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Industrial agriculture is one of the leading drivers of the climate crisis , with studies noting that industrial agriculture accounts for 9.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) global greenhouse gas emissions. To decrease the impact that food production has on climate change, the environment, and society, food sovereignty is a critical solution to decrease emissions and mitigate the worsening impacts of the climate crisis. Moreover, food sovereignty recognizes the importance of Indigenous knowledge and traditional practices that have proved resilient in the face of climate disasters. Overall, through its focus on self-determination and sustainability principles, food sovereignty provides a framework for addressing systemic harms and implementing food systems that respect nature and uplift local economic independence. 

Since 2020, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Women for Food Sovereignty and Food Security Program has been collaborating with Indigenous and frontline women to grow nutritional food and medicinal herbs for their communities, advocating for political rights, and promoting sustainable foodways. In the shift from industrial food production, WECAN’s focus on food sovereignty supports community resiliency during cascading crises of climate, colonization, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coined by the largest international peasant movement, La Via Campesina, ‘food sovereignty’ is a precondition to genuine food security as it addresses structural inequalities through the promotion of self-determination and the human right to access healthy and culturally significant foods obtained by ecologically sound methods. With a focus on food sovereignty efforts, both social and environmental issues are addressed at the source. 

Therefore, food sovereignty is an essential strategy in supporting community resiliency and fighting the climate crisis. As the dominant food system is grounded in fossil fuel usage and extreme energy consumption, it also ignores food cultures which in turn fails to alleviate food insecurity. Alternatively, food sovereignty addresses issues of food insecurity through sustainable agricultural systems that embrace the deeply embedded cultural knowledge, history, and values connected to food. It also addresses structural inequalities within gender and power disparities.  

Due to gender inequality globally, women and girls are disproportionately disempowered and undernourished with current food production systems, despite the United Nations studies showing that women farmers feed the world, and are central stewards of seeds, wild harvesting, and agricultural production. 

Despite the enormous role that women take on in global food production, there are major inequities that must be addressed such as access to resources, safety, and malnourishment. Food sovereignty confronts these gender-power discrepancies to address food security at its core because it examines where the power is held within the food system. 

In alignment with the current food sovereignty movement, WECAN's Women for Food Sovereignty and Security program expands and strengthens the leadership of women in their communities through sustainable food production and developing alternative economies that uplift women’s food and economic independence. From garden networks, tree nurseries, wild harvesting, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and political advocacy, women are preserving and propagating plant knowledge, developing community-led economies, and inspiring solutions to present-day challenges.

​Please click on the boxes below to learn more about our growing regional Food Sovereignty programs and collaborations.

Why ‘Women For Food Sovereignty’?

  • Gender inequality can often be seen within food systems when looking at food insecurity as an estimated 60% of the world’s undernourished and hungry people are women and girls (WFP, 2009). 

  • While women make up 43% of the agricultural workforce, they face major discrimination in wages, land rights, government support, or access to newer technology. These barriers hinder how much food women in agriculture are able to produce for themselves and those relying on them. Studies have shown that if women had the same access to resources as men, their overall farm yields could increase by 20-30% which would in turn reduce the number of hungry individuals in the world by 12-17% (Patel, 2012). 

  • Women land defenders from various backgrounds (rural, peasant, Indigenous, native, African, etc.) feed the world as they produce 50% of the recorded food production in the world (We Effect, 2022). Women are the leaders of small-scale food production (We Effect, 2022), where much of the food they grow goes unrecorded because it is grown in small home plots and fed to their family or neighbors (Abo-Sido, 2022; Ashoka, 2022). 

  • In various cultures around the world, women are keepers of traditional and specialized knowledge of ecological processes, plants, and animals. However, with the increase in industrial agriculture and monocropping, biodiversity has decreased which in turn decreases biocultural diversity in food systems, specifically impacting women’s knowledge related to seeds, food processing, cooking, and more (IPES-Food, 2016). 

  • Gender inequalities often impact the world’s food productivity. In a recent report by the FAO, they found that a decrease in access for women to knowledge and resources and 20% less pay than male counterparts have led to a 24% gap in farm productivity between women and men farmers with farms of equal size. (UN, 2023).

  • International trade policies have failed to address global food insecurity as they have strengthened industrial agriculture and allowed large transnational corporations to control the globalized food market. This fails to address food insecurity because the majority of farmers cannot access their own local markets since they cannot compete with low market prices set by large corporations and the international price discrimination of import dumping. Only about 10% of the world’s food production is able to access international markets, and that 10% is mostly made up of major agro-industrial companies (La Via Campesina, 2023).  

  • Industrial agricultural systems are linked to the rise in zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19 and Ebola, due to environmental degradation, wildlife exploitation, increased demand for animal protein, and high amounts of chemical usage (UN, 2021).

  • When women are at the center of decision-making and when projects focus on women’s empowerment, food security improves. As studied by the UN, “55% of the improvement in food security in developing countries came from programs promoting women’s empowerment” (UN, 2022,p. 1). 

  • Industrial farming relies heavily on plantations and monoculture which inherently makes the global food system exceedingly vulnerable to environmental disasters (extreme weather, pests, viruses) (UN, 2022,p. 1). Women small-scale farmers, on the other hand, promote sustainable agricultural practices that rely on genetically diverse and climate-resilient crops (UN, 2022,p. 1). 

  • Food deserts, defined as geographic areas where residents cannot easily access healthy food options, are most commonly found in low-income, BIPOC communities and have a significant correlation to chronic health concerns such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and more (Food Empowerment Project, 2023). Food deserts have further associated health risks for women as it increasingly affects women who are already or who are trying to become pregnant. Studies show that pregnant women with lower socioeconomic status who live in food deserts are more likely to suffer from metabolic disorders which increases the health risks and possible fatality of their baby (Wood et al., 2023).

  • The FAO reviewed national agricultural policies from 68 low- and middle-income countries and found that few fully address gender equality and women’s empowerment issues, with 80% of policies not considering “discriminatory social norms, gender-based violence (GBV), or other intersecting vulnerabilities such as climate change.” This increases the risk for women in the agricultural labor force, especially when there is a high prevalence of gender-based violence in the workplace. In some countries, women may be forced to trade sex to access land or are exposed to GBV when traveling far to collect water. (FAO, 2023, p.128).

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