Food Tank

Cultivating Equality in our Food Systems Food Tank Report

CARE, CCAFS, and Food Tank teamed up and published Cultivating Equality: Delivering Just and Sustainable Food Systems in a Changing Climate to create a call to action and dialogue about the reality of the inequality that exists in our current Global Food System, as well as, propose solutions to help us move forward. Here is an overview of some highlights from the report to help do our part in continuing the dialogue about equity.


Today, the world faces a greater challenge perhaps than ever before: tackling hunger and malnutrition in the face of climate change and increasing natural resource scarcity. Civil society, governments, researchers, donors, and the private sector are simultaneously debating and collaborating to find solutions. But the dialogue is over-emphasizing food production. Improving yields is important, particularly in places where there is not enough food or where food producers live in poverty. But simply producing more is not enough to tackle hunger. Furthermore, acknowledging that lack of food is not the sole cause of hunger is important.

Inequality shapes who has access to food and the resources to grow it and buy it. It governs who eats first and who eats worst. Inequality determines who can adapt more readily to a changing climate. Hunger and poverty are not an accident – they are the result of social and economic injustice and inequality at all levels, from household to global. The reality of inequality is no truer for anyone than it is for women – half the world’s population, with far less than their fair share of the world’s resources.

If we are to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030, we must address the underlying inequalities in food systems. Enabling food insecure populations to access – to grow or buy – adequate, nutritious food demands an honest examination of power in food systems, of who wins and who loses – why, in a world of immense resources, almost 800 million people still suffer from chronic hunger and 1.2 billion live in extreme poverty. Business as usual – increasing greenhouse gas emissions, unsustainable means of production, high levels of food waste and loss, and unequal access to resources and power – is unacceptable. It’s time for a dialogue – and action – about equity.

Key Facts and Figures about Inequality in our Food System:


  • We live in a world of 795 million chronically hungry people,
  • one-third of childhood deaths are associated with malnutrition
  • An estimated 250 million preschool children suffer from vitamin A deficiencies, which can cause blindness and, even, death
  • At the same time, overweight and obesity impact 2.1 billion people worldwide, and the number of overweight people is rising fastest in developing countries
  • Yet roughly a third of food – or 1.3 billion tons – is wasted at the consumer end or lost in the fields and along the supply chain every year


  • Already, we use 1.5 times the planet’s resources every year – exhausting resources faster than the planet can naturally regenerate them.
  • We use almost half of the earth’s land for agriculture,viii but a fifth of cropland has been so degraded it is no longer suitable for farming.
  • Desertification affects 33 percent of earth’s land, directly impacts 250 million people and threatens the livelihoods of a billion people.
  • It can take 1,000 years to generate a mere three centimeters of soil, and every year, the world loses 50,000 square kilometers of soil.
  • as much as two-thirds of the global population may live in water-stressed countries by 2025.
  • And more than freshwater resources are in trouble: over 60 percent of the world’s fisheries are fished at capacity; almost another 30 percent are over-exploited.

 “To blame population growth [for global environmental challenges] instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.” – Pope Francis


  • Changes in climate over the last 30 years have already reduced global agricultural production one to five percent per decade globally
  • Current emissions trajectories, even if governments meet their pledged reductions, may still lead the world to an average warming above 3 degrees Celsius (compared to pre-industrial levels) by the end of the century.
  • The conclusions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest reports are clear: climate change will impact “all aspects of food security… including food access, utilization, and price stability.”
  • Climate change will likely have devastating effects on water quality and accessibility in many regions and will reduce renewable surface water.
  • As many as 600 million additional people could be at risk of hunger by 2080 as a direct result of climate change,
  • All the food wasted and lost is estimated to be equivalent to 6-10 percent of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions.


  • More than three-quarters of people living in extreme poverty live in rural areas where most depend on agriculture.
  • Globally, 475 million small-scale farmers work fewer than two hectares of land.
  • Small-scale fisheries employ more than 90 percent of the people engaged in the sector.
  • They often lack access to resources needed for productive, sustainable, resilient livelihoods: secure land tenure or access to natural resources like water and common grazing land, financial services, inputs, extension services and training, information about weather, post-harvest storage, and markets.
  • Yet, the world depends on small-scale farmers to produce the bulk of food consumed in developing countries.
  • The impacts of climate change hit those hardest who are the least responsible for causing it, communities with the lowest capacity to adapt, and the highest need to increase production to secure food and nutrition security.


  • Up to 79 percent of economically active women spend their working hours producing food through agriculture, and worldwide, women comprise an average of 43 percent of the agricultural labor force.
  • Women make up nearly 50 percent of farmers in Eastern and Southeastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and are responsible for the majority – almost 90 percent – of food preparation in the household.
  • Despite their pivotal roles in food systems and agriculture, women are drastically under-supported, and, as a result, unable to reach their full productive potential.
  • Globally, only between 10 to 20 percent of all landholders are women, and women only receive five percent of agricultural extension services worldwide.
  • According to CGIAR research of households in nine sub-Saharan African countries, the major difference between male- and female-headed households was related to their access to cash, or the ability to use cash to obtain goods or services.
  • Yet, research confirms that when women control an increase in family income, children’s health and nutrition improves.
  • On average women invest 90 percent of their income in their families, compared to only 30 to 40 percent for men.
  • In addition to increasing decision-making ability around finances, a recent study from IFPRI found that empowering women with education can lead to a 43 percent reduction in child malnutrition over time.
  • And research from FAO finds that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, as many as 150 million fewer people would be hungry.
  • Women must be empowered and recognized as equal partners – valued for their contributions and knowledge – not because they deliver results but because they are equal with men.


  • Policies and plans at all levels that do not take gender into account, that are blind to the ways in which it influences vulnerability, will not only continue to leave women behind but threaten to exacerbate existing gender inequalities. The IPCC suggests that climate change policy that is not sensitive to existing gender disparities could actually widen the gender gap.
  • Without urgent and ambitious action by policymakers, international development organizations, donors, governments, and private sector, the world is at risk of the breakdown of local food systems, migration, increased risk of food insecurity, particularly for poorer populations, conflict, and the loss of rural livelihoods due to increased water scarcity.lviii Small-scale food producers – and especially women – deserve a new strategy to support their agricultural efforts in the face of climate change.


The way forward


  • The global community’s awareness of the challenge we face – of tackling hunger and malnutrition in the context of scarce natural resources and climate change – has grown substantially in recent years.
  • The solutions dialogue, however, is often heavily focused on how we produce food (to address resource scarcity and climate change) and especially on how we produce more food (to tackle hunger).
  • In reality, to achieve food and nutrition security for all in a changing climate and to address the needs of small-scale food producers and women living in poverty, a combination of these is necessary.
  • Any paradigm must deliver outcomes at once sustainable, productive and profitable, equitable and resilient.
  • We consider here a few of the paradigms put forward to address the challenge of food and nutrition security in a changing climate.

1. Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) is put forward as a solution to the dual challenge of climate change and food insecurity. At a general, global level, CSA has three objectives: 1) sustainably increase agricultural productivity and incomes;

2. adapt and build resilience to climate change; and reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions, when and where appropriate.

Sustainable intensification is intended to focus on maximizing yield from a defined area of land while reducing environmental impacts and enhancing environmental services.

3. agroecology is an approach that views agricultural areas as ecosystems and is concerned with the ecological and social impact of agricultural practices.


1. Commit to ambitious efforts to tackle the climate crisis, based on shared but respective responsibility and capacity. Close the gap between what science says is necessary in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with a 1.5° Celsius temperature limit and what the low level of ambition is currently delivering.

2. Enact and enforce social and environmental safeguards. Safeguards should ensure effective participation of affected populations; their free, prior and informed consent, particularly in the use of natural resources; and equitable outcomes for women and men, and marginalized groups.

3. Enact and enforce policies for secure tenure or user access to land, water, and other natural resources, particularly for women and marginalized populations.

4. Reform policies that restrict women’s access to resources such as land and credit.



We all have a shared stake in the future of food and the planet. We each can play a role and must take individual responsibility and action to:

1. Know where your food comes from to make sustainable consumption choices. Be informed about what you are eating and how, where and by whom it was produced.

2. Call on your governments to support gender and equity and ambitious climate action.

3. Celebrate International Women’s Day, Earth Day, and World Food Day by volunteering locally and spread the word about the importance of just and sustainable food systems among your family and friends and on social media.
The more people who know, the more we can all work together to achieve just and sustainable food systems and climate justice – food and nutrition security for all and a safe future for the planet.

Read the full report


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