FAO in North America

In Focus

Feeding a Hungry World

Investing in Female Farmers and Cooperatives Offers Proven Solutions

October 13, 2011, Des Moines, Iowa – With a growing global population – which is expected to increase from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050 – investing in women farmers in developing countries pays significant dividends, a panel of experts said today at an event held in conjunction with the World Food Prize conference in Des Moines, Iowa. 

The panel also shared how supplying female farmers with successful tools, such as establishing agricultural cooperatives, can provide proven solutions in addressing global food insecurity.

The panel discussion was co-sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Land O’Lakes, Inc. and Women Thrive Worldwide. The event featured a high-level speaker line-up including:

  • Ambassador Mwanaidi Sinare Maajar, UnitedRepublic of Tanzania;
  • Peter Janzen, Senior Vice President – Law and International Development, Land O’Lakes, Inc.;
  • Florence Rolle, senior liaison officer, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO);
  • Mary Rono, farmer from Kenya and chairwoman and founding member, Koitogos Dynamic Dairy Cooperative Society, Kenya; and,
  • Ritu Sharma, co-founder and president, Women Thrive Worldwide.

FAO Report Calls for Closing Gender Gap in Agriculture

According to the FAO’s 2011 State of Food and Agriculture Report, closing the gender gap in agriculture would result in significant gains in the fight against hunger.  The report notes that if women in rural areas were given the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent, and have the potential to decrease the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17 percent, or 100-150 million people.

“The report findings, coupled with practical experience, make a powerful business case for promoting gender equality in agriculture,” said Florence Rolle of FAO.  “Gender equality in agriculture is critical to helping win the fight against hunger and extreme poverty, and to meeting the future needs of the world’s rapidly growing population.”

The FAO report documents gender gaps in access to a wide range of agricultural resources, including land, livestock, farm labor, education, extension services, credit, fertilizers and mechanical equipment.

Making Women’s Work and Voice Count

The current famine in the Horn of Africa and record-high food prices worldwide in 2011 highlight the urgent need to make long-term investments in agriculture and in women, according to Women Thrive Worldwide. Women comprise more than six in 10 of the world's hungry and are also responsible for feeding their families and growing the majority of the food in the developing world.

“There is no solution to the global food crisis to which women are not central.  Women sustain their families and communities but often eat last and least. If we choose to turn our backs on the women who have the potential to feed the world, we are dooming ourselves to a future filled with famine, rather than taking steps now to prevent another catastrophe like that in Horn from happening in the first place,” said Ritu Sharma, Co-founder and President of Women Thrive Worldwide. “We have spent decades underinvesting in agriculture, and especially in women.  This is the moment to fix that," Sharma added.  

Cooperatives in Africa Engage Women to Make a Difference

With 2012 designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Cooperatives, it is appropriate to examine the contributions co-ops have made in elevating the status of women in the developing world and supporting the work of farmers worldwide, said Land O’Lakes’ Peter Janzen.

“For the past 30 years, addressing food insecurity in the developing world has been a driving force for Land O’Lakes International Development, which implements programs that are mostly funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and have impacted the lives of nearly 3 million people,” noted Janzen.

“We believe that effective gender integration, and promoting a more active role for women and girls in farming around the world, both maximizes access to beneficial programs and optimizes their success,” added Janzen. We’ve seen the results first-hand.  Farming operations become more productive and profitable.  Farmers work together to access markets for their products.  And the income generated provides greater food security, improved nutrition, and a range of other benefits.”


Co-op leader and farmer Mary Rono also shared her success story during the panel discussion.  Rono is the chairperson and founding member of the Koitogos Dynamic Dairy Cooperative Society inKenya, which was established through the USAID Kenya Dairy Sector Competitiveness Program implemented by Land O’Lakes. 

Rono began assisting farmers in her community to collect and bulk their milk by establishing the Koitogos Dairy Dynamic self-help group in 2009, starting with only 15 members. In early 2011, support from USAID enabled Land O’Lakes to help Rono to formally establish her group as a cooperative, and provided training to farmers on improved production, breeding, feeding, animal care and many other topics. Through Rono’s leadership, the co-op has already grown to 350 farmer-members who are producing 1,050 liters of milk daily.


“Dairy farming wasn’t new to our community, but the idea of coming together as a cooperative was,” said Rono.  “As a result of working together, we’re now able to earn 10 more shillings per liter for our milk. We are hoping to pool these extra resources to buy a cooler so that we can milk twice a day, bringing even more value to our cooperative efforts. The extra money has impacted us a lot and more people are joining our cooperative.  Now that members have extra money, they are using it for food and schooling.”

Land O’Lakes has also led successful co-op development projects in Zambia, Ethiopia Malawi and Sri Lanka. For more information about these projects, visit http://idd.landolakes.com/stellent/groups/public/documents/web_content/ecmp2-0153469.pdf


Click here for more on the event or to view the webcast.