November 16, 2021

How Sustainable Agriculture Can Lift Women and Their Families Out of Poverty

To celebrate the launch of the ICONIQ Impact Climate Equity Co-Lab, we're highlighting the three portfolio organizations lifting women and their families out of poverty by improving sustainable farming practices.

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Women make up nearly 40% of the global agricultural workforce. They are responsible for 50% to 80% of the world’s food production, yet they own less than 20% of the land.

This disparity is particularly acute in the Global South, where deeply entrenched gender biases limit not only women’s ability to own land but also their access to the resources and training necessary to sustainably farm the land. Meanwhile, unsustainable farming practices—such as overtillling, monocropping, and the overuse of harmful chemicals—can deplete the soil’s nutrients, resulting in lower crop yields and reduced income for smallholder farmers. This environmental degradation not only accelerates climate change but is also fueled by it. For example, warmer climates can result in decreased or more varied rainfall, further drying and eroding the soil. In response, farmers often increase their chemical usage which can further pollute the air and nearby water supplies.

Gender inequity in the agricultural sector is not merely a women’s rights issue but also an issue for rural development, poverty alleviation, and food security. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that improving women’s access to sustainable agricultural training and resources could increase food production in developing countries by 2.5% to 4%.

While these boosts may seem small, it can potentially reduce the number of under- and malnourished people worldwide by 100 to 150 million.

Providing women with access to the tools, training, and resources necessary to practice sustainable farming will not only result in increased gender equity, but increased food security, improved climate resiliency, and reduced global poverty.

This week, we’re proud to highlight three ICONIQ Impact Climate Equity Co-Lab organizations that are helping lift women out of poverty while improving sustainable agricultural practices that protect our planet:

  • Kheyti: Nearly 85% of India’s poor and rural smallholder farmers are women. In recent years, climate change has led to an increase in volatile weather conditions, resulting in extreme variability in crop yields. Smallholder farmers, particularly women, often have limited access to financial systems and are unable to invest in the products needed to increase their yields and income (e.g., eco-friendly fertilizer and tractors). Kheyti provides its sustainable, low-cost, greenhouse and drip irrigation system, as well as financing, market access, and implementation support to female, smallholder farmers. Kheyti’s greenhouse-in-a-box traps heat and sunlight so that crops are in a more hospitable environment for growth. They couple this technological solution with implementation support—training on sustainability from Kheyti’s on-the-ground field officers—and financial assistance in the form of flexible loan programs to increase the financial stability and climate resiliency of smallholder farmers in India.
  • The Harvest Fund: Most crops in Zambia are produced by smallholder farmers who live on less than $1 per day. Increases in extreme weather patterns due to climate change have made farming in Zambia more tenuous, leading to increased poverty and food insecurity. Farming cooperatives tend to be more successful and profitable, and—despite the fact that most smallholder farmers are women—83% of Zambian farming cooperatives are comprised entirely of male farmers. The Harvest Fund works with female farming cooperatives to serve women who are marginalized but have high potential. They provide training, supply farmers with agricultural resources, and aggregate harvests to help sell crops to buyers formerly out of reach. Through their training, they ensure that female farmers understand the effects of climate change and the adaptations and climate-smart agricultural techniques necessary to improve crop resiliency, such as using solar-powered water pumps and better fertilizers.
  • Ibtada: Roughly 23% of India’s population lives below the international poverty line of $2 per day. In the Rajasthan area where Ibtada focuses its work, climate change is driving frequent droughts and rising temperatures, resulting in lower crop yields, water loss, and reduced incomes for farmers. Women and girls living in Rajasthan are disproportionately impacted, as they are more likely to be smallholder farmers and face steep gender-based inequities. Ibtada trains women on sustainable agricultural and animal husbandry practices, which have been proven to increase climate resiliency and agricultural yields. They employ a variety of interventions—from school programming to community group education and credit provision—to improve the lives and livelihoods of India’s smallholder female farmers.
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