The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.Within this overarching statement, there are 17 goals that aim to tackle global challenges like poverty, inequality, climate change and food security. Today we’ll focus on the matter of food security with a focus on the South Saharan country of Tanzania.

The Challenge

In 2017, 821 million people were estimated to be chronically undernourished and 90 million children are severely underweight.  Alongside this, the global population is rising and by 2050, there will be 9.7 billion mouths to feed.

SDG2 focuses on these challenges specifically and outlines the aim to “End Hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”.

Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger

What is Food Security?

The FAO describes food security as: “…when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. The info-graphic below outlines the different levels of food security and insecurity. Sub-Saharan African countries would fall in the moderate – severe food insecure areas as one in four people remain undernourished in these regions. It is especially important to implement initiatives to overcome food insecurity and undernourishment to meet the SDG2 goals.

Levels of Food Insecurity for SDG2

To achieve this goal by 2030, there has to be systematic change and it is becoming widely agreed that female empowerment in the agricultural system could be one of the keys to reach the target. To understand this, let’s take a step back and understand the role of females within agriculture in South Saharan countries.

Females and Farming

Firstly, let’s take a look at gender distribution in the agricultural system as a whole. The number of females employed within the farming industry varies country to country but for this broader view, the graph below shows the female employment in different regions over the world.

The graph shows the percentage of females that are economically active in agriculture.  Although the percentage varies between 20 – 50% in different regions, it shows that agricultural systems are filled with female workers with all of the areas rising since 1980. Sub Saharan African countries have the highest female employment in the sector with just below 50% since 2010.

It’s important to understand that the table represents the females that are economically active in agriculture. This would exclude a large proportion of females as most are not accounted for in this way. Overcoming policy restrictions like this is a crucial step toward perceiving females as economically stimulating and generally equal to men.

Tanzanian Agriculture

Tanzania is an agrarian country (one that relies on agriculture). So much so that 29.8% of its GDP is based upon this sector. Within the population of 57 million people, 75% of the citizens rely on farming and food production as their sources of income. Within this, some rural areas in Tanzania has reported up to 98% of females relying on agriculture as their livelihood.

However, studies have shown that females are generally less productive than men in agriculture. This is due to a number of reasons that will be described below. All the reasons can be linked to a lack of empowerment. Female empowerment is: a process by which women become able to organise themselves to increase their own self-reliance, to assert their independent right to make choices and to control resources which will assist in challenging and eliminating their own subordination”.

If the barriers facing females are removed, their productivity on the farms will increase which will improve the food security for themselves, their families, local communities and even nationally. This would have the potential to provide a huge step forward for SDG2 in Tanzania.

How are Females Dis-empowered?

After the SDG2 goal of improving food security and aiming for ‘Zero Hunger’ was implemented, studies into the causes of female dis-empowerment within agriculture were conducted. The results confirmed that female farmers face little or no access to land ownership. Tanzania, which has many patrilineal communities, suffers with this problem throughout the country. This restricts females to reach their financial potential and limits their ability to be as productive as possible for themselves and their families.

As well as this, females hold the burden of unequal responsibilities in childcare and house work. This reduces the amount of time they can spend farming and is also physically and mentally inhibiting; reducing their productivity and therefore the potential food security for the region. Females in the areas also felt reluctant to speak out in public due to a life of marginalisation and restrictions; dis-empowering them further.

However, these studies also showed that both genders are affected by some of these issues which suggest cross-gender dis-empowerment. Understanding this demonstrates that food security could improve even further if empowerment opportunities are given to both genders. These findings were supported by the study based in Komatsu, Tanzania as it found both male and females were equally deprived by a lack of access to credit and funding as well as decision making ability.

What’s the Link?

The UN suggests equal access to resources, education and land rights will increase the yields of farms by 20 – 30%. This is a very significant improvement that could help achieve SDG2 by 2030.

Some studies estimate that female empowerment could provide food for 150 million people who currently struggle with food insecurity. This demonstrates that empowering females not only has direct impacts on themselves and their livelihoods but also many others in surrounding areas and even internationally if it boosts the amount of exports.

A great step forward for Tanzania has been the target to adopt policies that empower women politically, economically and culturally by 2025. If this is achieved, the country could see dramatic improvements in their food security and gender equality goals, helping to reach the agricultural outputs described above. Implementing these national changes would be a considerable step forward to attaining SDG2.

Also, if females can provide more income for themselves, the local economy diversifies as they are more likely to invest into local businesses and hire more workers for their farms. Alongside this, a general improvement in nutrition as food security rises will enhance productivity even further. These indirect, but important, influences could be a tool used to attain other SDG goals like Eradicating Poverty (SDG1).

The Rainforest Alliance also finds that the childhood survival rate increases by 20% when a female controls the household budget rather than a man. The maternal role is also extremely important as the child is growing up – a mother is more likely to invest their income into education for their offspring. This is key to aiding development of a country; showing how empowering females is a long-term and powerful tool.

However it’s crucial to note that this year, the UN published an annual report detailing that food insecurity is rising again since 2015 after years of gradual depletion. As well as this, the State of Food Insecurity in the World disconcertingly stated that current practices are not enough to achieve the SDG2 targets – particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. As mentioned at the start of the blog, systematic change within the agricultural system has to occur in order to lift the 821 million people out of food insecurity into security. Empowering females is one of many reforms that has to be implemented effectively and efficiently in the coming years.

The future of farming, females and food security? This intrinsic relationship is becoming more prevalent and understood in sustainable agriculture. Evidence of awareness both nationally, in the case of Tanzania, and internationally, is growing as the SDG2 target date edges closer. Female inclusiveness, equal gender rights, opportunities, land ownership and education is surely a fundamental and accessible tool to promote individual, national and international agricultural prosperity in the challenge of food security.