Why we need to invest in female farmers
17 October 2016
By Geoffrey Nyamota, Farm Africa's Head of Market Engagement
The economic empowerment of women is crucial to sustainable poverty reduction. To achieve this, the private sector and development agencies need to work together to find ways of successfully integrating them into markets as producers, distributors, businesses, employees, and consumers.
Rural women make up over a quarter of the world’s population. And in sub-Saharan Africa, where we work, the female share of the agricultural labour force is the highest in the world.
As we celebrate International Rural Women’s Day in 2016, it’s clearer than ever that we need to highlight the critical role that women play in driving prosperity across rural Africa. We also need to recognise that much needs to be done to assist smallholder women farmers in overcoming the multiple disadvantages they currently face.
Rural women have to juggle numerous agricultural and domestic duties – from sowing, weeding, and harvesting crops, to collecting firewood and water – and a substantial share of their work goes unpaid. Women usually take care of children and the elderly, and are responsible for food security in the home. When food is limited, it is women who often receive the smallest portions within the family, and mothers are the ones most likely to miss out on a nutritional diet or access to medical care.
In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa women also have more limited access than men to education, finance, property, and agricultural extension services and technologies. Barriers they face may vary from place to place, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution – in one region problems might arise from a lack of rights to land, elsewhere women might be prevented from being involved in the sale of their produce at market, and without information on market prices they cannot adapt their business accordingly.
Holding back women holds everyone back. When women prosper, they tend to invest more in their homes and families, giving their children more nutritious food, keeping them healthy and ensuring they get an education. When women are economically empowered and have greater opportunities, it helps the whole community to flourish.
Recognising the specific needs of rural women and addressing the distinct set of barriers they face is of vital importance to economic development and key to reducing undernutrition and poverty in a sustainable way.
At Farm Africa we place women’s economic empowerment at the heart of our work and adapt our programmes to address the practical, legal and cultural barriers women face in different contexts.
This includes designing services that cater for women’s needs. Sometimes it is as straightforward as arranging training sessions at times when women can easily attend, and promoting agricultural projects that women can run from their homes, such as beekeeping, raffia weaving and mushroom farming.
We also help set up farmers groups where women can come together to save and borrow money, which in turn helps them to create the financial records needed to apply for loans from formal financial institutions. It is through this kind of access to finance that rural enterprises can really take off.
When it comes to integrating women into agricultural supply chains, the private sector wants assurances that farmers can reliably deliver an agreed quality and quantity of product, supplied in a reliable and continuous way. Key to this is ensuring women farmers know what markets there are for products, what kind of activities are required along the supply chain, and what standard and volume of product is required within what timeframe.
And by giving women a platform to engage in new opportunities on their farms – opportunities that they may not have had before – women can develop whole new streams of income which helps to lift them and their families out of poverty.
FAO studies have suggested that if women were given better access to land and resources, they could raise the global agricultural output by 2.5% to 4%, which would in turn reduce the number of hungry people in the world by around 12-17%. It’s time that the world properly invests in female farmers to make that a reality.