The pivotal role of African women in ensuring food security

Food insecurity and hunger remain significant global challenges exacerbated by conflict, inequality and climate change. The agricultural industry is vital to local and regional economies throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, as both a source of food security and a significant source of employment, especially for women.

What role do women play in agriculture in the SSA?

The role of women in agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is often understated or not acknowledged. Outside cultural considerations, much of this can be attributed to a lack of available gender-disaggregated data.

Studies across Sub-Saharan Africa has revealed that women play a critical role in many facets of pre and post-harvest production. For instance, the FAO reports that “while men are often responsible for land clearing, burning and polishing, women specialise in weeding, transplanting, post-harvest work and, in some areas, land preparation and both take part in seeding and harvesting”. Women also play a pivotal role in natural resource management and are far more likely to grow food crops than cash crops.

What challenges do women face in the agricultural industry?

It is estimated that women account for approximately 43% of the agricultural labour force globally. Despite this contribution, gender-based discrimination denies rural women and girls equitable access to land, credit, weather and climate information, and other productive resources, which if they had access to, could increase overall agricultural production by an estimated 20%.

For instance, even though the Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division have stated that an average of 28% of households in SSA are headed by a female, the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data shows that only 13% of women in the region have sole ownership of land.

Impact of gender studies on policy making

Evidence from several studies indicates that implementing gender-inclusive policies in a sector will typically lead to increased development, this is especially relevant for sectors such as agriculture, labour and climate change adaptation for food security.

For instance, research by scientists at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Nigeria showed that women’s access to inputs and participation in agricultural decisions either independently or together with their male counterparts typically increases agricultural productivity.

This led to the adoption and implementation of the National Gender Policy in Agriculture by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Nigeria, whose overarching goal is to ensure equal opportunities and access to agricultural resources, services and programmes to achieve food security, regardless of gender. The policy was implemented in 2021, and while there are no indicators to measure its

impact as of yet, the National Gender Steering Committee tasked with its implementation has high hopes for the potential effects on the country.

Some national agricultural programmes that have yielded demonstrated success in the past include the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) in Malawi and the Land Tenure Regularization programme (LTR) in Rwanda. Both programmes have helped close the gender gap in modern maize adoption and reduce gender discrimination in land access in Malawi and Rwanda respectively.

The FISP programme which provided subsidized seed and fertilizer coupons positively influenced modern maize adoption instead of higher value cash crops by female household heads, which is critical to achieving food security in Malawi. The LTR programme, on the other hand, has helped achieve greater land tenure security and has had positive impacts on agricultural investment, especially in female-headed households in Rwanda.

Policy making implications

Agricultural drivers are built on a gendered system with embedded gender inequalities that affect men and women differently. There is, therefore, a need for gender-inclusive agricultural policies and programs to address the unequal access to productive resources.

Farrelly & Mitchell Food and Agriculture Consulting

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Stephen Awuah

Regional Director (SSA)

Leading Farrelly & Mitchell's Ghana office, Regional Director Stephen Awuah is a seasoned food and agribusiness professional. With an extensive portfolio of agribusiness consultancy in the SSA region, Stephen offers unrivalled regional expertise.


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