University of Exeter logo

Research and Innovation blog

Home About Contact Toggle navigation Open menu

Gender equality and food security

14 December 2020

2 minutes to read

Gender equality and food security

Professor Toby Pennington and Dr Carolyn Petersen are working with field partners at the Instituto Ouro Verde (IOV) to level the playing field in gender roles in agroforestry systems in Brazil. The project will aim to help foster greater empowerment of women and help them to develop sustainable incomes alongside predominantly male farming systems.

The value of native trees within agroforestry systems, where they are planted to fertilise soils and provide a nurturing environment for crops, has been well demonstrated.  Agroforestry has proven to be beneficial in restoring degraded soils, leading to improvements in cattle feed quality and enhanced milk quality yields.

In Brazil, the use of the native tree, Inga, is increasingly recognised as a suitable species for restoring soils. Most Inga-based agroforestry systems have been developed around a single species, Inga edulis. However, there are 300 other Inga species that may provide equal, if not greater benefits, which could expand the geographic and environmental scope where these systems can be applied.

Ingasystems is a culmination of three projects, all lead by the university, aimed at improving Inga-based agroforestry systems in Brazil. Improving the resilience of agroforestry systems in times of climatic change and population growth, communities can benefit from reduced poverty, improved food security, and reduced pressure on natural vegetation and biodiversity through conversion to agriculture.

The team are applying state-of-the-art genetic approaches to identify native species  which are suitable for use in agroforestry systems. They are also tackling the issues of Inga seed availability, which cannot be stored, by working closely with stakeholders and smallholders to establish community seed orchards and are encouraging local communities to adopt sustainable farming methods that provide food security and income whilst simultaneously improving tree cover and soil conditions in one of the most degraded areas of Amazonia.

The latest of the projects aims to better understand the current roles, strengths, and barriers to developing women’s social and economic autonomy in the area and to increase the socio-economic impact of the agroforestry income-generating initiatives. It will investigate how targeting strengths and overcoming barriers can foster greater empowerment of women, and by association their families, through developing their own sustainable incomes. The team is aiming to identify the extent to which these activities are enabling women to gain a stronger negotiating position and more influence in intra-household decision-making and income distribution.

As well as making an impact to the women and their wider communities, the project will also engage policy makers through the research process and outcomes with a view to influencing and improving the provision of income generation support to rural women, thereby boosting economic opportunities in the region.

The outcomes from the project will directly support Brazil in delivery of its commitments to the Convention on Biological Diversity and to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and contribute to the University of Exeter Global Research Translation Awards (GRTA) aimed at developing and delivering sustainable social and economic development solutions and food security to developing countries.

Find out more at

For more information please contact:

Tamsin Thomas
Global Research Translation Award (GRTA) & Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF)
Project Coordinator


Instituto Ouro Verde
Back home