• Opinion
  • December 21, 2018
  • 7 minutes
  • 1

Want a $31 return on every dollar invested? Invest in women farmers

Opinion: No country in the world has yet managed to close the gender gap

women farmers

This opinion piece was written by Whitney Adams and Emily Janoch from CARE. For more like this, see our rural policy newsfeed.


In 2012, FAO estimated that getting women farmers access to the same resources, tools and training as men could lower the number of hungry people in the world by up to 150 million.

It’s easy to say, but harder to do. Women farmers face a number of barriers — including restricted mobility, lower income and less attention from agriculture training agents. No country in the world has yet managed to close the gender gap.

Inspired by this challenge, and a deep commitment to women’s empowerment, in 2012 CARE and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation started the Pathways project that tried to close the gap for women. The results prove that focusing on women farmers and women’s empowerment is not only possible, but also that it has promising impacts in production, food security and equality.

Focusing on women farmers has promising impacts in production, food security and equality

According to communities in Ghana, Malawi and Mali, the Pathways program generated $158 million worth of benefits in their lives. That’s $31 of benefit for every dollar the project spent working with them.

Not convinced this is a big deal? The average small business in the US gets $1.38 in return for every dollar invested.

Pathways worked in six countries with the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to pilot the Farmer’s Field and Business School model. The model works not just on agricultural techniques, but also women’s empowerment, couples’ dialogues and business skills for families.

CARE partnered with the New Economics Foundation (NEF) to figure out not just what impact we were having, but how much it cost. NEF created counterfactual groups — that is, similar groups that had not been in the project — to compare Pathways’ impact to what might have happened with no interventions. In many cases, comparison groups were worse off in 2016 than they had been in 2012.

The $31 return is calculated in total benefits to the community — both direct program participants, their families and their neighbours. In fact, about 25% of the benefit is in spillover effects to farmers, businesses and government actors who weren’t a part of the program.

The evaluators can’t say which component had the biggest impact, because the integrated approach is what made the whole program work. The project looked at production, markets, nutrition, gender equality and climate resilience — and all those pieces together made the impact.

While the holistic nature of the program was a big part of its success, communities were pretty specific about the benefits they received. People said that of the total benefit they received, $13 worth (42%) was an increase in their food security. This was partly a result of better diets, partly because more was food available to them and partly because income increases allowed them to buy more food in the market.

Production and income were benefits on their own, but they were also key levers in the story of women’s empowerment

Incomes also increased — an average of $217 in Mali to a $545 in Ghana.

Production and income were benefits on their own, but they were also key levers in the story of women’s empowerment. Women often said that productivity and income gains gave them the platform they needed to expand their rights and roles. Once they got more access and more resources, they could move into leadership roles.

Of the total return on investment, communities said that 37% (about $11 worth) was due to the rise in women’s empowerment. Working with men, communities and the larger enabling environment were another key component of the project. Couple’s dialogues and changing social norms were part of how women were able to be more successful.

Women changed their ideas of what they could do. As a woman in Ghana told evaluators, “Women’s empowerment is when a woman is able to take bold decisions and can do things to help herself and even other women in a community.”

Pathways not only provided proof that focusing on women farmers does reduce the number of hungry people — along with a variety of other benefits — but also that there are practical tools to reach women farmers and close the gap.

Setting up women’s producer groups, working with extension agents to connect them to more women and working with the community to create more space for women leaders are all techniques that proved successful to help women build their skills and get access to the tools they need to be successful.

Check out the full study here. Or, you can look at the other Pathways information here.

(Picture credit: Flickr/CIAT)

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