Stats and Facts

Food insecurity, malnutrition and undernutrition are major threats to the world’s poor:

  • Nearly one billion people today are undernourished. In sub-Saharan Africa, 1 in 4 people are undernourished. Nearly 795 million (1 in 9) people globally suffer from chronic hunger.

Reference: FAO (2015). State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI).

  • 34 countries in the world hold 90% of the global burden of malnutrition.

Reference: FAO (2015). State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI).

  • Malnutrition kills more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB combined.

Reference: FAO (2015). State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI).

Globalized industrial agriculture, poverty, climate change and gender

The intersection of commodification of lands, industrialized agriculture, climate change and gender inequality threaten food and nutrition insecurity worldwide:

  • Industrial agriculture is a major contributor to GHG emissions and loss of biodiversity.

Reference: World Food Programme. Women and hunger: 10 facts.
 

  • Every year, 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted or lost, an amount more than enough to feed the world’s hungry.

Reference: World Food Programme. Women and hunger: 10 facts.
 

  • In developing countries, 79% of economically active women spend their working hours producing food through agriculture. Women are 43% of the farming work force.

Reference: World Food Programme. Women and hunger: 10 facts.

  • Global warming is projected to reduce agricultural production by 2% per decade for the rest of this century.

Reference:: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2013). Climate Change 2014: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

  • Recently, there has been a wave of large-scale land investments in Africa from Europe, USA, UAE and Saudi Arabia representing biofuels, agribusiness as well as lumber interests, leading to loss of access to land for small-scale farmers. The negative impacts of these land acquisitions often hit women hardest, as a result of their pre-existing vulnerabilities driven by economic and social exclusion and power differentials within communities.

Reference: Madzwamuse, M. (2015). Economic justice as a site for women's empowerment. Open Society Initaitive for Southern Africa (OSISA);  Bracco, S., Antonelli, M., and Turvani, M. (2015). Foreign Investment in Land and Corporate Social Responsibility: An Investigation for Africa. Responsible natural resource economy programme issue paper 002/2015.

    • In general, smallholder farmers face barriers accessing credit or financial services. Within this already marginalized group, female smallholder farmers face 5-10% less credit than their male counterparts.  

    Reference: FAO (2011) The State of food and agriculture. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, p 38.

    Norms, food security and gender

    Social norms and gender inequality have important impacts on women’s food and nutrition security within households. WFP reports a close correlation between food insecurity and gender-based violence (GBV).

    Reference: Pattugalan, G. (2014). Linking food security, food assistance and protection  from gender-based violence: WFP's experience. ODI Humanitarian Practice Network

    When it comes to the provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance, the gender and generational differences of food security, such as the cultural and social context of access to and distribution of resources, distinct nutrition needs – particularly for pregnant and lactating mothers, and livelihood activities and roles – are pivotal to ensure equal access and avoid negative consequences:

    • In some countries, tradition dictates that women eat last, after all the male members and children have been fed.

    Reference: World Food Programme. Women and hunger: 10 facts.

      • The FAO notes that food distribution in refugee camps that fail to consider gender, often result in a drop in schooling rates among girls living outside of the camp, as they are pulled out of school to collect firewood and exchange it with refugees living in camps in exchange for food.

      Reference: FAO (2006). Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis for Emergencies  and Rehabilitation Programs

      • When a crisis hits, women are generally the first to sacrifice their food consumption, in order to protect the food consumption of their families.

      Reference: World Food Programme. Women and hunger: 10 facts.

        • Humanitarian interventions that radically alter gender roles, for example offering control over water and food distribution to women where that defines social norms, have been found to heighten tensions in gender relations and raise risks of GBV.

        Reference: Swedish international development agency (2015). Brief : Women and food security.

        • Customary laws and practices have led to insecurity of tenure as women can often only acquire rights to land through their husbands and male relatives.

        Reference: Madzwamuse, M. (2015). Economic justice as a site for women's empowerment. Open Society Initaitive for Southern Africa (OSISA)

        Gender roles and nutrition

        Evidence points to the important role of women – particularly as mothers – for child nutrition outcomes:

        • Malnourished mothers are more likely to give birth to underweight babies. Underweight babies are 20% more likely to die before the age of five.

        Reference: World Food Programme. Women and hunger: 10 facts.

          • Around half of all pregnant women in developing countries are anemic. This causes around 110,000 deaths during childbirth each year.

          Reference: World Food Programme. Women and hunger: 10 facts.

            • Breastfeeding is recognized as an important protection mechanism from diarrheal and other diseases. In humanitarian crises, where the risk of infection often increases, breast-feeding rates often decline, with potentially severe outcomes for child nutrition and health. This reduction in breastfeeding may be due to a multiplication of factors, including: maternal malnutrition, a lack of privacy due to displacement, uncontrolled distribution of breast-milk substitutes, the breakdown of normal social networks to help breastfeeding mothers, and the stress and disruption of daily routines. 

            Reference: Victora, Cesar, G., et al., (2016). ‘Breastfeeding in the 21st Century: Epidemiology, mechanism and lifelong effect’, The Lancet, 387(10017); WHO (2004). Guiding principles for feeding infants and young children in emergencies.

            Gender equality and food security

            • Education is key. One study showed that women's education contributed 43% of the reduction in child malnutrition over time, while food availability accounted for 26%.

            Reference: World Food Programme. Women and hunger: 10 facts.

              • Surveys in a wide range of countries have shown that 85–90% of the time spent on household food preparation is women’s time.

              Reference: World Food Programme. Women and hunger: 10 facts.

              Given all of this, levers for realizing food and nutrition security have important gendered implications – both for supporting women’s rights and enabling their leadership:

              • If all pregnant women had access to all of the nutrition they needed, over 800,000 infant deaths could be averted every year.

              Reference: World Food Programme. Women and hunger: 10 facts.

                • If women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30% and the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced 100-150 million.

                Reference: FAO (2012). The State of food and agriculture 2010-2011: Women in agriculture closing the gender gap for development.

                • The FAO reports that increases in women’s income improve health and nutrition for children within the home.

                Reference: UN Women (retrieved: March 2017). "Empowering women, ensuring food security and ending poverty."

                • In many parts of the world, women play pivotal roles in the use and management of land. In Southern Africa, for example, apart from being managers and producers of food at both household and community levels, women are also carriers of local knowledge, coping strategies and cultural memory.

                Reference: Madzwamuse, M. (2015). Economic justice as a site for women's empowerment. Open Society Initaitive for Southern Africa (OSISA).