It takes a village to feed a child

It takes a village to feed a child

The Alpacoma Centre garden is helping to provide sustainable food security for children in La Paz, Bolivia. It turns produce into daily meals for kids.

How do we create a future for the world’s children to survive, grow and thrive? It takes a village! By building strong communities today you can help create sustainable food security for all their tomorrows.

About 820 million people around the world – or 1 in 9 – do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life. According to the UN, hunger and malnutrition represent the number one risk to health worldwide, greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

A community-led, holistic and integrated approach to making economic and social change works to feed children today and creates an enabling environment for a food-secure future.

Strengthening communities from the inside out: A clear path towards sustainable food security

What does it mean to be holistic and integrated? These approaches hinge on coordinated activities across a spectrum of areas. Best practice points to two cross-cutting themes that hold the key to breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty at the root of food insecurity: 1) unleashing the full potential of women, and 2) supporting smallholder farmers to tackle climate change.

Equality for women can be the driving force for sustainable food security 

“When you invest in a man, you invest in an individual. When you invest in a woman, you invest in a community,” said International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) president Kanayo F. Nwanze in 2016.

VSLAs and agricultural training have turned Rebecca's life around, and now her family has enough to eat.

Thanks to CFTC donor support, Rebecca was able to learn climate-smart agriculture techniques and participate in a Village Savings & Loans Association. She and her family, including daughter Praise (pictured) now have a path to a sustainable, food-secure future.

One of the fastest routes to reducing poverty and improving food security is to empower women. The UN states that a key to achieving zero hunger by 2030 is to provide women farmers with the same access to resources as men, which could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by up to 150 million.

Increasing women’s capacity produces immediate results for children because women put up to 90% of their earnings back into their households, much higher than the estimated 35% by men (UN FAO, 2016). Women spend the income they earn on food, health care and education for their children, and also reinvest it in their own income-generating activities, disrupting the cycle of poverty.

To reap the benefits of women’s income on sustainable food security for communities and children, we must invest in:

Women’s livelihoods: Women already do the bulk of the world’s agricultural work, but much of their labour is unpaid. And, when it is paid, women do not earn as much as men. This is not only because of the gender pay gap but also because women often are limited to growing lower-value crops; and they struggle to gain access to credit, productive land, and farm inputs such as high quality seeds, tools and training.

Maria has multiple sources of revenue from beekeeping, petty trade and agriculture.

Maria is a member of a Village Savings and Loans Association and now has multiple sources of income from farm and off-farm livelihoods.

Aside from paying women for their agricultural work and making access to farm inputs and credit more equitable, it is important to encourage women to engage in alternate and non-farming livelihoods. This is especially critical in the face of climate change, where crop yields–and therefore family income–are becoming more and more precarious. Multiple sources of farm and off-farm revenue ensures that food and income are available all year long.

Aquaculture, beekeeping, and the monetization of artisan crafts and other skills and products all present feasible paths to income for women and therefore sustainable food security for children and communities.

Women’s education and skills development:  Educating girls increases their long-term earnings potential and reduces risks associated with early marriage and early childbirth for girls and young women. We must also focus on vocational training, upskilling, and re-skilling for women to ensure they are capable of taking part in income generating activities, including establishing and running their own businesses profitably.

Income generation groups, village savings and loans associations (VSLAs), and agricultural co-ops help women save, obtain and use credit, and learn business and marketing skills. Often, these groups provide women with basic literacy and numeracy training. Women also gain conflict resolution and leadership skills through both practical training and experience. Women are increasingly taking on leadership roles in these groups as well as mentoring other women to join and participate. The result is increased confidence, social cohesion and status in their communities and strengthened community resilience overall. It really does take a village (savings and loans group) to feed a child!

Achieving sustainable food security by supporting smallholder farmers in a changing climate

The world’s smallholder farmers — who provide up to 80% of sub-Saharan Africa’s food — are under siege. Endemic poverty in combination with the impacts of climate change, like droughts, flooding, erratic rainfall and soil depletion, are all reducing crop yields and causing widespread crop failures. This is driving smallholder farmers deeper into subsistence farming and poverty.

a community agricultural worker works with women farmers to improve crop yields.

Community Agricultural Extension Volunteer, Jane Nabwire (centre) teaches women to use climate-smart techniques to improve their crop productivity in her home village in Bugiri, Uganda.

According to the recently-released IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land, coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger by 2030. But big changes will be required to the world’s food systems, including doubling the agricultural productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers, ensuring sustainable food production, and increasing investment in agriculture.

Some of the best ways you can help the world’s smallholder farmers is by donating to programs that:

  • Train farmers on climate-smart agriculture: The dry season is lengthening and hunger and malnutrition are on the rise. Training farmers on planting techniques, making and using fertilizer and pesticides, and climate-smart ploughing, harvesting and storage helps increase crop yields and avert crop failures. It improves food quality (and therefore price at market) and reduces waste. And, all of this increases smallholder farmers’ incomes.
  • Make expert agricultural extension support available: In many countries, government agriculture extension workers are in high demand and short supply. But farmers themselves have the skills, local knowledge and community connections to step into this role for their fellow farmers. “Train-the-trainer” programs for model farmers offer broader access to local experts. And, they build capacity for long-term, sustainable food security and community resilience to the impacts of climate change.
  • Establish community co-ops: From VSLAs, to self-help groups, to larger agricultural co-ops, there is power in numbers. These groups help to coordinate activities all along the value chain. They offer farmers the opportunity to benefit from economies of scale to purchase inputs. And, they not only increase profitability for individual farmers but they build agricultural economic development for whole communities and regions. That is the very definition of an enabling environment where children can grow and thrive.
  • Introduce methods for dry season gardening: Much small-scale farming is rain-fed. This limits people to one growing season a year and,  when the rains are erratic as they increasingly are, it means that crop failures cause disaster for entire communities for the whole year. Simple irrigation systems and conservation agriculture techniques extend the growing season and allow for multiple crops per year. Multiple crops reduce malnutrition, not only because of the increased quantity of food available but also because of improved consumption of nutrients through a more diversified diet. It makes abundant economic sense, and it makes for more abundant food for children all year long.
  • Support local food systems: School and community gardens can produce enough food to sustain school feeding programs (and improve dietary diversity for students). In many communities they are also important educational tools, introducing students to environmental, farming and healthy eating practices that last a lifetime.
You can help foster sustainable food security for the world’s children

It will take a “global village” mindset to make the kind of profound social change that is needed … so, join the village!

One of the best ways to help is to support holistic, integrated and community-led approaches. Speak up for and donate to initiatives that open up income opportunities for women. Invest in training, technologies and support for smallholder farmers as they tackle the world’s most pressing existential threat: climate change.

By working together, we can create healthy, safe and sustainable environments in which the world’s children can flourish.


  1. The State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World, 2019. UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), 2019.
  2. Goal Two: Zero Hunger. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
  3. Women hold the key to building a world free from hunger and poverty. UN FAO, 2016.
  4. The Gender Gap in Agricultural Productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa: Causes, Costs & Solutions, UN Women, 2018.
  5. Land is a Critical Resource, IPCC Report Says. International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Special Report on Climate Change and Land Press Release, August, 2019.
  6. Climate Change Threatens the World’s Food Supply, United Nations Warns. New York Times, Aug 8, 2019.