In Africa, the majority of food is grown by women, yet women own less than 2 percent of the world’s land, access only 10 percent of agricultural credit, and are routinely – systematically? – excluded from oppportunities to engage in more profitable agricultural activities and productive crop systems [1][2]. At the same time, millions of people across the developing world go hungry due to lack of access to affordable and quality food. These two realities are inextricably connected. As Nicholas Kristoff made clear in Half the Sky, liberating women and enabling them to maximize their potential is fundamental to overcoming poverty and hunger. Sadly, the barriers to realizing the vision of an equitable and poverty-free world are complex and many. Drawing on nearly two years of in-depth multi-country research and analysis, CARE and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are working together to tackle them.

The Pathways Goal – Sustainable, Transformational Change

CARE’s Pathways program focuses on improving poor smallholder women farmer’s productivity and profitability by empowering them to more fully engage in equitable agriculture systems. Funded by the Gates Foundation and implemented in Ghana, Malawi, Bangladesh, India, Mali,and Tanzania, Pathways is designed to improve the food security and livelihood resilience of poor smallholder women farmers and their families. As Henry Swira, CARE’s Program Director in Malawi explains it, “For one to be productive, you need to have access to resources and to markets.  And it's easier for men to have access to resources, because that's how traditionally it's been constructed, when actually it is women who do 70% of the work in the field…Pathways will be pushing those boundaries.” 

Pathways approach is grounded in CARE’s Women’s Empowerment Framework. The program’s theory of change places women at the center, suggesting that by increasing self-efficacy, pushing against structural barriers, and building more equitable relationships in the agricultural system, women can increase their productivity and profitability, which will increase household resilience and livelihoods.  

The Pathways Approach – Five Levels of Change

Pathways will directly impact 150,000 poor women smallholder farmers in its first phase, representing 840,000 people. To do this, CARE is pursuing change across five common and closely inter-related areas, all of which must be impacted to achieve the Pathways goal. CARE’s route to change relies on a number of interventions that integrate traditional best practices around agriculture, market engagement, gender equity and finance but combines these in new ways that are more efficient and impactful. The CARE Farmer Field and Business School approach provides farmers with hands-on opportunities to experiment and learn about effective production practices but also to learn the fundamentals of successful business management. Following the agricultural cycle, participants receive just-in-time training, yielding higher retention rates and greater behavior change.

Working with a range of existing groups – from producer groups to self-help groups to village savings and loan associations - CARE is building women’s capacity, access to resources, and financial and value chain inclusion. These efforts are supported by interventions targeting the cultural and legal environments in each country.Policy and community education campaigns aim to increase women’s access to more lucrative agricultural sectors by engaging men, boys and traditional power holders while participatory methods such as CARE’s Community Scorecard engage communities in joint visioning and planning through identifying problems, generating solutions and working together to improve services. 

CARE Pathways Program
CARE Pathways Program
Pathways in Practice – Accepting and Managing Complexity

The Pathways framework is adaptable and has been adjusted to the unique challenges faced by each country. In India, for example, GDP has risen steadily over the last decade, but the gap between rich and poor has continued to widen.Farmers have been squeezed by lack of agricultural investment, natural disasters and climate change. While women farmers throughout India face gender-based inequalities, women belonging to the historically poor and socially excluded communities are particularly marginalized. CARE India’s Pathways program has responded by bolstering positive trends, especially the growing presence of women’s collectives in these communities,which are building the profile and influence of marginalized women farmers. In Mali, where men town and control access to the majority of land, the Pathways program has been facilitating community dialogues, which included men, women and key decision makers on issues of land rights. Due to the effects of changing climatic conditions over the last five years in Mali, acquisition and increased utilization of land by women smallholders is critical to producing enough food to feed households and to supply markets.

The Way Forward

CARE’s Pathways Program is based on the conviction that women farmers possess enormous potential to contribute to long-term food security for their families and substantially impact nutritional outcomes in sustainable ways. The program builds on CARE’s expertise in smallholder agriculture, financial inclusion, nutrition, women’s empowerment and market engagement. Working in partnership with others, Pathways promotes transformative change in women’s lives and the lives of their families by combining and expanding upon the best of what we know. Through dialogue and partnership we realize we can have a wider impact by sharing tools and best practices. We encourage you to engage with Pathways by visiting and joining our listserv,


  1. Women and Sustainable Food Security. Women in Development Service (SDWW), FAO Women and Population Division.
  2. FAO, “Gender and food security: agriculture”, as cited by: Steinzor, S., 2003, Women’s Property and Inheritance Rights: Improving Lives in Changing Ties, Washington DC: Development Alternatives, Inc.
  3. The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011, Women in Agriculture, Closing the gender gap for development, FAO Economic and Social Development Department