Jennifer Zavaleta's Dissertation Defense

Event Date: 
Monday, June 24, 2019, 10:00 am

2024 Dana Building
440 Church Street


Seasonal Food Security in Rainfed India: the Roles of Income Diversity and Women’s Empowerment



 Food and nutrition insecurity remain critical problems in the Global South, with nearly two billion people suffering from micronutrient deficiency. Food insecurity, especially seasonal food insecurity, is likely to grow among people directly dependent on natural resources as climatic shocks become more frequent and severe. Income diversity, or having multiple streams of revenue, is an adaptation strategy that researchers and development agencies laud as a way to mitigate risk and smooth consumption. Women are often targeted as beneficiaries of income diversity programs because they are characterized as “the key” to food security. To better understand the relationships between food security, income diversity, and women’s empowerment, I collected approximately 15,000 household surveys across 1,200 households in 80 villages from November 2017- 2018. My findings challenge the dominant narrative that as women earn higher incomes their families’ food security increases. In our study site, women’s control over income—and not their level of income—was most associated with food security, while higher incomes actually decreased decision-making power about household expenditures. This suggests that initiatives that seek to empower women by encouraging them to join the workforce are not a sufficient solution to food insecurity and gender inequity. The dissertation also quantifies the multiple ways through which women can impact food security, including the tradeoffs and feedbacks. We find that women’s empowerment and education are mutually reinforcing and have more potential to increase food security than encouraging women to earn more income.


Dr. Arun Agrawal


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