How can we create food security and ensure strong farmer livelihoods?

It is so important to keep women at the centre of the work to change agriculture. They are hugely important to agriculture but face many more barriers.

o Women smallholders generally have access to smaller parcels of less fertile (more marginal) land. Their tenure is often insecure, so when they start making a success of their farming there is a ever-present risk of it being taken away.
o Women have lower levels of access to services (incl govt extension services, as well as private sector players such as input dealers and output off-takers).
o Incomes, access to capital and access to finance services are generally lower for women, so they have less money to invest in their agriculture.
o In many countries (but not all) social norms restrict women’s movements more than men – making it difficult for them to access larger markets and to shop around for buyers and inputs.
o Unpaid care work is a massive burden for women in terms of time and energy – and remains overlooked. This overlaps with issues around access to capital and/or services that could reduce drudgery – but there’s also that very fundamental issue of the gendered distribution of domestic and care work.
o 1/3 of women face gender based violence
We have also seen the power of innovative insurance approaches such as parametric insurance.

Unless something changes, there will be as many hungry people in 2030 as in 2015, when the world pledged to end hunger once and for all. The impact of the food shock is felt everywhere but worst in 48 low-income countries. Of those, about half are especially vulnerable due to severe economic challenges, weak institutions, import dependency and fragility.

A widening gender gap in food insecurity is evident. In 2021, 31.9% of women globally experienced moderate to severe food insecurity, compared to 27.6% of men, marking an increase of over 4 percentage points from 2020 when it was 3 percentage points.

In 2020, a staggering 45 million children under the age of five suffered from wasting, the most severe form of malnutrition, which increases their risk of death by up to 12 times. Furthermore, the growth and development of 149 million children were stunted due to the chronic lack of essential nutrients in their diet.

While the majority of undernourished people reside in Asia, with around 425 million people affected in 2021, Africa faces the highest prevalence of undernourishment. In 2021, one in five people in Africa (20.2% of the population) experienced hunger, compared to 9.1% in Asia, 8.6% in Latin America and the Caribbean, 5.8% in Oceania, and less than 2.5% in North America and Europe.

The risk of food insecurity is significantly higher for individuals living in poverty, particularly in areas affected by prolonged humanitarian crises. In fact, a striking 80% of those facing food insecurity reside in such contexts, with many of these “hotspots” for food insecurity being embroiled in armed conflicts. Resolving these localized resource-related conflicts often requires diverse approaches, including land tenure reform and the introduction of technologies to enhance food production and distribution.

In 2021, the food security sector received $6 billion in humanitarian funding, just over half of the requested $11.1 billion. The most significant funding gaps were in resilience building and long-term development. During that year, 193 million people across 53 countries faced severe food insecurity. While humanitarian assistance to these nations increased by 20%, per capita assistance dropped by 40% from 2018 to 2021, declining from $85 to $52 per person in crisis. Development assistance to food sectors in these crisis-hit countries also fell by nearly 10%, to $6.2 billion between 2019 and 2020.


Farming Must Deliver Regenerative Outcomes – reverse nature loss and support decarbonisation:

Conservation agriculture and sustainable agroforestry include techniques such as crop diversification, shade tree planting, use of cover crops, reduced tillage and organic fertiliser production. Together these methods are proven to improve crop yields, increase soil nutrient and carbon content, reduce erosion, improve water retention, and increase biodiversity.

Farming Must Reduce Inequalities – provide sustainable incomes and gender equity

Farmers economic risks and exposure to market shocks can be mitigated by improving farm resilience, remodelling markets that provide living incomes, ensuring that decision making forums are gender sensitive, and transforming policy to disincentivise intensive agriculture and incentivise regenerative agriculture.


Yes! Businesses can join other stakeholders including government and local stakeholders to ensure their solutions and investments are responsive to the realities of women’s lives and livelihoods.

Our team has identified more areas where evidence is needed about women’s work in the agriculture sector here: Climate Change & Women's Financial Inclusion - Women's World Banking


I think a critical and majorly undiscussed challenge on food security here is that the food trade is governed by a small handful of large commodity traders (E.g. Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Dreyfus) that exert unique power and influence over global food security and supply chains. These commodity traders are the center of gravity for complex, globalized and financialized food system, yet remain largely “invisible” in current food security, climate and nature policy debates.

This is partly due to the fact that only 8 out of the 15 largest commodity traders are publicly listed—most are privately owned (e.g. Cargill, Dreyfus), some are state-owned (COFCO), with a few important ones being publicly traded (ADM, Bunge) or about to be (JBS). These companies have effectively captured the entire supply chain, operating from farm level (landowners, selling seed and fertilizer), through to food and biofuel processing, storage, transport and food distribution. Their activities directly affect food prices and food security, access to land and water by local populations, and impacts on climate and nature both locally and globally.

Despite this vast public influence, there is very limited data on traders, their operations, their profits and their impacts. Governance challenges include poor market wide governance due to overconcentration, horizontally and vertically, perverse incentives rewarding nature destruction in land and marine use across ag supply, production, distribution and consumption chains, and information asymmetry, with lack of info on sourcing, pricing, distribution and nature impacts from production to supply chain and consumer market level. It strikes me that a really important goal for strengthening food security and ensuring stronger farmer livelihoods is goal is to require policy makers and regulators to strengthen governance of commodity traders’ roles and impacts across the finance value chain. You can read more about this in the new Task Force on Nature Markets Report launched in Belem a few months ago, specifically recommendation 4 in this report:


A1: Well, if I may play devil’s advocate slightly: one of the issues is that the business case isn’t fantastically well established. A lot of the business growth that has been achieved over recent years / decades has been built upon unsustainable practices that have led to negative outcomes for nutrition, the environment, equity, and so on. Sadly, we’ve seen that ‘working’ in a commercial sense while doing damage from a sustainable development perspective. That said, there are some business motives that exist at least in theory: greater supply chain resilience, more productive workforces, stronger communities throughout the value chain leading to improvements on both the supply and demand side… but these are, admittedly, much harder to quanify in this year’s annual report, or Q4 earnings.

In my view, it’s the job of the development community to show how doing well by doing good is possible - and to work with front-runners in the business community to do so.


Hello everyone, this is Rohini Saran from PATH. I am the Program advisor - Nutrition for the South Asia Hub. Looking forward to the deliberation.


A1: Market Access and Demand:

  1. Agroecological Practices: Connecting smallholder farmers with markets through cooperative systems and digital platforms is vital in ensuring consistent demand and increasing profitability. This is in line with the findings of a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which highlighted the role of cooperative models in enhancing market access for smallholder farmers. These platforms not only provide a consistent market for agroecologically produced goods but also empower farmers to negotiate better prices and access value-added opportunities.
  2. Organic Agriculture: Transitioning to organic practices not only eliminates the use of synthetic inputs but also opens up premium markets for organic products. The Organic Trade Association’s data supports this, indicating that the global organic market has experienced substantial growth in recent years. By adhering to organic standards, African farmers can tap into this lucrative market, thereby significantly increasing their economic returns.
  3. Permaculture: Permaculture designs, which create self-sustaining ecosystems, yield a variety of products. This approach aligns with a study published in the Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, which highlights the multifunctionality of permaculture systems. For example, a well-designed permaculture system can provide an array of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even livestock, contributing to increased economic viability for farmers. These diverse products can be marketed to a range of consumers and markets, further enhancing profitability.


  1. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). (2018). Enhancing Market Access for Smallholder Farmers Through Value Chain Development: A Guide for Policymakers and Practitioners.
  2. Organic Trade Association. (2021). 2020 Organic Industry Survey.
  3. Mollison, B., & Holmgren, D. (1978). Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements. Transworld Publishers.

@DianaO @atambafelix @sarah.roberts are making crucial points – when businesses invest in and support food systems farmers, the impacts spread to environmental conservation, soil health, biodiversity gains, local food systems, family nutrition, and more!


The others that we need to be learning from are the farmers themselves. Farmers are experts on their own businesses, needs, and challenges. While governments, companies and actors can prescribe techniques that should enable farmers to build their resilience, each farm and each farmer is different. Hand In Hand has learned that focusing on objectives such as resilience or climate change adaptation in isolation does not ultimately lead to strong results. We should be supporting farmers to boost their resilience and adaptability to climate change as part of a more holistic interventions that empower farmers to decide what works best for them.


Adequate food is a human right. The deprivation or lack of food availability, accessibility, and adequacy may affect the exercise of other human rights and
negatively impact the well-being the agricultural business. For example, lack of sufficient, quality and nutritious food can have negative effects on the
health, quality of life, profitability and productivity of farmers and workers. Small-scale farmers and farm workers, despite being responsible for a large part of the agricultural production, are also one of the “most food-insecure and poorest populations”.
Climate change is also a factor that exacerbates food insecurity among small farm settings. One countermeasure is diversifying agriculture production and introducing sustainable agricultural approaches such as agroforestry to increase the “variety of food and income sources”, reducing the risks of chronic food insecurity.


Diversifying income streams – mono-cropping alone heightens risks. Households need multiple income streams to protect themselves and diversify risks from the effects of climate change -drought, flooding, disease, etc.


Oliver, yes, more work is definitely needed to show the business case. As advocacy organizations, we can elevate those businesses working towards this. We know that agriculture is severely under-valued economically and often politically. Women’s World Banking is working through Gender Lens Investing as one tool to really highlight companies trying to establish creative solutions that are profitable – our work with Pula Advisors is one. They’re an index based insurance company based in Kenya and are serving many smallholder women farmers.


Value chains – increasing value at the producer level – first stage processing, etc. as well as addressing barriers to market access. Interventions may more appropriately focus on infrastructure – such as improving roads versus direct inputs to farmers.


We have also been working on parametric insurance to support farmers who at at increasing risks from climate hazards particularly drought and and flooding. and drought and smallholder farmers find it very difficult to get insurance that works for them.
At Practical Action we have seen some excellent results from developing innovative forms of insurance that deliver for farmers who are vulnerable to flooding in the in the Terai, the productive and densely populated breadbasket of Nepal, home to many smallholder farmers, vital for food and income security
Practical Action brought together a consortium of insuretech support agencies, local stakeholders, and a Nepal insurance company to design and pilot a parametric insurance product that compensates farmers for paddy rice harvest losses, their most significant income generating asset, against flood losses, their most significant climate driven hazard. This scheme has expanded over the last two years and we are now working with other consortia to expand it to other river basins in Nepal and adapt the approach to other contexts in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Part of the reason we were able to do this was that Practical Action has been working in the flood prone Karnali River basin in Western Nepal for almost 20 years. Our work initially enhanced the local flood Early Warning System, generating not only actionable data delivered to communities enhancing trust, but also integrating hazard monitoring with information technology to generate a wealth of real time data on river heights and associated flood inundation areas stretching back almost 20 years. In addition, we have been using a participatory resilience assessment tool in the communities thus generating data on the relationship between river height and flood losses to paddy crops. This work identified parametric insurance as a suitable risk transfer mechanism in the target communities.

Once flooding occurs the scheme is automatically triggered, ensuring fair payouts for everyone enrolled with the scheme. Farmers do not have to claim individually, so there are no incidents of fraudulent or declined claims. To further streamline the process, payments are made to the local farming cooperatives who act as the group policy holder for local farmers. This means payments are made soon after a flooding incident, when they are most needed.
.Average pay-out times are less than 20 days with trust building with 70% of farmers insured in 2022 returning to the scheme in 2023 and increasing their land area covered at least three-fold.
Pay-outs are based on the level of the flooding and the farmers do not need to produce documents proving their losses. Another key change from previous schemes is that they were based on inputs (seeds sowed), rather than outputs (value of crops damaged).
Farmers are required to meet standards and maintain their participation in the early warning systems, protecting communities from future disasters - building resilience to climate change. This model for insurance schemes has been accepted at a national level for future expansion to other regions and its impact continues to accelerate as we advocate for similar schemes internationally

“I live in a community that’s often threatened by the floods from the Karnali River. Each year, we faced the heartbreak of seeing our homes and livelihoods washed away. But things have changed for the better. Thanks to a new insurance scheme introduced by Practical Action, our lives have transformed. After a flood, those insured receive their compensation promptly, allowing us to rebuild and recover swiftly. This simple approach has not only built trust but has given us a newfound sense of security. We no longer live in constant fear of the floods. Instead, we can plan our futures, invest in our homes, and dream bigger for our children. The community’s spirit has been uplifted, and there’s a sense of hope in the air. As a local representative, I’ve never been prouder to be part of this resilient community. With this newfound security, we’re forging ahead, optimistic about what the future holds."


The business case for delivering both farmer livelihoods and food security lies in the fact that farmers play a crucial role in ensuring food production and meeting the growing demand for food. According to a report by FAO, Climate Change poses a huge threat to Agriculture and food security. it is therefore important to invest in initiatives that enhance farmers’ capacity to adapt and build resilience. By supporting farmer livelihoods and food security, we can ensure the availability of a reliable and sustainable food supply, contribute to poverty reduction, and promote economic growth in rural areas.


Having done my devil’s advocate piece, allow me to present some more constructive thoughts.

  1. Investing in farmers means investing in the people who produce our food, steward the land, look after our water supply, raise animals, and have the most direct relationship with our natural ecosystems. We cannot achieve sustainable long-term growth without supporting and protecting them.
  2. Food security is a prerequesite to any other kind of health, development, or environmental goal.
  3. Small businesses, from farmers to mid-sized companies, are responsible for the vast majority of the world’s food supply, jobs, livelihoods, and a massive chunk of economic output. They are the engine of growth. Support them and we support wealth creation writ large.

And one opportunity: when we think about the concept of the True Value of Food, we can see how actually the costs of the food system are greater than the revenue it generates. Improving food systems will effectively save us money on healthcare costs and environmental adaptation / loss and damage, generate greater wealth through increased workforce productivity, and lead to overall economic development at the largest scale. If we can redistribute the money gained through that food systems transformation to value chain actors responsible for it, then we might see a real business case for better practices. Carbon markets and subsidy reform are a part of that - important, but not sufficient alone.

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Power in the food system is a slippery concept that changes depending on one’s vantage point. The CEO of a major retail chain in the global North might claim that consumers hold the real power in a system that operates from ‘fork to field’, driving the choices that savvy business people must make in order to stay in the retail game. A poor woman in Haiti left with no choice but to feed her children mud-cakes to fill their bellies might perceive that power is held primarily by those who distribute food aid after disasters. An activist advocating for greater food sovereignty might say that power is held mostly (or most problematically) by large corporations encroaching on the rights of communities around the world through land-grabs, water-grabs, and forced adoption of technology or quality standards that place farmers at a major disadvantage.

There are many different disciplinary, epistemological, and ideological entry points to the study of power. The aspect that holds these various perspectives together is the understanding that power is critical, including power over others and power to meet the goals of a household, organisation, or community, as well as the more subtle forms and spaces of power in food systems. Different understandings of both political economy and power can enrich each other: seeking a single approach will likely limit the insights that different disciplines and research orientations can bring to the study of food systems.

To understand the drivers of transformation and to investigate solutions to these embedded inequities, a reflexive approach that includes recognising the power of the analyst must also be part of political economy analysis. Transdisciplinarity becomes even more crucial in this context. The goals of transformation must be identified and articulated, and the value of different pathways towards those goals must rest on evidence produced by scientists and actors beyond the scientific community. The perspectives of these other actors are vital, as they include the people who will need to implement these actions.