Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Tackling Malnutrition Sustainably: Why We Invest in Women

January 14, 2014

In a new series for Impatient Optimists you’ll hear from partners and different voices at the foundation about various “sustainable” approaches to agriculture we believe can benefit farmers and the environment. Josh Lozman kicked off the series by explaining what we mean by “sustainability” and why helping farmers to grow more food sustainably is so critical. In another post, Dr. Glenn Gregorio discussed how “salt-tolerant rice” can help farmers cope with climate change. And today, Laura Birx explores the links between gender, nutrition, and sustainability. Tell us what the word “sustainability” means to you on our Facebook page.  

Undernutrition creates a cycle of poverty that is difficult to escape. It plagues more than one in three children in most developing countries and impacts not only an individual’s ability to learn and grow, but also the economy of an entire country. Without a fit and healthy workforce, countries cannot prosper.

This is why we believe better nutrition is key to sustainability. It is also why we place women at the center of our work – as women are most likely to determine whether their children eat a safe, diverse and quality diet.

In most developing countries, many farmers are women. Their diets are typically monotonous, their labor intense, and their time precious.  If women have control of income or household assets, they are more likely than men to invest in better food, education, and health care for their children.  By some estimates, if countries across South Asia achieved gender equity, over 13 million fewer children would be underweight—even in the absence of any other interventions.  So by investing in women, we can break the cycle of undernutrition and poverty that plagues rural farming households, and we can make agricultural systems more sustainable in the long term.

These are some of the following ways in which we support women and nutrition in agriculture:

  • We are supporting research and dissemination of crops that are higher in nutrient value than what was previously being grown. 
  • We are investing in nutrition education and behavior change targeted towards women so that we can strengthen the pathway from increases in income to improved nutrition for women and their children. 
  • We are supporting multiple efforts to reduce contamination in the food supply—by making higher quality food available, fewer people get sick and market opportunities are expanded. 
  • We have joined the global community in support of the Scaling Up Nutrition movement and have made a commitment to increase our spending in nutrition-sensitive agriculture.

We do this because we recognize that a safer and more diverse food supply, and better nutrition for women and children, will increase individuals’ and countries’ ability to grow and develop. 

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