Overcoming Food Security Challenges: Stories From Two Determined Women

Food insecurity disproportionately affects women and other vulnerable populations – and the situation is worsening with COVID-19. See how two determined women in low-income countries found creative ways to improve their incomes and their families’ access to nutritious food.

Women harvest peas in India

In 2020, 2.37 billion people lacked adequate access to food, which means one in three people in the world don’t reliably know where their next meal is coming from. 

Recent studies have shown that the impact of COVID-19 on developing economies will likely reduce purchasing power for sufficient, safe, and nutritious foods. 

In addition, restrictions in personal movement including stay-at-home orders and social distancing may decrease access to food even for those with purchasing power as the pandemic continues. 

N. Mangamma, a mother of two in Andhra Pradesh, India
N. Mangamma, a mother of two and farmer in Andhra Pradesh, India, tends her field

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by these challenges, comprising 60% of people who are food insecure around the world. This is due to a variety of factors, including:

  • Food production: Compared to men, women tend to have less access to, and control over, the resources needed to increase food production. Examples include high-quality land, technical training, and technologies from smartphones to improved seeds.
  • Income to purchase food: Social norms and laws can limit or restrict opportunities for women to earn income needed to purchase foods for their families. 
  • Household decision-making: Decisions about what to grow or what to spend money on are negotiated within households. In many contexts, women do not have as much input into these decisions as men. Women may have limited control over where they can travel to purchase inputs, access training, sell food products, or purchase food.

But many women are still finding ways to overcome these barriers, with the support of TechnoServe. 

A Smallholder Farmer in India Takes Food Production Into Her Own Hands

For women like N. Mangamma, a mother of two in Andhra Pradesh, India, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more difficult to be a smallholder farmer

Women in Andhra Pradesh, India, tend to their kitchen gardens prior to the COVID-19 pandemic
Women in Andhra Pradesh, India, tend to their kitchen gardens prior to COVID-19

Across India, a resurgence of the virus has made lockdowns more prevalent, and Mangamma only went out when absolutely necessary. 

The food supply chain was disrupted and many farmers could not even access basic commodities, such as groceries and common household goods. Wholesale agricultural markets shut down, severely impacting Mangamma’s earnings from farming. 

“The nationwide COVID-19 lockdown posed a severe challenge for small-scale farmers like me,” she recalls. “All my farm-related work was halted during the lockdown…The situation had me very worried – both about getting infected by the virus and about how we would sustain ourselves for the coming months.”

But a TechnoServe program helped Mangamma and her family take control of the situation. 

Empowering Women to Achieve Food Security

Since 2019, TechnoServe has worked to address economic and gender barriers for 17,000 smallholder farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India – including Mangamma – through a program with the Walmart Foundation.

The project aims to improve smallholder farmer incomes by increasing the volume of farmers’ produce, connecting farmers to buyers, and launching new initiatives like kitchen gardens. These gardens small plots of land near people’s houses are particularly important for women, enabling them to grow their own produce and maintain an independent source of income and food security. 

The gardens proved especially useful during India’s lockdown, with mobility severely restricted. To assist farmers affected by the restrictions, TechnoServe organized training sessions, distributed seeds, and provided support to over 450 women farmers from 20 villages in the region. 

“I can depend on my kitchen garden to provide vegetables for the family,” says Mangamma. “I can also save between $10.70 and $16.05 every month because I don’t need to purchase these vegetables from the market anymore.”

Feeling more secure about her family’s nutritional health, Mangamma now also sees her garden as a source of cash.

“Following TechnoServe’s training on organic kitchen gardens, I hope to expand this further and start selling more organic vegetables,” she adds. “I want to diversify and grow more varieties of vegetables and further scale up my kitchen garden.”

Though Indian farmers have recently faced additional setbacks from natural disasters and a surge in COVID-19, Mangamma is undeterred.

“Working hard is the only thing that allows me to put food on my children’s plates,” she says. “I feel that is the strongest motivator for anyone. I also want to see my children secure good jobs in the future and for that, I need to earn now so I can take care of their educational expenses.”

Read more about TechnoServe’s work helping farmers through COVID-19.

A Rwandan Coffee Farmer Finds Steady Income in Coffee Production

Food insecurity starts in the womb, as babies whose mothers can’t access adequate nutritious food during pregnancy are more likely to have low birth weights, or be delivered preterm. And single parents face even greater challenges, with their children disproportionately likely to experience food insecurity, according to UNICEF.

Coffee beans are dried and sorted while the sun shines in Rwanda

Athanasie Musabyimana is one of those single mothers. Forced to flee to a refugee camp during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, she once had so little food, she thought that she – and the daughter she was breastfeeding at the time – might not survive.

But they did survive, and returned to Rwanda afterward – only for Athanasie to face daily challenges that affect so many women living in poverty. When her husband died shortly after their return, Athanasie found herself struggling to earn enough money to support three children and her parents all alone.

She decided to turn to coffee farming for a better income. Working with TechnoServe, she discovered that changes to the way she grew the coffee could improve its quality and yields – and increase the income she earned from her crop. 

Look around, it’s all poverty. Coffee is what brings us money.

— Athanasie Musabyimana, farmer, Rwanda

“From TechnoServe, I learned better composting, better pruning, and how to use fertilizer for coffee,” she says. She also learned business and financial skills as well as ways to access credit to expand her production.

Soon, Athanasie’s coffee became good enough to sell to buyers like Starbucks. And in a few years, she had tripled her income, expanded her house, and sent all of her children to school. 

Athanasie’s concerns about feeding her family are now a thing of the past. “Now with the life I am living – I am not worried,” she says.

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