Over 50% of all economically active women in developing regions work in the agricultural sector, but the gender gap persists. It is therefore essential to mainstream gender in production enhancement policies, while also empowering women.
Aster Wotango, chairwoman of the Aheba Women’s Group in Ethiopia, has learned to save, enabling her to borrow money to buy four hens and earn income from the sale of eggs. This savings concept was introduced by Farm Africa through Village Savings and Lending Associations established in remote rural areas of the country. Around €100,000 has been saved and over 13,000 women are able to access credit for the first time. Other members of Wotango’s group have borrowed money to set up similar small businesses to produce maize flour, spices, coffee, mangoes and local beer.
Women from the village of Peko-Misegese in Tanzania are obtaining fairer prices for their crops by communicating with potential buyers and obtaining market information via mobile phone. They have also created a twice-a-week market and built storehouses.
Further east, in Rwanda, Jeannette Maniraho joined the One Acre Fund programme and obtained a loan of fertiliser, an input that was otherwise hard to procure as the selling outlet was located a five hour walk away. The fertiliser was delivered on time and from the very first year she was able to harvest enough rice to feed her family, and have a surplus. The One Acre Fund has delivered seeds and fertiliser to over 100,000 farmers in Burundi and Rwanda.
Finally, since setting up her South Sea Orchids business in 1996, Aileen Burness has been supporting women in Fijian villages to help them earn a living in horticulture - some 270 women have become flower growers or set up their own businesses. Burness’ current mission is to train women on other Pacific islands.
These few examples illustrate how women manage to access productive resources, express their needs and be heard, placing them on an equal footing with men. Yet reducing the gender gap continues to be a challenge for most societies - developed or not - at several levels: work, income, democratic representation, education, etc. This issue is even more relevant in agriculture, a sector in which women’s crucial role has been overlooked until recently, and where glaring inequalities prevail regarding access to resources, markets and services.
An often invisible role
In 2010, on average, 42% of the global female workforce was employed in agriculture, rising to about 53% in developing regions. But disparities between regions (70% in Central Africa, 80% in Eastern Africa, 7.3% in Latin America, 67% in Oceania and 9.2% in Southern Africa) and countries (93% in Burkina Faso, 24% in Fiji, 50% in Ghana and 80% in the Solomon Islands) is marked. Moreover, the share of women in the agricultural workforce has increased in some countries due to conflicts, HIV/AIDS or migration.
Women are very active in the agricultural sector, often producing enough to meet most of their household food needs, especially in Africa (up to 90% according to the African Development Bank), but produce lower yields than men. In The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11, FAO estimates this difference to be about 20-30%, but the gap may vary between countries, cultures, ages and ethnic groups. According to FAO, in Nigeria, the productivity of men and women is identical for maize, yam, cassava, vegetable and legume crops in Oya state, but women rice growers’ yields are 66% lower than those of men in Osun state.
This difference in performance can primarily be explained by the fact that women have less access to productive resources. Moreover, they are helped by fewer labourers from the family, the immediate community and elsewhere. They use fewer inputs (fertiliser), have less access to technology and innovations (improved seeds), and to credit, and men are often the landowners. Significant progress has been made regarding education, especially in girls’ primary school enrolment, but disparities persist to the detriment of women farmers. Women also have less time for agricultural activities as they are responsible for gathering wood, water and caring for their children and home. Moreover, poor infrastructure, particularly transport, often limits women’s access to markets.
If these inequalities were eliminated, agricultural production would increase by 2.5-4% and 100-150 million fewer people would be hungry. But beyond productivity and increased production, “If women were to have greater access to the resources they need - inputs, land, credit, etc. - each country would benefit by a 4% increase in gross national product,” explains Tarikua Woldetsadick, who is in charge of CTA’s gender strategy. “Why this increase? Studies have shown that women invest in their community, creating a chain of productivity. This includes immediate crop production on cultivated land, as well as investment in nutrition, health, better living conditions and education, thus boosting the economy.”
“A gender policy has to be introduced at all levels in agriculture. Women should be able to use and access the policies, financial and technological tools, and innovations,” says Woldetsadick. However, just having access to these tools is not enough, according to a report by the World Bank and the international campaigning and advocacy organisation ONE, based on studies carried out in six African countries (Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda). If we compare the productivity of men and women on plots of similar size and setting, for instance, the differences range from 23% in Tanzania to 66% in Niger, illustrating the importance of cultural issues. Extension services in Ethiopia and Uganda are also more beneficial for men than for women in terms of boosting agricultural productivity, perhaps because these services are less tailored to women’s needs. Moreover, just having a land title is not sufficient - land sold to women is often smaller and/or of poorer quality compared to that owned by men, and resources are also required to be able to develop the land.
ICT projects are essential for linking farmers to markets and must be tailored to women’s real-life situations. CTA’s small grants programme for Gender, Agriculture and Rural Development in the Information Society has dealt with this issue for a decade. Its recommendations include improving rural infrastructure by focusing on common public access facilities, developing community access telecentres, as well as translating content into local languages.
More generally, radio and video is an effective way to inform women since they do not often leave their villages and surroundings. Women’s needs can be more effectively fulfilled and gender issues managed by taking women’s multi-tasking schedules into account when planning extension service interventions, using diagrams for training, supplying fertilisers and seeds in small affordable batches and ensuring that the introduction of industrial technology will not lead to income loss for women. The capacities of women farmers in Malawi and Mozambique have, for instance, been enhanced through community theatre, which has helped them identify their specific needs, formulate solutions and transmit them to policymakers. Women Accessing Realigned Markets is a pilot project coordinated by the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network that aims to give women a means to influence policy making through theatre. This approach is deeply rooted in African traditions and serves as an advocacy tool to address women’s needs and constraints.
Agricultural policies and donors still give insufficient weight to gender issues. Several studies have revealed that only 10% of official development assistance for agriculture takes gender equality into consideration. Moreover, ActionAid International and Peuples Solidaires feel that the policies of donors and institutions only take women into account in terms of being responsible for children’s food security, nutrition and health, whereas they are also farmers.
There is now an opportunity to mainstream gender in policies due to the renewed interest in agriculture, the heightened recognition of the importance of nutrition and food quality, and of the role and constraints of women in this sector. Women’s status in their families, homes and communities also requires enhancement since inequalities affecting women are essentially within the social sphere.