Women farmers are the pillars of African agriculture. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the agricultural sector employs over two-thirds of all women in Africa who then produce nearly 90 percent of food on the continent. Women are responsible for growing, selling, buying and preparing food for their families yet remain marginalized in business relations and lack control over access to resources such as land, improved seeds and fertilizer, credit and technology.
Women serve as the backbone of agriculture and food production in Africa, but the potential of women in agriculture is left largely untapped. African women comprise approximately 70 percent of Sub-Saharan agriculture workers and 80 percent of the actors in the food processing chain.
Agricultural programs are rarely designed with women’s needs in mind due to a combination of logistical, cultural, and economic factors, coupled with a lack of gender statistics in the agricultural sector. As a result, African women farmers have no voice in the development of agricultural policies designed to improve their productivity. Dialogues concerning agricultural issues mostly happen at the international level, where a few speak for the majority, and not on behalf of the majority.
The United Nations estimates that agricultural productivity can increase by as much as 20 percent when women are given the same inputs as men.
Women in African agriculture are often loaded with huge risks to manage. Alarmingly, women account for a large number of the poorest, most disadvantaged and marginalized people in Sub-Saharan Africa and often head the poorest households.
Faced with the combined effects of the global food crisis and climate change, it is evident that women’s economic empowerment is not only a human right but a necessity for agricultural growth, food security and better standards of living in Africa. For African nations to ensure food security at the household level, countries must realize the critical role women play and include them in all development processes. There is also a strong need to specifically focus on rural women and to address key gender disparities at various levels in the distribution process as well as access to productive resources, information and technology. Spaces must be provided for rural women to voice their concerns and recommendations regarding agriculture production and food security.
Key challenges faced by African women farmers include lack of access to and ownership of land, access to credit, market, appropriate technology, food reservation, processing and packaging facilities and climate change. In order to address the issues and empower women in agriculture, I strongly believe that governments, civil society and the private sector must do the following:
- Identify partners that can link women farmers to market;
- Help women’s groups participate fully in agricultural chains;
- Improve the availability of gender disaggregated data for policymakers and citizens;
- Assess and design agricultural development programming to ensure programmes are gender aware and gender transformative; and
- Train and empower a mass of women to participate in and lead agricultural research and policy development.
The FAO estimates that opening up access to women farmers could increase total agriculture output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent—or approximately 100 to 150 million people.
Lack of gender balance among scientists and leadership in most agricultural institutions and among policymakers and extension workers drives gender inequality for female farmers around the world. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2011 report Engendering Agricultural Research, Development, and Extension, most extension workers are male and women have far less access to extension services. In Latin America, only one in three agricultural researchers is a woman and in Sub-Saharan Africa, the rate of female agricultural researchers drops to one in four. In 64 developing countries, women account for an average of only 23 percent of agricultural researchers.
“Transforming Africa’s Agriculture: Harnessing Opportunities for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development” is the theme of the 22nd Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU Summit) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Summit runs from January 21st to January 31st. For more information on the AU Summit, please click here.