There are hundreds of women who inspire us at Food Tank. They are entrepreneurs, stewards of the land, business owners, researchers, farmers, and innovators who are the backbone of the world’s food systems.
On average, women represent 43 percent of the world's agricultural labor force and 47 percent of the global fisheries labor force, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). These hard-working women produce more than half of the world’s food, despite being less than half of the labor force. Additionally, women account for 60 to 80 percent of food production in developing countries. A crop yield gap of about 20-30 percent between male and female farmers is largely due to differential access to resources and inputs. In fact, if the world’s women farmers had the same access to resources as men, 150 million people could be lifted out of poverty, according to the FAO. Women fill this gap by working up to 13 hours per week longer than men in agriculture.
“Women are the priority. The majority of smallholder farmers in Africa are women and, in urban areas, you’re primarily looking at women-led households. So we can’t solve hunger if we don’t have gender-sensitive programming that addresses access to opportunities for women, whether it’s through education or tools for cooking, like solar-powered stoves,” says Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme.
As the impacts of climate change become more evident, the world will need to invest in more effective strategies to alleviate hunger and poverty. That means standing with our mothers, grandmothers, and sisters who are farming, as well as giving women farmers the resources they need to nourish both people and the planet.
While there are countless more, here are 27 of the influential women in food and agriculture who are reshaping food systems around the world. See Food Tank’s previous lists: 23 Women Changing Food and 30 Women Under 30 Changing Food.
1. Allison Aubrey
A correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR) news, Aubrey is a 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards nominee for her coverage of food and nutrition on broadcast radio. She covered environmental policy for NPR news for five years, now focusing her reporting on food and culture. The Salt, NPR’s well-known food blog, won the 2012 James Beard Award for best food blog. Aubrey also hosts Tiny Desk Kitchen, a video series.
2. Alison Cayne
Cayne opened Haven’s Kitchen in January of 2012, which became a cooking school, café, and private event space dedicated to education, sustainability, and integrity. Her contributions as an author to Huffington Post, USA Today, Find Eat Drink, and The New York Times have reflected her commitment to good food policy and community activism. Cayne serves on the board of Edible Schoolyard NYC, Just Food, and Food and Environmental Reporting Network.
3. Debra Eschmeyer
Executive Director of Let’s Move! and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy at the White House, Eschmeyer also co-founded FoodCorps. “For more than a decade, Deb has been leading the way in teaching kids about the importance of healthy eating,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. Through FoodCorps, Eschmeyer placed 200 service members in schools in 17 states during 2015 alone, hoping to promote healthier eating through school gardening, cooking, and better school food procurement.
4. Betsy Fink
Fink is a co-founder of Millstone Farm, an incubator for community-based food systems. She has worked with local markets and restaurants to expand local food networks. Fink has also specialized in technical project management for both priceline.com and Prodigy Services. Through the Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation, she is combating food waste through place-based and field-building efforts.
5. Severine Von Tscharner Fleming
Based in Chaplain Valley, NY, Fleming is an activist, farmer, founder and director of The Greenhorns, a grassroots cultural organization that advocates for a growing movement of young farmers and ranchers in America. After graduating from University of California-Berkeley, Fleming founded the Society for Agriculture and Food Ecology (SAFE), which advocates for sustainable farming practices. Fleming then founded the Agrarian Trust, which builds a national network to support new farmers, as well as Farm Hack, an open-source platform for farmers to receive affordable farm tools and technologies.
6. Catherine Gill
Gill is an expert on the impact investing landscape. She is the Senior Vice President of Investor Relations & Operations at Root Capital, which helps small-scale farmers create sustainable businesses that have a positive environmental and social impact. At Root Capital, Gill also helped launch the Women in Agriculture Initiative, which increases support to the growth of gender-inclusive businesses and creates more opportunities for women in agriculture.
7. Elise Golan
Golan is the Director of Sustainable Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). She leads the Department’s programs on sustainable agriculture, natural resources, and food security. Her research has focused on land tenure in the Sahel and West Africa, regional food system models, sustainable land management in California, as well as food labeling and marketing.
8. Tamar Haspel
Haspel is an author of four books about food. She also writes a food column called “Unearthed” for the Washington Post, covering topics from genetically modified organisms to soda taxes. Haspel farms oysters on Cape Cod, and her blog “Starving off the Land” is about figuring out food production firsthand.
9. Brenda Hastings
Based in California, Hastings and her husband founded Hastings Dairy, through which her family and employees milk about 560 Holstein cows kept in free-stall barns. Hastings served on the Ohio Dairy Producer Association as the only female member on the board of directors. She is now one of only two women on the board of the American Dairy Association-Mideast.
10. Diane Hatz
Hatz is the founder and executive director of Change Food, and is dedicated to bringing awareness to problems in our food systems. She was the organizer, host, and founder of TedXManhattan’s “Changing the Way We Eat,” an event used to bring together experts in food and farming to discuss changes that need to be made in the American food system. Hatz also co-founded and directed the Glenwood Institute for Sustainable Food and Farming, and started the Sustainable Table Program while working for GRACE Communications Foundation.
11. Tengiwe Cristina Kaba
In Cape Town, South Africa, Kaba serves as the Executive Director of Abalimi. Through her work at Abalimi, Kaba introduces urban gardening strategies to the townships of Cape Town. She also founded the Community Supported Agriculture initiative Harvest of Hope to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables grown in community gardens to families and schools throughout the city. In 2001, Kaba was recognized as South Africa’s Woman of the Year.
12. Dinnah Kapiza
In rural Malawi, Kapiza works as the founder and CEO of Tisaiwale Trading, a chain of farm supply stores. What began as a second hand clothing store and just US$113 in savings turned into her first farm supply store. She now serves more than 6,000 small scale farmers. Kapiza was also recognized as Malawi’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011.
13. Monica Lozano Luque
Luque founded Sea Soil, S.A. in Bogota, Colombia in 2006. Sea Soil helps companies transition to more environmentally sustainable strategies, and imports technology to improve the fertility of soil and plants. As technical director of the consulting partnership, Luque offers tailored services to producers to improve natural resource management. Before launching Sea Soil, Luque led a national organic farming program in Colombia and received an agricultural engineering degree from EARTH University in Costa Rica.
15. Dr. Rekha Mehra
Dr. Mehra holds a PhD in agriculture and is a senior associate at Creative’s Cross Functional Group, focusing on Gender Development. Previously, she directed the economic development program at the International Center for Research on Women, where she measured women’s economic empowerment and supported the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation by reviewing grants, giving field-based technical assistance, and fought for women’s property rights and enterprise development. Through her grant making, Dr. Mehra was able to reach 3.8 million low-income women in India by developing the microfinance industry.
16. Michele Merkel
Merkel is co-director of the Food and Water Justice Project at Food and Water Watch. Through the Food and Water Justice Project, Merkel now works to bring transparency and accountability to the practices of factory farming. Prior to joining the organization, Merkel was the Chesapeake Regional Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance, as well as Senior Counsel and co-founder of the Environmental Integrity Project. Additionally, Merkel developed and implemented campaigns to protect the Chesapeake and Coastal Bay from agricultural pollution.
17. Kathleen Merrigan
Merrigan is the Executive Director of Sustainability at the George Washington University, and leads the GW Sustainability Collaborative and GW Food Institute. She is a professor of Public Policy, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Stone Barn Center for Food and Agriculture and Food Corps. Previously, Merrigan served as the U.S Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S Department of Agriculture, created the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, and was involved in Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign.
18. Dr. Roz Naylor
Dr. Naylor serves as the Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment (FSE) at Stanford University. The program works to influence public debate on food issues and build innovative collaborations with policymakers. Dr. Naylor’s research focuses on the economic and biophysical aspects of food security, as well as the environmental impacts of crop and animal production.
19. Lustia Nkhoma
Nkhoma serves as an Anchor Farm Project field officer in Malawi. The Anchor Farm Project has helped more than 56,000 smallholder farmers with access to inputs, farm knowledge, and markets. She trains local farmers in setting up female farmer clubs, which acts as a way to increase their role in decision making.
20. Denise O’Brien
O’Brien is the founder of the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN) and has been farming in southwest Iowa for approximately 40 years. She grows three acres of fruits and vegetables, six acres of apples, and raises organic chicken and turkey. In addition, she was the president of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), worked with the Iowa Farm Unity Coalition, and directed the Rural Women’s Leadership Development Project. In 2011, she was appointed by the Obama administration to become a U.S. Department of Agriculture advisor in Afghanistan. O’Brien advocates and promotes topics involving domestic and international women’s and agricultural policies, organic farming and its practical approaches, women’s relationship to farmland, sustainable living, and food security. She currently serves on the board of Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT).
21. Courtney Paisley
Paisley is the Director of Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), an organization devoted to engaging young professionals to contribute to agricultural development. Before joining YPARD, Paisley worked with the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Later, she left CGIAR to focus on implementing on-the-ground environmental education programs through work with Oxfam and SolarAid.
22. Chellie Pingree
Chellie Pingree, a native of Maine, is a democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Pingree serves on the United States House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies. As a state legislator, Pingree sponsored landmark legislation to preserve small business opportunities in Maine. She also oversaw Maine’s largest land bill initiative, Land for Maine’s Future. Pingree is a national champion of local food and farms, and has achieved many legislative victories that support farmers’ markets and allow SNAP users to purchase local produce.
23. Simran Sethi
Through various media appearances, including Oprah and the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Sethi promotes sustainability. She has been named “the environmental messenger” by Vanity Fair, as well as one of the top ten “eco-heroes” by The Independent. Additionally, she serves on the board of directors for the National Radio Project and for New York’s National Public Radio. Previously, Sethi hosted a TV series called Ethical Markets, highlighting sustainable business practices and corporate social responsibility.
24. Charlotte Smith
Founder of Champoeg Creamery and Charlotte Smith Pastured Meats, Smith operates her family farm and ranch, finding ways to improve the quality of food raised by her ancestors. She is a strong advocate of individual health and food traditions, giving speeches on health recovery stories when she is not caring for her cattle.
25. Stefanie Sacks
Sacks is a culinary nutritionist, author, and radio show host of Stirring the Pot. Her blog, What the Fork, focuses on food, cooking, and nutrition. Sacks works hands-on with individuals and groups to transition them to healthier eating habits and culinary exploration.
26. Susana Chaves Villalobos
In Costa Rica, Villalobos works as an agricultural engineer. She founded IBS Soluciones Verdes, which helps small scale farmers with production strategies, communication, certification, and marketing. Villalobos runs the Yo Como Verde (I Eat Green) campaign, helping promote healthy eating in Costa Rica. Additionally, she is accredited to train and certify organic farm production.
27. Karen Washington
As a farmer and community activist based in Bronx, NY, Washington is a member of the Board of Directors of Just Food, New York Botanic Garden, and the NYC Community Gardens Coalition. She co-founded the Black Urban Growers, and helped found community gardens in Bronx including the Garden of Happiness and La Familia Verde. She was voted one of Ebony magazine’s “Power 100” of influential African-Americans in 2012 and currently writes for Rise & Root Farm.