Breastfeeding for Nutrition, Food Security & Poverty Reduction

Some time has passed since the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – an inclusive agenda to create positive, sustainable change. To say the least, we’ve got work to do! Breastfeeding is a vital part of sustainable development.

In 2016, the United Nations placed nutrition at the heart of sustainable development by declaring 2016-2025 as the UN Decade for Action on Nutrition. Breastfeeding is a non-negotiable component of this globally intensified action to end malnutrition. An infant, at the very start of life, is assured optimal nutrition and protection if breastfed. Breastfeeding also ensures food security, especially in times of humanitarian crises. Breastfeeding contributes to poverty reduction by being a low cost way of feeding babies and not burdening household budgets compared to artificial feeding.

Increased rates of exclusive and continued breastfeeding can only be achieved by cooperating and collaborating across all sectors and across generations. Fortunately, the importance of working in partnership is now recognised and translated into various global initiatives. A key recommendation in the Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health is access to good nutrition:

“By working in partnership, we can ensure women, children and adolescents, everywhere, can access adequate, diverse and nutritious food throughout the life course, which will help them survive, get an education, become resilient and thrive. In turn, so will their communities and countries, empowering them to break poverty cycles and contribute to inclusive, sustainable, healthier, more prosperous societies.” – Every Woman Every Child

Success in breastfeeding is not the sole responsibility of a woman  the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding is a collective societal responsibility which states have an obligation to ensure. Together, we can achieve success and ensure adequate nutrition, food security and poverty reduction in the generations ahead.

“If we want to change the world for girls and women—and we sure do—we need to work together. Collaborate, not duplicate. Integrate, not separate. We all have a part to play in achieving a healthy, happy world, where hunger and malnutrition are things of the past.” – Women Deliver

Women Deliver apply a gender lens to the SDGs in their new campaign Deliver for Good, which promotes 12 critical investments in girls and women that will foster progress for all.

“No matter where you start, investments in girls and women bring about high social and economic returns. For example, bringing water and sanitation to communities keeps girls in school which then leads to increased use of contraception, less child marriage, less gender-based violence, increased economic stability, and better health outcomes for generations of families.” – Women Deliver

The Deliver for Good campaign – developed and driven by a diverse set of founding partners – focuses on partnership and inclusion identifying siloed sectors, data, and funding as pervasive challenges in achieving global development. It proposes that cross-collaboration is fundamental in achieving the SDGs. Breastfeeding is included in the Deliver for Good campaign targets as a way to ensure maternal and child survival, health and nutrition.

To ensure that breastfeeding is a central part of the Sustainable Development Goals, it is time to raise our voices and advocate at national levels. We need to ensure that our governments create an optimal environment for women and children to thrive – and do so in partnership with civil-society movements, NGOs, and partners at multiple levels. One way for us to influence decision-makers is to remind them of the Return of Investment of breastfeeding – saving lives as well as saving resources.

In our advocacy, as well as in creating lasting policies, we need to make sure that no one is left behind and put our focus on young people and vulnerable groups – such as adolescents, single mothers, and migrants. In order to truly address the challenges of breastfeeding, we must use a gender lens, understanding that breastfeeding protection, promotion and support requires increased investments in gender equality and human rights.

Breastfeeding is not a woman’s issue. All of us, in all segments of society – from business owners to family members and government leaders to citizens – need to be involved in safeguarding women’s and children’s right to breastfeeding.

World Breastfeeding Week takes place from 1 – 7 August 2017. Celebrating collaboration and sustainability, it will focus on the need to work together to sustain breastfeeding. World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has created an online platform with downloadable resources available in a range of languages to support individuals and organizations in their own campaigning and advocacy. 

SDG 12: A Pathway to Justice

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12, sustainable consumption and production, entails “promoting resource and energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, and providing access to basic services, green and decent jobs and a better quality of life for all. Its implementation helps to achieve overall development plans, reduce future economic, environmental and social costs, strengthen economic competitiveness and reduce poverty.”

To me, this goal is another way of chipping away at the systemic poverty and inequality that disproportionately impacts women and girls.

When we lack sustainable consumption and production, often we are both harming the environment and misusing existing resources. The world produces enough food to feed nearly double our global population. Yet according to the United Nations each year approximately 1/3 of all food produced spoils or rots due to poor transportation and harvesting. An estimated 3 billion tons of food is wasted while nearly 1 billion people go undernourished and another 1 billion hungry.

This goal recognizes that hunger is not caused by scarcity.

In the United States, where forty-one percent of women face some degree of poverty and food insecurity, hunger is a product of inequality. While we can’t ignore the underpinnings of gender and poverty, for instance wage inequality and lack of affordable childcare, the inaccessibility of nutritious food contributes to hunger. In areas of poverty, nutritious food is scarce because food retailers cannot make the same profit as in wealthier communities. As a result, they don’t sell their products to the poor. The US SNAP program, which offers food assistance to families living in poverty, is notorious for providing access to processed food that is linked to poor health outcomes. Further, the popular push toward organic, local food production and consumption seems like a solution, except that it is an elitist privilege because the majority of those living the United States cannot afford to shop at markets that sell healthier options.

This goal recognizes that hunger can be solved by justice.

Justice looks different in different places. In parts of Ethiopia, justice be can changing the gender roles that demand that women and girls eat the leftovers from the table of men and boys. In the DR Congo, justice can be changing the laws that state a woman must get her husband’s permission to accept a job or obtain a commercial license. In the United States, justice can be ensuring that all residents have access to nutritious food.

Justice is a pathway toward sustainable production and consumption.

Sustainable production and consumption entails ensuring that those who lack access to their basic needs, including food, can get access. It’s about using resources effectively and efficiently so that future generations can benefit from their use. And it’s about changing the power dynamics that promote poverty and inequality among women and girls.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.

SDG 2: The future of Agriculture for African Women

September 2015 marked a key step in global development’s future. U.N. member states convened the Sustainable Development Summit to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 2 of the new agenda is to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”.

The SDGs don’t just represent a new level of ambition on eradicating hunger and malnutrition, they’re about leaving no one behind and about getting to zero for all not just some. The ambitious aim to eradicate hunger completely by 2030 seems a great next step. Extreme hunger and malnutrition remain a huge barrier to development in many countries. 795 million people are estimated to be chronically undernourished as of 2014, often as a direct consequence of environmental degradation, drought and loss of biodiversity. Over 90 million children under the age of five are dangerously underweight. And one out of four people still goes hungry in Africa.

The new SDGs will take on the challenge of solving chronic poverty and advancing global development in an integrated style. Goal 2 clearly addresses hunger, food security and for the first time sustainable agriculture. This Goal has eight targets including ending hunger and malnutrition, in particular amongst vulnerable groups; ensuring resilient agricultural systems that increase productivity and respond adaptively to climate change; and improving agricultural markets with increased rural infrastructure, technological advances, and better market performance for small-scale food producers like women, family farmers, and indigenous group. The SDGs aim to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people, especially children and the more vulnerable,  have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round. This involves promoting sustainable agricultural practices, improving the livelihoods and capacities of small scale famers and allowing equal access to land, technology and markets. It also requires international cooperation to ensure investment in infrastructure and technology to improve agricultural productivity.

It should be clearly understood that food security is not just about getting everyone enough nutritious food. It is also about access, ending waste, moving toward sustainability, efficient production and consumption. Irrigation and other investments in agriculture and rural development can help many and build pathways to sustainable future growth. My hope is that Goal 2 will strengthen this process of investing in agriculture for global development with its enhanced attention to both food security and sustainable agriculture.

Women produce more than half of the world’s food, yet own only two percent of titled land and receive less than 10 percent of credit available for small businesses. These inequalities must change if we ever hope to break the cycle of poverty and hunger in rural areas of the developing world. When women are given economic opportunities, they make investments that benefit not just themselves but their families and their communities. In Africa, where women are responsible for much of the continent’s agricultural production, sustainable agriculture depends on women adopting sustainable practices. Governments together with community based organizations need to initiate comprehensive farmer training programs for grassroots women. These trainings should cover topics such as organic soil management and proper use of organic fertilizers, crop rotation best practices, conservation methods, agro forestry and sustainability of farms cultivated by these Women. For women farmers, it is always hard to access the resources available due to the patriarchal contexts under which many of these farming businesses operate.

Due to cultural norms, women don’t reap the rewards of their labor.  Whatever they get from the crops that they grow doesn’t come to them most of the time. If sub-Saharan Africa is to eliminate extreme poverty, this has to change. Women need to be empowered in agriculture in order to increase productivity as when women have resources from their production they will always reinvest it in their children and in their households. Many changes have to take place for empowering women who work in agriculture, such as aligning laws in sub-Saharan Africa with international norms on women’s rights. Women need to be allowed to own land and have equal access to resources and basic public services and our governments should also get involved in the process of changing societal norms and breaking barriers to women’s economic empowerment.

If we enable and support rural women farmers to innovate and use climate-smart practices, it’s not only hunger and poverty that will decline: Economic growth will increase, jobs will be created and families, communities and countries will reap the benefits of women’s empowerment. It’s time we help women harness the power of agriculture as a tool not only for ensuring food security and improved nutrition for all, but for gender equality and women’s empowerment as well.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.

Food Security From the Ground Up

This is a guest post by Debby Rooney, cofounder of BEADS for Education.

Teenagers in Kenya, like 16-year-old Charity, know devastating drought and famine firsthand. Charity can still recall the memories of a devastating drought and famine in 2009:

A great famine befell the land of Kenya, more so Kajiado County (south of Nairobi). By that time I was in class four. I can remember all that had happened to the people, not only the people but also the animals. For the pastoralist’s like the Maasai (my tribe) they had suffered a lot. Their only source of food was dying. We are dependent on our livestock. Sometimes getting a jug of milk from ten cows was a miracle. At times milking cows, sheep or goats was like squeezing water from a rock.

Anywhere you went there were carcasses that occupied most parts of the land. The only lucky animals by that time were the carnivores. Hyenas became a disaster at night. People could not sleep because they feared for their livestock. Water was another problem though people could at least get a little. Days went by and there was no rainfall. During the day it was sunny thus increased hunger. The population decreased day by day. Surely the food shortage brought disaster to our land. The wild animals were not spared either.

Charity noticed that the Kenya government was of little assistance to the drought victims who needed food for their families and their livestock. To her community, food was more than just food- it was their only means of livelihood. Finally, after months of despair, grain arrived from other countries and other non-profit agencies, including BEADS for Education.

The common solution to these familiar catastrophes is international food assistance, with little investment in long-term sustainable projects. People are hungry and in need of assistance so the action is immediate. But what happens when the next catastrophe happens? BEADS for Education works to create sustainable solutions by empowering Kenyan schoolgirls with knowledge and know-how of improved farming methods, food preservation and water management.

Photo c/o Segal Family Foundation
Photo c/o Segal Family Foundation

Over 500 girls in Kenya are either enrolled in school or have graduated from college through the BEADS sponsorship program. Girls from grade 4 through college have been sponsored since 1998. Most are enrolled at a few handpicked schools, but a growing number attend the BEADS-built boarding high school, Tembea Academy. Located in south-central Kenya, Tembea teaches food security and provides a quality education for its students.

Behind Tembea’s classrooms, dormitories, and school library are two large greenhouses where the students grow kale, spinach, tomatoes, onions, and other vegetables, using a drip irrigation system to preserve water and fertilizer. BEADS plans to pasture animals for milk and meat. An onsite well, slated to be finished in the next year, will provide both substantial financial savings and opportunities for student projects connected with water conservation and storage.

In the first term of each school year, Tembea students learn a variety of food preservation practices. Hands-on workshops have include drying foods, storing grains, and canning carrots, tomatoes and other vegetables. In the next year each girl will build her own small greenhouse and later teach the practice in her local community.

Young women in Kenya are excited about food preservation and its lifesaving possibilities. They pass on newfound knowledge and skills to their families and villages, empowering others. Charity and other young women sponsored through BEADS hope to change the future of Kenya by developing practices that encourage food and water security for themselves and their nation.

 More information about BEADS for Education and its many programs in Kenya to improve girls’ education and empower women can be found here or contact Debby Rooney, BEADS Cofounder, at If you would like to expand the opportunities for a girl in Kenya, explore sponsorship here

Cover photo courtesy of the Segal Family Foundation.





Ending Hunger: The Time to Begin is Now

The 22nd African Union Summit, with the theme Agriculture and Food Security, could not have come at a better time than this. African leaders and civil society organizations are meeting to reaffirm their commitment to food security and adopting new measures to save millions who face imminent danger. Agriculture is Africa’s backbone and contributes over 70% of the GDP in many countries.

Famine is not a new phenomenon and is as old as recorded history and has adversely affected much of Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the giant strides that have been taken to “arrest” the situation, famine has remained elusive.

With the emergence of new threats like climate change, now is the time to take decisive action.

The most challenging aspect has been to find the pathways to use to divert such a catastrophe. As a young leader from Rwanda, I believe that in order for the world to achieve food security, we need a holistic approach that includes both government and civil society organizations. I am proud to be the voice of those women who could not be able to be here and upon my return to Rwanda, I will be able to implement and share my experiences with thousands of young women.

I envision a world where women are economically empowered and for this to take place, women should be given the means.

Photo Credit: Fintrac Inc. via USAID Flickr
Photo Credit: Fintrac Inc. via USAID Flickr

Trainings on modern agricultural practices would go a long way in making them self-reliant. Provision of pest resistant seeds to vulnerable communities would also be a step in the right direction. Land reform programs that address the existing unfair distribution of land are needed so that women are brought on board. Such measures that promote food security will make it easy for the implementation of other programs that are related to sexual and reproductive health of women.

I applaud African governments, World YWCA, YWCA Rwanda and other stakeholders for the existing partnership in a bid to promote food security in Africa.

RobinahMy name is Kyambadde Robinah Salinge. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences and I am completing my Master’s degree in International Relations at Mount Kenya University Kigali-Campus. I am the Project Manager of SRHR project at YWCA Rwanda. I am privileged and honoured to be attending the 22nd African Union Summit, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Great thanks goes to World YWCA and YWCA Rwanda who have made it possible for me to be at the AU Summit, where I have got the chance of sharing more about the problems my fellow young women and I are facing in Africa. 

African Women: Pillars of Agriculture but Greatly Marginalized

Image Courtesy of CGIAR Climate
Image Courtesy of CGIAR Climate

Women farmers are the pillars of African agriculture. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the agricultural sector employs over two-thirds of all women in Africa who then produce nearly 90 percent of food on the continent. Women are responsible for growing, selling, buying and preparing food for their families yet remain marginalized in business relations and lack control over access to resources such as land, improved seeds and fertilizer, credit and technology.

Women serve as the backbone of agriculture and food production in Africa, but the potential of women in agriculture is left largely untapped. African women comprise approximately 70 percent of Sub-Saharan agriculture workers and 80 percent of the actors in the food processing chain.

Agricultural programs are rarely designed with women’s needs in mind due to a combination of logistical, cultural, and economic factors, coupled with a lack of gender statistics in the agricultural sector. As a result, African women farmers have no voice in the development of agricultural policies designed to improve their productivity. Dialogues concerning agricultural issues mostly happen at the international level, where a few speak for the majority, and not on behalf of the majority.

The United Nations estimates that agricultural productivity can increase by as much as 20 percent when women are given the same inputs as men.

Women in African agriculture are often loaded with huge risks to manage. Alarmingly, women account for a large number of the poorest, most disadvantaged and marginalized people in Sub-Saharan Africa and often head the poorest households.

DSC_0003Faced with the combined effects of the global food crisis and climate change, it is evident that women’s economic empowerment is not only a human right but a necessity for agricultural growth, food security and better standards of living in Africa. For African nations to ensure food security at the household level, countries must realize the critical role women play and include them in all development processes. There is also a strong need to specifically focus on rural women and to address key gender disparities at various levels in the distribution process as well as access to productive resources, information and technology. Spaces must be provided for rural women to voice their concerns and recommendations regarding agriculture production and food security.

Key challenges faced by African women farmers include lack of access to and ownership of land, access to credit, market, appropriate technology, food reservation, processing and packaging facilities and climate change. In order to address the issues and empower women in agriculture, I strongly believe that governments, civil society and the private sector must do the following:

  • Identify partners that can link women farmers to market;
  • Help women’s groups participate fully in agricultural chains;
  • Improve the availability of gender disaggregated data for policymakers and citizens;
  • Assess and design agricultural development programming to ensure programmes are gender aware and gender transformative; and
  • Train and empower a mass of women to participate in and lead agricultural research and policy development.

The FAO estimates that opening up access to women farmers could increase total agriculture output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent—or approximately 100 to 150 million people.

Lack of gender balance among scientists and leadership in most agricultural institutions and among policymakers and extension workers drives gender inequality for female farmers around the world. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2011 report Engendering Agricultural Research, Development, and Extensionmost extension workers are male and women have far less access to extension services. In Latin America, only one in three agricultural researchers is a woman and in Sub-Saharan Africa, the rate of female agricultural researchers drops to one in four. In 64 developing countries, women account for an average of only 23 percent of agricultural researchers.

“Transforming Africa’s Agriculture: Harnessing Opportunities for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development” is the theme of the 22nd Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU Summit) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Summit runs from January 21st to January 31st. For more information on the AU Summit, please click here.