Skip to main content
You are here

'Women Feeding the World: Farmers, Mothers and CEOs'

By Dave Jones on January 13, 2014 in University

Undergraduate Margery Magill’s photo shows a woman hip-deep in the coastal waters of Tanzania, harvesting seaweed for use in food and cosmetic products around the world.

A photo by Kelsey Barale, a graduate student in international agricultural development, shows a woman tending a small farm plot on a steep hillside in Guatemala.

Sharan Lanini, a UC Davis alumna who works for Chiquita Brands International, captured an image of a female employee in a banana packing shed in Costa Rica.

These photos and others like them are one part of “Women Feeding the World: Farmers, Mothers and CEOs” — a evening program scheduled for next Tuesday, Jan. 21. The program, free and open to the public, also includes a panel and conversation with the audience.

A number of campus units have come together to organize the event, inspired by this year’s Campus Community Book Project, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

The “Women Feeding the World” program will pay particular attention to agriculture’s role in this global movement.

“What to me is so poorly understood is the importance of agricultural development in poverty reduction,” said Josette Lewis, assistant director of the UC Davis World Food Center, among the program’s co-sponsors.

“Women are already engaged in agriculture, and agriculture is a very efficient means of reducing poverty,” she said.

In looking at economically active women in developing countries, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 79 percent of such women are involved in agriculture as their means of being part of the economy.

“It’s not just about growing food to eat, but it can also be about making money to buy things,” Lewis said.

The panel

Tuesday night’s panelists will include:

  • Jessica Lundberg of Lundberg Family Farms, Richvale (Butte County)
  • Sonja Hess, associate researcher, Department of Nutrition
  • Swe Swe Win, Humphrey Fellow, program officer with the U.N. World Food Program, Myanmar

Lovell “Tu” Jarvis, professor and director of the UC Davis Blum Center for Developing Economies, will give welcoming comments, and Steve Hollingworth, president and chief executive officer of Davis-based Freedom from Hunger, will moderate the discussion.

“The book (Half the Sky) really focuses on the challenges women face, and I hope that our panel can highlight the unique resources that women bring to bear on improving not only themselves, but also their families and communities,” Lewis said.

For example, women are often primarily responsible for their children’s nutrition, particularly during a child’s “first 1,000 days” which experts recognize as a critical period in protecting children from stunting that can affect their adult lives.

“Women affect intergenerational change more than men, because women are mothers — and that starts in the womb,” Lewis said. “Part of that is biological, but part of it isn’t. Women play a greater role in allocating what resources their children get.”

Shirley German, a lactation consultant on campus, said she loved reading Half the Sky and is looking forward to next week’s program.

What does she hope to get out of it? “Just pride. Pride in being a woman, pride in being someone who breastfed my children,” she said. “Women have worked really hard to provide for their families and often lead quietly, and I think it’s something to see women getting recognized for what they do provide.

“Breastfeeding is global. Mothers feed their babies exactly the same way in every country around the world,” she said.

The gallery

The online photo gallery drew more than 80 submissions, a selection of which will be presented at the Tuesday night program.

The images depict scientists, mothers, farmers, laborers, beekeepers and more, including “seaweed mama” Fatima Alloo, who had another maternal role as Magill’s study abroad host mother in Tanzania. Magill, in her fourth year, also has traveled to India, New Zealand, Mexico and Nicaragua while majoring in international agricultural development.

She has a long-time interest in supporting women entrepreneurs and has been funding Kiva microloans to women-owned businesses since she was in high school.

“I read that if I support women, they’re more likely to invest in their children’s education and children’s health in the long run — and that’s kind of just stuck with me,” she said.

Amanda Crump, associate director of UC Davis’ Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program, knows very well the contribution of women to agriculture.

“When people think about farmers, I think they see the guy in the commercial driving a tractor,” Crump said. “But my mom is a farmer. She milked the cows, put up the fence and drove the tractor.

“But until going abroad, I didn’t really understand how much labor women provide on farms around the world.”

Women in the work force

In 2013, women comprised 43 percent of the agricultural work force around the world (and 26 percent in the United States), according to estimates from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. In parts of Africa, women comprise 51 percent of the agricultural work force.

In Yolo County, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that there are about 500 female farmers, with about 16 percent of farms in the county run by women.

One critical difference between female farmers here and elsewhere, Crump explained: policies outside the United States that can prevent women from owning land and taking out loans, purchasing farm inputs or making other business decisions.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, if female farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by 100 million to 150 million, a fact that drives thinking behind many international development programs.

Lewis cited one of the challenges with international development: "It pulls at the heartstrings, but it doesn’t really touch our lives.

"I hope bringing together these panelists — who live here and are the kinds of people we could meet here — can help make those connections between our daily lives and this gripping humanitarian crisis so far from us.”

“Women Feed the World: Farmers, Mothers and CEOs” is scheduled from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, in the Conference Center Ballroom.

The event’s UC Davis co-sponsors: World Food Center; Blum Center for Developing Economies; International Programs Office, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program; Program in International and Community Nutrition; and Women’s Resources and Research Center. Freedom from Hunger, a Davis-based international organization, is also a co-sponsor.

Brenda Dawson is the communications coordinator for the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program.

Follow Dateline UC Davis on Twitter.



Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,