Across Africa, Agriculture remains the main source of rural employment for both men and women and has long been touted as Africa’s path to renewed economic success and development (if properly managed). However, in order for the Agricultural sector to reach its full potential, women must be fully integrated into the sector, through affirmative action to minimise barriers to entry as well as the creation and enforcement of gender-responsive agricultural policies to empower women to take a seat at the table. Essentially, in order for progress to be meaningful and successful, it must come hand-in-hand with gender equality to ensure that the sector reaches its full potential and that women in farming are given an equitable chance at economic independence.
On average, women make up a little under half of the African agriculture workforce (this percentage, of course, varies by country, by crop, and by various other factors). However, they bear a disproportionate work burden and are “almost entirely responsible for low earning-low productivity rain-fed agriculture,” which is less likely to be well-paid. In the continental push to embrace high-productivity agriculture, women are—once again—being systematically left behind; a mistake we cannot afford to repeat. The below recommendations for increased female inclusion into the Agricultural sector are not exhaustive—rather serve as key steps to initiate and encourage female participation in order to raise agricultural productivity, help female farmers achieve better economic independence, and ultimately drive national economic growth across the continent.
Women & Land Ownership
To ensure gender equality in Agriculture, women must first be allowed to own land and able to access it. In several African countries, women are historically prohibited from inheriting and buying land, therefore locked out of ownership of land and of anything land produces. According to the World Economic Forum, women own less than 20% of the world’s land; and to contextualise this, in Nigeria, only 15% of women own land (Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2013). Further, in countries like Morocco, women are only now fighting to gain land ownership rights, and women’s property rights in all respects are not often respected.
In today’s world, as emphasis (and profits) leans on increasing scales of production, it is critical to own and access sizeable land for farming. Therefore, conscious efforts must be made to accommodate women who have historically been the major players in small-scale farming. Thus, ensuring that land is properly documented and that women have equal opportunity and rights to inherit, buy, control, access, and transfer land is the first step to establishing gender equality in Agriculture and in levelling the playing field.
Affirmative Action to Minimise Barriers to Entry
The 2017 UN Women Policy Brief, “Technology for Rural Women in Africa,” reveals that women farmers are 13-25% less productive than their male counterparts across sub-Saharan Africa. This loss in productivity essentially means that African economies forfeit millions of dollars as, for example, the aforementioned reports emphasises: “In the United Republic of Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda, for example, narrowing the gender gap in agricultural productivity has the potential of raising gross domestic product by USD 105 million, USD 100 million, and USD 65 million respectively.”
Fundamentally, the reinvestment into Agriculture will not be effective without the full economic integration of women into the sector. From coffee farming in Ethiopia to cash crop farming in Nigeria, women should be systemically granted access to high-productivity farming practices, techniques and resources. Therefore, it is important to employ affirmative action to encourage women to participate in the sector.
Governments and NGOs should take targeted steps to minimise barriers to entry in Agriculture for women by leveraging gender-responsive policies. For example, ensuring that a specified number of women are accepted into standardised training programs from both local and international organisations. While this might seem minimal, women are often systematically excluded from training programs. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), female farmers receive only 5% of agricultural training. These trainings provide key information on labour-saving technology, accessing local and international financing mechanisms, and increasing the scale of production, all of which female farmers can leverage to ensure high productivity and increased profits. Without actively inviting women in, the chances are high that they will remain out. As Amanda Satterly of Technoserve mentioned: “Traditionally when you invite farmers to train and when they hear ‘farmers’ they hear ‘men’ unless you proactively try to reach and train women, they’re invisible.”
Targeted Farming to Ensure Productivity
Additionally, to ensure that women are more actively included in high-productivity Agriculture, the government can intentionally include women in its investment areas. For example, governments that plan to invest in high-value cash crop farming should target female farmers (for production, supply and even certification programs, if applicable) to ensure that women are farming crops that will provide them with meaningful income. Typically, this will mean governments would provide financing mechanisms to help female farmers (who are typically smaller-scale) manage specialised production, as well as ensuring their access to (and capacity to use) technologies that will motivate high productivity.
ABOUT Nneoma Nwankwo
Nneoma works in financial services in Canary Wharf, London. She is the founder of Empower46, a news and policy perspectives platform on women’s rights in Africa. To subscribe to Empower46, click here.