural Systems 172 (2019): 72-82. doi:10.1016/j.agsy.2017.10.009.

This paper reviews the literature on women’s land rights (WLR) and poverty reduction.The evidence is strong for relationships between WLR and bargaining power and decision-making on consumption, human capital investment, and intergenerational transfers. However, no scholars have investigated the link between WLR and poverty.

The Role of Land Certification in Reducing Gaps in Productivity between Male- and Female-Owned Farms in Rural Ethiopia Bezabih, Mintewab, Holden, Stein & Mannberg, Andrea. "The Role of Land Certification in Reducing Gaps in Productivity between Male- and Female-Owned Farms in Rural Ethiopia". The Journal of Development Studies, 52 (2016): 360 -376.

This paper analyses the impact of a low-cost land certification programme on the productivity of female-headed households. These results suggest that land certification had a positive and significant effect on productivity, and that the effect is relatively robust. In addition, the results suggest that the effect of certification is positive and significantly stronger for female-headed households. In other words, land certification seems be associated with a significant increase in productivity in general and on farms belonging to female heads in particular.

Women's Empowerment in Agriculture and Household-Level Health in Northern Ghana: A Capability Approach Zereyesus, Yacob Abrehe. "Women's Empowerment in Agriculture and Household-Level Health in Northern Ghana: A Capability Approach." Journal of International Development 29, no. 7 (2017): 899-918. doi:10.1002/jid.3307.

This paper aims to examine the association between women’s empowerment and the health status at the household level. By assessing the data collected from 1,629 households in Ghana, the results illustrate noteworthy relationships between women’s empowerment, the household-level socioeconomic characteristics and the measure of household’s latent physical health condition. Results indicate that empowering women is associated with better overall health status of the household.

Each resource is assigned a rating of rigor according to the NESTA Standards of Evidence.

Define Metrics

Core Metrics

This starter set of core metrics — chosen from the IRIS catalog with the input of impact investors who work in this area — indicate performance toward objectives within this strategy. They can help with setting targets, tracking performance, and managing toward success.

Additional Metrics

While the above core metrics provide a starter set of measurements that can show outcomes of a portfolio targeted toward this goal, the additional metrics below — or others from the IRIS catalog — can provide more nuance and depth to understanding your impact.