Food security and Gender

This project investigates the effects of contemporary processes of land commercialisation on food security, and the way in which policies and human right contribute to ensuring food security. Food security is thus our dependent variable. The 1996 World Food summit defined food security as a situation “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO 1998). This well accepted definition embraces the four components of food security, namely food availability, accessibility, utilization, and sustainability. Definitions of the right to food build on this definition of food security, but add to it the element of state obligations. In our model, the right to food therefore appears as a factor facilitating the achievement of food security.

In thinking through the influences on food security (our “independent variables”) we draw on different traditions of research from different disciplines: agrarian livelihood transformation, legal studies, and policy analysis. The three traditions inform our research questions. While they diverge in their conceptualization of issues influencing food security, they share a parallel focus on structures, processes and outcomes. Structures are conceptualized variously as vulnerabilities, policies and institutions, or laws and legal mechanisms; processes as adaptations or strategies, politics, and jurisprudence or claims making (see Table 1). Our explanations for the impact of land commercialisation on food security combine various elements of structure and processes.

table 1

Because gender is pervasive, our gender analysis is integrated throughout.  We treat gender as an analytical tool that allows us to diagnose inequalities in both structures and processes. As an organising principle of society and politics (most visible perhaps in gender divisions of labour and power) gender structures livelihood vulnerabilities, policies and institutions, laws and legal mechanisms. But in order to be re-produced, gender needs to be enacted; we thus also look for performances of gender in livelihood strategies, politics, and jurisprudence. Moreover, when looking at the lived experiences of individuals, gender cannot be divorced from other status differentiations, such as ethnicity, class, or age. Therefore our livelihoods study will approach gender as intersectional, i.e. it will recognize that other status distinctions shape what it means to be a woman or man in particular contexts.


In order to help us make generalisations—by identifying patterns, mechanisms or typologies—we have designed this study to involve three types of comparisons. First, we are comparing developments over time by repeating our livelihood survey conducted in year 2 again in year 5. Over time comparisons will allow us to gauge changes in a context of land commercialisation. An ancillary purpose will be to measure the effects of our trainings and policy dialogues.

Second, the study is designed to allow us to compare the effects of different scenarios of transition: the creation of large-scale farming with wage labour, the development of contracting farming, and the commercialisation of family-based farming. This type of comparison is geared towards identifying mechanisms of adaptation, of access, of policy translation, and of human rights in action. We intend to select for analysis two of our scenarios at a time in order to compare how policies, politics, the law and its use similarly or differently influence food security. Paired comparisons of this kind are particularly useful for analysing processes with sensitivity to historical context, a high degree of in-depth, thick and detailed description, and a view from within. They will help us understand processes in addition to outcomes.

Finally, the study is conducted in two countries, i.e. Ghana and Cambodia, allowing for comparisons between vastly different contexts.

Research Questions, Operationalisation and Methods

table 3