Women, food security and the U.S. Farm Bill

Support funding for Food for Peace to help women farmers care for their families.

Nigerian landscape

Abigail Emmanuel, a smallholder farmer in Nigeria, lives in a conflict-prone area, south of the city of Jos. Recurrent violence made it difficult for her to access the financial resources needed to expand her farm, which she depends on to support her family.

“I was born, brought-up and married in Chaha village in Plateau State of Nigeria. Chaha had been a peaceful community until the Fulanis (pastoralists) came to my village and slaughtered my neighbor, his wives, and his son. They beheaded my sister’s husband and many relations, burning houses and farm produce. The whole village was turned into mourning and confusion. I do not know how we escaped.”

Often due to this kind of destruction and violence, women like Abigail become the breadwinners of their families. While dealing with trauma and displacement, they bear the burden of toiling tirelessly to feed their families and communities through farming.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has responded to this need by supporting the Village Savings and Loans program of Urban Ministry, a partner in Jos. The program incorporates trauma support and peacebuilding skills for women who are victims of violent conflict, including Abigail. The women also receive training on how to set up a business and manage it, and how to effectively invest any savings.

With seed grant money from the Village Savings and Loans, Abigail was able to start her strawberry farm which yields bountifully. She has used the proceeds to buy fertilizer. The extra income also allowed her to pay the school fees for her children.

A woman standing in a field holding a garden tool
Abigail Emmanuel cultivates strawberries in her farm in Chaha community, Plateau State, Nigeria.Photo courtesy of Urban Ministry/ Christopher Pam

Such sustainable livelihood projects are vitally important in vulnerable communities, where women are often the bedrock of food production as smallholder farmers. They also are frequently the heart and soul of peacebuilding, pursuing both well-being and a just peace.

Currently, as many as 828 million persons globally are hungry, without adequate access to food. In the face of severe global food insecurity and hunger, the food that women produce helps to alleviate and prevent conflict. Yet, an estimated 70% of those killed during violent conflicts are unarmed civilians, many of whom are women and children.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #2 commits to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.” This goal has been made even more challenging to meet given the global COVID-19 pandemic and its aftershocks, climate change, escalating violent conflicts and growing inequalities.

This year, the U.S. Congress has the opportunity to address people’s needs for food internationally and domestically by reauthorizing the Farm Bill. This legislation includes the Food for Peace program, which provides emergency food and builds resilience through initiatives such as savings groups, access to agricultural loans and education on water management. Another important tool to reduce hunger is the flexible cargo preference, which enables faster and more cost-effective delivery of life-saving food assistance.

Scripture admonishes us to “satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10). Ask your members of Congress, mcc.org/askforfunds, to include strong funding for the Food for Peace program and the flexible cargo preference in the 2023 Farm Bill.