March 16, 2017

Guest Commentary – How Clocks Helped Grow Half a Million Tons of Food

By Emily Hillenbrand, Pathways Team Leader, CARE USA

Working with the Pathways program, 65,000 women farmers have been able to grow more than half a million metric tons more food than they had with traditional practices—all because of clocks. Why would talking about a clock help a family grow more food? 

Because the “daily clock” exercise helps men and women talk together about how household burdens are getting divided, and usually shows men that women are doing more work than men are, even though men have not been valuing this contribution. It’s one of the exercises that communities consistently tell us helped change their minds about how seriously to treat women farmers. And empowering women farmers has been crucial to producing more food.

As one man in India told TANGO, who evaluated the program, “Men used to think that women were fools, but that is not the case now. They speak more and involve themselves in important matters these days.” That’s just one of thousands of stories of change from Pathways—a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation program that has been operating since 2012.

Pathways builds from CARE’s mission to end poverty with a focus on women and girls, and FAO’s statement that if women had equal access, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world. The project focuses on getting women farmers access to the rights, resources, and skills they need. 

The Pathways project partnered with the New Economics Foundation to look at the project’s return on investment. Here’s what they found.

According to communities in Ghana, Malawi, and Mali, the Pathways program generated $158 million worth of benefits in their lives. That’s $31 of benefit for every $1 the project spent working with them.

What Changed for Farmers?

  • $31 return for every $1 invested: this figure represents the total benefits to all community members including direct program participants, their families, and their neighbors. In fact, about 25% of the benefit is in spillover effects to farmers, businesses, and government actors who weren’t part of the program.
  • $13 increase in food security: People said that of the total benefit they received, $13 worth was from an increase in their food security due to better diets and more food available to them.
  • 37% of benefits were in women’s empowerment: Of the total return on investment, 37% (about $11 worth) was due to the rise in women’s empowerment. 
  • Income improved: Annual income went up for families—from a $217 increase in Mali to a $545 in Ghana.

How did we get there?

  • Build capacity: Most participants told us that training and information—things that helped them build new skills—were critically important for not only the benefits they see now, but also for the sustainability of impact.
  • Invest in women: The project focused heavily on women farmers, and getting them the same access to information and opportunities as men. This investment paid off in a big way.
  • Remember productivity: Women often said that productivity and income gains gave them the platform they needed to expand their rights and roles. Once they got more access and more resources, they could move into leadership roles.
  • Think holistically: The evaluators can’t tell you which single component had the biggest impact because an integrated approach is what made the whole program work. The project looked at production AND markets AND nutrition AND gender equality AND climate resilience; those pieces together made impact.
  • Improve women’s access to services: Women’s access to extension more than tripled in every country Pathways worked in. Farmers’ Field and Business Schools were a particularly important way that we opened up access to information and extension for farmers.
  • Host gender dialogues: The dramatic changes in women’s empowerment are partly a result of women having more income as farmers and being taken more seriously. But they are also a result of hosting dialogues where men and women examine relationships and discuss how to improve gender equality.
  • Find Male Champions: Male champions were a critical part of all of the programs in getting men to support women and treat them more equally both as partners and as farmers.

Want to learn more?

Check out the full study here.  Or look at the other Pathways information at




The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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| By Margaret Cornelius, Nicolas Gatti, Peter Goldsmith, Edward Martey

Guest Commentary - Addressing the barriers to soybean production in Africa

High input costs and lack of access to credit prevent smallholder farmers from investing in their soybean crops. Barriers such as these have kept soybean yields low in Africa. The Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab is working to address them through incremental input bundles.