To transform African agriculture, women must be at the centre


Jemimah Njuki

Globally, women provide 43% of the agricultural labour. In Africa, this percentage is higher with women contributing as much as 70% of the agricultural labour. They do this despite the many constraints that they face. More often than not, women are not the land owners, they are not the inheritors of land, they are not the family bankers, they are not the ones who went to school, they are not the ones who show up for meetings and trainings, and more often than not they are not at the table when decisions are made.

We all know and all acknowledge about the important role of women, as farmers, as care givers, as marketers, as firewood fetchers, as feeders of the continent. And yet commitments to transform agriculture do not include commitments to empower women smallholder farmers.

There has to be a recognition that women are at the centre of African agriculture and we cannot talk about Africa’s transformation without talking about its women.

In a recent meeting at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRF 2014), a panel discussion organised jointly by IDRC, UN Women and the AU Commission came up with 5 key recommendations for investments in women to truly transform African agriculture;

  1. Women’s ownership and control of land is a prerequisite to increasing agricultural productivity.
    1. land registration processes must be inclusive of women, and customary land rights should recognise women as land owners in their own right or jointly with men. A good practice is the Ethiopia joint registration of user rights of all land.
    2. land policy initiatives must recognise smallholder women farmers as equal partners in the large scale land based initiatives and must ensure that women farmers are not negatively impacted by expansion of large scale land based initiatives.
  2. Science and technology must generate appropriate, labour saving, productivity improving, cost- and energy efficient technologies that suit smallholder women farmers. This includes mechanization, improved varieties and inputs.
  3. Credit and Finance – mainstream financial institutions must have a portfolio of products that work for women, e.g, leasing products, franchise products, weather insurance, vanilla credit – because it has been proven that women are trustworthy credit borrowers, yet their access to financial resources is constrained.
  4. Gender and age disaggregated data: Investment in sex disaggregated statistics and gender sensitive indicators that show where women are (rural/peri-urban/urban), who they are by age group, and their status and contribution is critical to informing sound policy and programmatic responses and demonstrating the high and secure returns on investing in women, because “What gets counted and measured, gets done
  5. Strengthening women-led, and women focused farmer organizations requires sustainable investments in order to effectively deliver impact, ensure up scaling what we know works, and enhance women’s collective voice and advocacy for influencing policies and increasing women’s user rights and ownership of communal land.

As momentum gathers around the Malabo declaration by African governments, commitments to support women smallholder farmers must be part of the discussions, and practical and measurable targets on investments in women must be made and implemented to truly transform African agriculture.


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