MIL-OSI Asia-Pac: Generation 2030: Stronger Together: Converging Women’s Cooperatives and Agroecology to Create Gender-Transformative Food Systems


Source: Small Island Developing States

By Paige Kollhoff and Fikir Zelalem, International Development Studies M.A. candidates at The George Washington University

Within this year’s historic UN Food Systems Summit, there was significant discussion surrounding the creation of gender-just and gender-transformative food systems.[1] It was recognized that addressing the gender gap in agriculture and food systems is essential to the achievement of all 17 of the SDGs. 

Included in the gender priorities discussed at the summit were (1) closing the gender resource gap and (2) promoting decent jobs and livelihoods for women across food systems. We argue that women’s agricultural cooperatives present an adaptable solution that addresses these two priorities in a way that is truly gender-just and gender-transformative. In an agricultural cooperative, farmers pool their resources together in order to boost their collective income, bargaining power, and access to productive resources,[2] but women often face gender-related barriers to participating in these groups.[3] This makes women-only cooperatives all the more important. Examples of women’s agricultural cooperatives already exist all around the world, and can provide useful local models for creating systemic, enduring change.

Women make up almost half of the world’s agricultural workforce but have markedly less access to productive resources and assets (such as financial institutions, agro-chemical inputs, and land) than their male counterparts.[4] Women-only cooperatives are proven to bridge the resource gap that hinders the ability of women farmers to reap the benefits of their labor. However, because women are often given the least desirable and most degraded plots of land, it is exceedingly important that they adopt farming practices that both improve the land’s fertility and raise yields without expensive chemical inputs.[5] Therefore, we argue that it is essential to integrate the practice of agroecology into women’s farming cooperatives to maximize their positive outcomes, profitability, and sustainability.

The practice of agroecology is defined as the application of ecological principles to the food system.[6] By utilizing and mimicking the ecological systems already presented to them, farmers are able to produce food in a way that harnesses nature without damaging it.[7] Agroecology is also praised for addressing root causes of social and environmental challenges in agriculture by merging holistic solutions and its focus on social disparities faced by women and indigenous farmers.[8]

One example that combines the power of women’s cooperatives with agroecology is Gloria Quintanilla, a women’s farming cooperative in Santa Julia, Nicaragua that is part of the La Via Campesina International Peasants’ Movement.[9] On land once used solely for coffee production, the 22 women leaders of the cooperative now grow a diverse range of crops using agro-ecological methods. Through the cooperative, women are trained on keeping financial records and maintaining a collective savings account to purchase materials and pay down loans.[10] The cooperative also mobilized the community to build classrooms for their children.

The Gloria Quintanilla cooperative is an excellent example of how food systems can be leveraged to help the broader situation of gender equality and women’s empowerment, while also contributing to the achievement of various other SDGs. Through this agricultural cooperative, women are placed in leadership roles and are able to increase self-sufficiency and food sovereignty within their community as a whole. 

Conventional food production methods wreak havoc on the environment and exacerbate gender injustices in the world’s food systems. The Gloria Quintanilla women-led cooperative offers valuable insight for how a bottom-up approach to farming practices, such as agroecology, has the ability to address many of the UN’s sustainable development goals. Integrated into women’s cooperatives, agroecology has the power to transcend gender equality (SDG 5) by improving food security (SDG 2), climate resilience (SDG 13), economic opportunity (SDG 8), and even education (SDG 4). For this reason, practitioners should provide specialized support to promote the incorporation of agroecological farming practices into women-led cooperatives. While this approach is not a simple one, it has enormous potential to build the gender-just and gender-transformative food systems necessary to achieve the UN’s 2030 Agenda.

[1] United Nations. 2021. “Levers of Change.” United Nations Food Systems Summit. Accessed 8 November 2021.

[2] FAO. 2012. “Agricultural cooperatives and gender equality.” Accessed 8 November 2021.

[3] Woldu, Thomas and Fanaye Tadesse. 2015. “Women’s Participation in Agricultural Cooperatives in Ethiopia.” International Association of Agricultural Economist (IAAE). Accessed 8 November 2021.

[4] UN Women. 2018. “Women’s cooperatives boost agriculture and savings in rural Ethiopia.” UN Women. Accessed 8 November 2021.

[5] Groundswell International. 2018. “Promoting women’s empowerment in agriculture to improve the resilience of rural communities in the Sahel.” Accessed 8 November 2021.

[6] Gliessman, S. 2015. “Agroecology: A Global Movement for Food Security and Sovereignty.” Proceedings of the FAO International Symposium, p. 1-13. Accessed 8 November 2021.

[7] Soil Association. 2021. “What is agroecology?” Accessed 8 November 2021.

[8] FAO. 2018. “The 10 Elements of Agroecology: Guiding the Transition to Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems.” FAO Agroecology Knowledge Hub. Accessed 8 November 2021.

[9] La Via Campesina. 2018. “Nicaraguan women’s cooperative building self-sufficiency and food sovereignty.” La Via Campesina International Peasant’s Movement. Accessed 8 November 2021.

[10] La Via Campesina. 2018. “Nicaraguan women’s cooperative building self-sufficiency and food sovereignty.” La Via Campesina International Peasant’s Movement. Accessed 8 November 2021.

MIL OSI Asia Pacific News