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ActionAid publication ‘Failing the rural poor: Aid, agriculture and the Millennium Development Goals’ highlights the particularly harsh effect of the current global food crisis on rural women

The 2008 report by ActionAid suggests that, since women and girls are overrepresented among poor and excluded people, the food crisis is having a particularly harsh impact on them.  According to the FAO, even before the current crisis women made up 60% of the chronically hungry.

The report states that ‘hunger is the violation of the right to food’, resulting from gross inequality:
• in ownership and access to arable land and water resources;
• in access to public goods such as infrastructure – irrigation, roads and energy;
• in access to markets, credit, information, training and extension facilities and services;
• in access to education, health and social protection;
• in access to legal, political and economic decision-making processes, offices and the powerful people who control them.
And since women and girls are particularly discriminated against and excluded in all these areas, they become disproportionately represented among hungry people.

To date, large amounts of aid has been used to promote liberalisation under structural adjustment programmes rather than providing direct support to smallholder farmers.  For ActionAid, policy reforms in agriculture have been particularly detrimental to food security due to the failure to recognise that food systems in rural areas depend on both income earned from selling crops as well as subsistence farming. Women are mainly responsible for subsistence crop farming, but this is all-too-often viewed as household work, and as such does not receive adequate investment as it is viewed outside of conventional economic activity.

Previously poor aid administration has meant that when a farmer is mentioned in project documents, it is difficult to tell whether a male or female farmer is being discussed. In addition, weak policy processes have meant that organisations representing women and rural poor people have often found it difficult to influence policy negotiations at country

The report makes several recommendations to governments and aid donors. Whilst it is widely recognised that smallholder farmers are central to the solution for the food crisis and the long-term problems of poverty and hunger, this is yet to be reflected in donor and government policy. Providing a platform for smallholders to increase their productivity and output will necessarily entail tackling the huge inequalities in land ownership and distribution that exist in most countries. The report concludes that land reform, particularly to benefit women, must become a vital component of agricultural policy and aid in the future.

The original report can be viewed at