Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Data Suggest That Feed the Future is Reaching, Benefiting and Empowering Women

As a data-driven initiative, Feed the Future and its partners around the world have done an exceptional job collecting and reporting on sex-disaggregated data: In 2017, on average, 92 percent of data for 11 of Feed the Future’s key indicators were correctly disaggregated by sex.[1] Coupled with a second data point for the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) indicators, we’re now in a great position to dig deeper into Feed the Future’s data to report on women’s achievements, and the challenges they continue to face in the areas where we work. So we investigated the extent to which Feed the Future is lifting up women.[2]

Reach, Benefit, Empower
Building on analysis conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) under the second phase of the Gender, Agriculture and Assets Project, we applied the Reach, Benefit, and Empower conceptual framework to devise analytical questions that helped us better understand the extent to which Feed the Future was making a difference in the lives of women and men in the areas where we work.

Borrowing from IFPRI’s reach, benefit, empowerment framework, women are reached when they are included in program activities; women benefit from higher incomes, better health, and/or increased productivity; and women become more empowered with the ability to make strategic life choices and act on them.

So, to what extent is Feed the Future reaching, benefiting, and empowering women?

To address this question, we relied on two sources of Feed the Future data: sex-disaggregated annual monitoring data (up to fiscal year 2017), and the WEAI population-based survey baseline and interim indicator data (2012-2015)[3].

Using Feed the Future’s annual monitoring data, we first identified sex-disaggregated Feed the Future indicators[4] reported on by USAID field missions and our implementing partners that tracked the extent to which Feed the Future activities reach and benefit women. The following indicators were selected:

  • Number of individuals who received U.S. Government (USG)-supported short-term agricultural sector productivity and food security training
  • Number of farmers and others who have applied improved technologies or management practices with USG assistance
  • Number of micro, small, and medium enterprises, including farmers, receiving agricultural-related credit as a result of USG assistance
  • Value of agricultural and rural loans as a result of USG assistance

We then used the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index indicator[5] data from 2012-2015 to examine progress toward women’s empowerment in the areas where Feed the Future works.

Now that the we’ve tackled some of the technical details, let’s get to the results!

How many women is Feed the Future reaching?

Our first question centered on the extent to which Feed the Future is reaching women in their programming. While there are plenty of indicators to choose from that help us understand its reach, we opted to examine training rates of women and men.

In 2017, the number of women who received short-term training in agricultural productivity and food security reached more than 3.5 million. This number has steadily increased since 2012, and by 2017, represented 44 percent of all program participants receiving short-term training.

It’s great that so many women are being reached by Feed the Future! But do we know if women are benefiting from the activities they’re involved in? Let’s turn to the data again.

One of the outcomes we expect to observe from trainings is the uptake of improved technologies and practices, and we measure that by the number of farmers and others who have applied improved technologies or practices. Once again, the number of women has steadily increased over time, with more than 3.6 million women who benefited in 2017 by applying improved technologies such as innovations in efficiency, post-harvest and sustainable land management practices, and marketing, to name a few. This represents 40 percent of all program participants applying improved technologies and management practices.

How else are women benefiting?

Over 400,000 women farmers and women-owned businesses have gained access to credit every year since 2014. And over $1 billion in agricultural and rural loans have been accessed by women since 2014.

We’re also concerned about whether Feed the Future is moving the needle on women’s empowerment.

Now that we have data for most of the WEAI indicators, we can explore the extent to which women in the geographic areas where Feed the Future concentrates its programming are becoming empowered. More specifically, we can calculate the change in adequacy for the indicators that comprise the WEAI. In order for a woman to achieve adequacy in each of the WEAI indicators, a threshold has to be met.

Reporting on changes in adequacy might sound wonky to many of you, so we’ll offer an example: For the control over the use of income WEAI indicator, an individual is adequate if they have input in decisions about income generated. Applying thresholds like this, we calculated the number and percentage of women achieving adequacy in each of the WEAI indicators, and then calculated the change over time. It’s a little more complicated than this, but you get the point! So the percentages reported below show the percentage of women who achieved adequacy in each of the WEAI indicators.

One key finding suggests that Feed the Future is moving in the right direction. The largest observed changes in the WEAI indicators are for the same indicators that posed the greatest constraints to women’s empowerment in the WEAI baseline report: Workload, Credit and Group Membership.


The number of women achieving adequacy for the workload indicator increased by 21.5 percent from baseline. While our partners continue to work on improving how time use is measured, this finding is still a very important one. Almost 3.3 million more women have manageable workloads, which means that they did not report spending more than 10.5 hours on productive and domestic work. In fact, more manageable workloads were observed in all Feed the Future regions.

Access to and decisions on credit

In the areas where Feed the Future is active, women’s ability to not only access credit but to have input in decisions about how to use that credit has increased.  Aggregated data from Feed the Future’s interim assessment show 44.6 percent of women reported having access to credit and making decisions about its use, up from 37.8 percent at baseline. While this may not seem like much, it is an 18.1 percent increase that translates to 2.56 million more women accessing and making decisions on credit use. In Africa, although access to and making decisions on credit use is still a constraint for many women, the data showed a 31 percent increase, which is the largest regional increase for this indicator.

While credit (access and decisions on its use) is still considered one of the greatest constraints to empowerment across the Initiative (the data show that this indicator is lagging behind the rest), we are moving in the right direction because results from data on the credit indicator are also where we observe the most gains over time.

Group Membership

Group membership was also a significant constraint to women’s empowerment at baseline, and another area where Feed the Future has made progress. The data show a 15.2 percent increase in women’s group membership across the Initiative. This translates to 1.9 million more women participating in at least one group. The reported change was greater in Africa, where we observed a 20.5 percent increase in group membership. Group membership is important because it can serve as an important source of social capital for women and can also provide a forum in which women demonstrate leadership and influence community decisions.

Where do we go from here?

These results are very promising. However, it’s only a snapshot of Feed the Future’s progress on reaching, benefiting, and empowering women, and we a have a lot more work to do. Check out how USAID field missions and implementing partners are contributing to some of these results in the Feed the Future International Women’s Day 2019 infographic[1]  below.  Meanwhile, happy International Women’s Day!

Did you know that 86 organizations in 50 countries around the world collect some form of the WEAI?  For more information on the WEAI, check out Feed the Future’s WEAI page, or the WEAI Resource Center hosted by our partners at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

[1] Analysis done by Heiwote Aberra and Rahel Cherinet under the Feed the Future Knowledge-Driven Agricultural Development project (KDAD) with USAID.
[2]Johnson, N., M. Balagamwala, C. Pinkstaff, S. Theis, R. Meinzen-Dick, and A. Quisumbing. 2018. How do agricultural development projects empower women? What hasn’t worked and what might. Journal of Agriculture, Gender, and Food Security 3(2):1-19. http://agrigender.net/views/agricultural-development-projects-empowering-women-JGAFS-322018-1.php
[3] Only the most recent Feed the Future data that were reviewed and cleared were used for this analysis; 2018 monitoring data is currently under review. For population-based survey data that the WEAI is embedded within, data from Feed the Future countries were collected at baseline and interim; endline data will be collected from 2019-2020.
[4] The Feed the Future Results Framework and indicators were updated in 2018 as part of the transition to phase two of Feed the Future (Read the Global Food Security Strategy). The link corresponding to the text, “Feed the Future indicators” is for the July 2016 version Feed the Future Indicator Handbook and contains the indicators used in this analysis; a separate link for the updated 2018 indicator handbook can also be found through this link.
[5] For the baseline, Feed the Future countries collected the full WEAI in the geographic areas where programming was concentrated. At interim--as the Abbreviated WEAI (A-WEAI) was being developed--some Feed the Future countries collected the full WEAI, whereas others collected data for 9 out of 10 indicators and from primary female decision-makers only. As a result, we could only calculate changes from baseline to interim for individual WEAI indicators (and not the WEAI score), and for primary decision-makers only.