Women – who are already on the frontlines of the climate crisis – are bearing the brunt of rising hunger due to Covid-19. They are skipping meals so that their children can eat and facing rising levels of gender-based violence.
Findings from ActionAid research into how measures to control Covid-19 are affecting the lives of women smallholder farmers across 14 countries in Africa and Asia show how market closures, travel restrictions and soaring food prices are negatively affecting rural communities and jeopardising the next planting season, read a press release.
Catherine Gutundu, ActionAid's head of resilient livelihoods and climate justice, says, "Around the world, Covid-19 has left women farmers indebted and hungry. Many of them now can't afford to plant for the next season. A dangerous spiral of increasing hunger and poverty could set in unless governments urgently increase their support to family farmers now."
Speaking about the violence facing women in her community, Yandeh Gissey, a smallholder farmer from Upper Niumi in The Gambia, says, "We are witnessing the physical abuse of women and girls by men, especially where the women used to provide for the family and now they cannot, the husband is always violent."
In Malawi, Alinafe Nkhoma, a smallholder farmer in Phalombe district has struggled to find enough nutritious food for her family since losing her livelihood to Cyclone Idai which destroyed her farmland in 2019. This year, her harvest was affected by drought and now the global pandemic has further affected her ability to sell her produce.
To survive and feed her family, she walks for four hours to gather mikawa, a wild poisonous tuber, which has to be boiled for six hours before being safe to eat.
"Due to hunger in the area, the scramble for the wild tubers has become high," she says. "Daily there about 100 families in the mountains digging for tubers and one has to count oneself lucky if one finds the tubers in good time."
On World Food Day, ActionAid is calling on governments to bail out women farmers ahead of the next planting season to avert a Covid-19-induced food crisis. This should include support for the next planting season like seed capital and access to interest-free loans and credit to allow women farmers to invest in farming activities.
It added that governments should support them to better adapt to the climate crisis and provide training in agroecological farming practices that build climate resilience plus improve the productivity and fertility of soil.
Investment in roads and transport is needed to make them safer for women farmers to travel to access markets and urban areas to sell their produce.
Governments can enforce legal frameworks to protect the rights of farmers by monitoring markets, regulating food prices and keeping supply chains functioning.
Women farmers must have access to, and control over, their land as well as other natural resources. In many countries, this is denied to them and fraught with legal and administrative barriers.
ActionAid added governments must fund the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP) – an innovative fund to support low-income countries' agriculture introduced in the wake of the 2008 food crisis – to avert another global hunger emergency.