In the coming years, agricultural production and agribusiness in general will be under considerable pressure, as worldwide population growth will lead to increasing demand for food, placing an additional burden on natural resources. At the same time, land suitable for food production is declining across the world due to climate change. To produce enough food, the productivity of the available land must therefore significantly increase. And to avoid further harm to our ecosystems, this must be done in the most sustainable way. Doing nothing and watching prices increase, making food unaffordable, is simply not an option.

Women are crucial actors in agribusiness value chains, comprising more than 40% of the global agricultural workforce. They represent even a larger share in Africa – the continent suffering the most from famine - where women are essential to planting, cultivating, and harvesting, as well as processing, logistics, and sales. Particularly in emerging markets, women often face impediments to own land and access financial systems, as well as information to improve the methods of production and distribution.

By just one measure, giving women the same access to agricultural resources as men, including quality input, technology that brings together supply and demand and training, could increase farm production between 7% and 19% in some African countries. Additionally, women receive only a small fraction of assistance for agricultural investments. In Africa, for example, they receive less than 10%  of small farm credit and one percent of total credit to the agricultural sector. In fact, nearly 40% of the world’s economies still limit women’s property rights, which also severely impedes their access to credit. For instance, in countries such as Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Tajikistan and Uganda, where the share of employment in agriculture is around 50% of total employment and where more women than men are employed in agriculture, property rights are still limited for women. It is not surprising that in these countries, agriculture productivity is far below the world average.

Women’s equal control of ownership of land and other forms of property is therefore explicitly stated as a sub-goal of Sustainable Development Goal 5, to be reached in 2030. But in the past decade,only a handful of countries have made legal reforms to granting property rights to women. Given the size of the population, the limited property ownership by women in India stands out, with only 7% of women being the sole owners of land compared to 28% of men. And it is not only about granting individual rights to own or use land, but also about customs and traditions. Women employed in the agribusiness are more likely to be engaged as family support without income, whereas men are more likely to be engaged as workers generating income.

Improving the position of women in the sector demands a radical change in how we invest. Already sustainable investments seeking to improve food production and distribution in emerging markets are required to replicate what companies are asked to do in advanced economies - improve diversity at the board and reduce the gender pay gap. However, in emerging economies, the most material bottlenecks are elsewhere.

Indeed, there is evidence that if women have better access to property rights and finance, they can then help communities improving the natural resources management and productivity. Here sustainable investing can play a critical role. An important first step is to establish land and resource rights and grant ownership, given that 70% of land in emerging countries is still unregistered. Private companies are facilitating data collection and surveys on land rights based on gender, for lack of government statistics, but with limited resources coverage is still small and data collection slow.

At the same time, investing in technology that supports climate-smart agricultural practices and training are other areas where women should be included to improve productivity. However, agriculture financing needs scale and a broad base of investors, in addition to government guarantees to reduce risks intrinsic to the agribusiness. Sustainable investors can trigger the necessary transformations by making the agribusiness climate- and gender-smart.