Women in Agriculture: The Agents of Change for the Global Food System

March 7, 2017

World Bank Group

Women are the backbone of the rural economy, especially in developing countries.  They make up almost half of the world’s farmers, and over the last few decades, they have broadened their involvement in agriculture.  The number of female-headed households has also increased as more men have migrated to cities.  As the primary caregivers to families and communities, women provide food and nutrition; they are the human link between the farm and the table.

As the global community works toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) -- among them, SDG2, which aims to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030 -- women can be the key agents of change in agriculture, nutrition and rural development.  With better access to information, training, and technology, women can alter food production and consumption so that land and resources are used sustainably.

For International Women’s Day, the World Bank is shining a spotlight on women who exemplify this year’s theme: #BeBoldForChange.  In field visits and projects, we have met women who are the change agents in their villages and communities.  Whether they work on a farm or in a lab, women around the world are transforming agriculture to be more resilient and sustainable.


Thanks to training programs that teach climate-smart farming practices, Kenyan farmers like Mercy Wairimu and Catherine Akinyi Owiti have been able to expand their farms into thriving, sustainable businesses. Wairimu has been a poultry farmer for 10 years.  “I used to have a few small indigenous chickens here and there, running around my compound,” she explains. “But then the Kenya Agricultural Productivity and Agribusiness Project (KAPAP) came. It expanded my mind and my business. I now have 1,000 birds.”  With the profits from her farm, Wairimu is able to send her three children to school and university.

Owiti chairs a women’s group that manages a farm where the community comes to learn climate-smart farming techniques that increase their harvests and their resilience to a changing climate.   At her own personal quarter-acre farm, the mother of five now produces six times more food than before by using climate-smart techniques.


Two out of every three Samoans work in the agricultural sector, rearing livestock, growing crops, or a combination of both. After a large drop in the country’s calving rate, new cattle were imported to boost numbers and improve the genetics of Samoa's livestock. Agnes Meredith, Chief Veterinary Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture of Samoa helped managed the project, which was the first time ever that cattle have been flown in from Australia  “I think [this project] is going to boost the calving rate up to 60 or 80%, hopefully in the next five years,” said Agnes Meredith. “We’re making progress and this is a new start, getting these cattle in. It’s really good for our farmers.”


Rozzana Medina has managed the laboratory of in vitro culture at Bolivia’s National Institute for Agricultural Innovation and Forestry (INIAF) for almost ten years.  Her lab stores the entire collection of Bolivian Andean tubers, among other crops. “We women show equal or even better capabilities for agricultural research compared to our male counterparts when we have the opportunity,” says Medina. “Increasing the numbers of women at INIAF will enrich the work of the institution.”


In Benin, Eugénie Faïzoun manages a multipurpose farm that is innovating agricultural and fish farming practices.  With 21 years of experience, Faïzoun is renowned for her expertise in fish farming, and she works with several institutions to train future fish farmers.  “I have already trained 227 individuals under projects financed by Japan and the World Bank,” she says. Faïzoun, who also chairs the Union régionale des coopératives de pisciculteurs de l’Atlantique, recently launched a project to expand her production facility.


“I am not a farmer myself, but I come from a region where farming is very important and employs many women,” says Fatoumata Bineta Diop, a coordinator for Senegal’s National Board of Women in Livestock Farming. Through events and training programs, Diop works to attract young women and men to jobs in the agriculture sector.  "It is important that older generations of farmers pass down their knowledge to new ones, and that new generations bring additional knowledge and techniques to keep the sector alive and profitable."

Côte d'Ivoire

Fufu, a starchy dish often made with cassava and plantain flour, is a staple food in Côte d'Ivoire and other West African countries.  Gnagne Hadiouwe Eliane, a biochemist at the Université d'Abobo-Adjamé recently invented a banana plantain flour for making fufu that has a longer shelf-life than others, is safe to eat and easier to cook. Eliane is just one of many agricultural scientists in West Africa working to develop new technologies and techniques to boost agricultural productivity and food and nutrition security.