Food security and sustainable livelihoods | ActionAid UK

Food security and sustainable livelihoods


In Andra Pradesh, India, a fishing community has been supported with tools and training to help women to become economically independent 

Photo: Poulomi Basu/ActionAid


Food security and gender

It’s estimated around 60% of the world’s chronically hungry people are women and girls1, for many reasons:

  • Women are more likely to rely on the land for their food and income, made increasingly difficult by the changing climate. 
  • Women are, however, often prevented from owning land.
  • Women tend to face higher barriers to resources that would help alleviate food insecurity, including agricultural resources, services and credit.
  • Women are less likely to be in decision-making and/or leadership roles, which means women’s rights and contributions are often overlooked.
  • Gender inequality in the distribution of unpaid care work deprives women from opportunities for paid work, education, and political participation, all of which have a bearing on their food security and nutrition.
  • In times of food scarcity, men and boys often get preferential food access, meaning women tend to eat least, and last.2  

Women’s roles in the fight against food insecurity

While women are disproportionately affected by food insecurity, they are also on the frontline of fighting the issue:

  • Eight out of ten agricultural workers in Africa are women.
  • Six out of ten in Asia are women.
  • Rural women represent approximately two thirds of the world’s 400 million poor livestock keepers.
  • Women usually take the role of care-givers in the family — producing, storing, cleaning, cooking food for consumption – and ensuring that food, when available, reaches children first.3
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It has been estimated that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30%, in turn lifting 100-150 million people out of hunger.1

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What ActionAid does to support sustainable livelihoods

We work across some of the world’s poorest countries to help women develop climate-resilient, sustainable livelihoods, with which they can support and feed their families. 

Our initiatives include training women women farmers in resilient farming and fishing techniques, including soil conservation, crop diversity, seed banks and water management.

We also support women to access land rights, particularly through ActionAid women’s groups, where women learn about their legal rights and how to assert them.

And we run cooperative farming schemes, supporting women to access livestock, seeds and tools. In these schemes, for everything women sell, they put a percentage back into a communal fund, so all members can access food when they need it. 

Find out more about women’s economic empowerment

How climate change is causing food insecurity

As floods, droughts, typhoons and other climate-related emergencies become more frequent, and more severe, people living in the most vulnerable places are finding it even harder to farm and earn a living

Around the world, 500 million people now live in areas that are experiencing desertification due to rising global temperatures.1

The number of extreme climate-related disasters, including extreme heat, droughts, floods and storms, has doubled since the early 1990s.

These disasters harm the production of vital crops like wheat, rice and maize, causing food prices to rise and disrupting access to food.2 

The difference between food insecurity and famine

Famine is very different to food insecurity, and occurs when a food insecurity crisis is not properly addressed, or not addressed quickly enough.  

A famine is declared only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition and hunger are met:

  • At least 20 per cent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope
  • Acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent
  • And the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.

Find out more about famine and ActionAid’s response

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Page updated 24 April 2020