Agriculture: a springboard to livelihood diversification

Aida Cuthbert Isinika is a professor of agricultural economics at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania and has over 40 years’ experience in rural development. Fred Mawunyo Dzanku is a research fellow at the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research at the University of Ghana. Here, they discuss what can be done to improve access to farm and non-farm livelihoods.

Why is equal access to agricultural assets between men and women important for the agricultural sector today?

Aida: It is important because men and women both play an important role in agricultural production and a lack of access to productive resources is a major limitation to improving productivity. In Tanzania, women constitute more than 50% of the population and they play a very important role in agriculture. As such, studies and experience have shown that including women in agriculture is critical for wide-reaching development because the majority of agricultural workers are women. Agriculture can also serve as a springboard for smallholders to step into other livelihood options, such as providing food services, opening up small shops or buying and selling grains.

Gender differences in productivity are more substantial in low agro-productive regions where environmental factors limit output. What can be done to help women in these areas access non-farm sources of income?

Fred: Because there is a link between agricultural productivity growth and non-farm activity growth, we need a two-pronged approach: one that addresses the gender gap in productivity in low agro-productive regions while looking for innovative ways of enhancing women’s access to non-farm sources of income. Addressing the gender-gap in ‘poor’ regions requires state-induced investments in infrastructure and new technologies – irrigation, improved seeds and roads, for example. Second, women’s non-farm self-employment activities could be enhanced in these regions through targeted credit schemes, which have been shown to enhance entrepreneurship.

Agriculture, Diversification, and Gender in Rural Africa addresses, among other topics, recent policies that encourage poverty reduction through smallholder production. Have such policies enabled farmers to access more profitable markets?

Aida: Yes and no. In Tanzania the government and other stakeholders have facilitated markets to operate under the liberalised economy. The government has also developed institutions such as cooperatives and infrastructure, such as roads and market places, which facilitate smallholder farmers – and women in particular – to operate as farmers, traders, input suppliers or processors in agricultural value chains. Sometimes, however, the government supports one type of policy but then limits the potential of this support through other policies that contradict growth, such as export bans. This makes it difficult for farmers to move on a sustained trajectory of improved incomes because export bans mean the local market becomes flooded, and farmers have to sell their products at very low prices, reducing their returns.

Women face the problem of ‘dual exclusion’ from agricultural productivity and non-farm employment options. What is needed from the public and private sectors to facilitate their access to agricultural livelihoods?

Fred: Empowerment of women through education and participation in community-level decision-making processes holds an important key to ensuring that resources, including agricultural livelihood assets, are equitably accessed. State-sponsored programmes that encourage technology adoption by women using innovative approaches, such as radio listening clubs and mobile phone voice messages, could boost women’s productivity. The private sector is naturally driven by profit motives but the fact that African women are entrepreneurial provides the opportunity for partnership with private sector actors in the form of credit schemes, for example, which could boost agricultural investments.

In your opinion, what technologies have had the best reach in Tanzania and how are they making a difference for smallholder farmers?

Aida: Drudgery-reducing technologies on the farm, such as tractors and milling machines, and productivity-improving technologies, such as chemical fertilisers and pesticides, allow smallholders to increase their farm income while generating savings and time to engage in more rewarding non-farm activities such as food vending, hair salons and shops.

For more information see the full review of ‘Agriculture, Diversification, and Gender in Rural Africa’.

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.