Professionalising women farmers: Key to success

Women’s organisations are becoming more professional and taking the lead across many value chains, which is driving up yields and strengthening the agricultural sector.

Betty Chinyamunyamu explains how NASFAM is strengthening the capacity of women farmers © Betty Chinyamunyamu
Betty Chinyamunyamu explains how NASFAM is strengthening the capacity of women farmers © Betty Chinyamunyamu

Thursday, 01 March 2018

Dr Betty Chinyamunyamu, a development economist, is the new chief executive officer of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), a body representing 130,000 smallholder farmers, 53% of whom are women.

Why is it important to have farmers’ organisations specifically for women?
Women are the majority of farmers in Malawi, just as in many other African countries. They contribute significantly to agricultural labour and are the key producers of food. It is therefore necessary that interventions by farmer organisations, and other such bodies aimed at the development and growth of agriculture, be gender-aware and specifically target women.

The NASFAM approach, however, is to work with both male and female farmers and not to only target women. We promote gender mainstreaming in all our programmes because it makes business sense. Male and female farmers complement each other by bringing different expertise to farmer organisations.

I know that in some cases, even though women are included in the activities of the farmer groups, they are excluded from decision-making and therefore feel the need to create their own women-only farmer groups. In NASFAM, we have sensitised all members on issues relating to gender, and female farmers are elected into leadership positions just like their male counterparts. This helps to ensure that decisions made within the farmer groups are gender-sensitive.

How is NASFAM strengthening the capacity of women farmers, and supporting them to improve their yields and market access?
We provide training to all members on how to strengthen their production capacities and run their farms as businesses. We promote farming businesses to lift women higher up value chains, from merely providing labour to meaningfully participating in markets and having negotiating powers in the market place.

For the past few years, NASFAM has been implementing an adult literacy training programme aimed at equipping members with numeracy and reading skills, essential to understanding the ‘farming as a business’ training sessions. The classes are available to both men and women farmers, but with higher illiteracy rates, it is mostly women who register.

We make sure that all our interventions aimed at assisting farmers to improve yields and access markets benefit both male and female farmers. Our reports are disaggregated by gender, which helps us to monitor and therefore respond appropriately when an intervention is found to be gender insensitive or biased against female members. The extension services we promote also respond to the needs of both male and female farmers, and include demonstration plots and field days, radio programmes, and accessible publications.

To improve access to markets, we promote collective marketing where farmers are encouraged to pool their produce. Although this helps all farmers, it is particularly useful for female farmers who, because of their roles at home and at work, face constraints in accessing markets outside of their communities.

What are the key challenges still to overcome?

Women still face issues that limit their participation in farming enterprises, including limited access to land – which also affects their ability to access financing; time constraints due to their household and community roles; limited access to extension services that are provided in a gender-insensitive manner; and limited access to appropriate technologies.

Further, a lot still needs to be done to promote and encourage women and girls to take up science research. One area that would add value is to create more opportunities for mentorship programmes where girls of different ages and levels of education can be mentored by female scientists.

Busani Bafana

Other dossiers

Facts and Figures

Betty Chinyamunyamu explains how NASFAM is strengthening the capacity of women farmers © Betty Chinyamunyamu

SOURCE: IFC report (2016) - Investing in Women along Agribusiness Value Chains

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.