Participation of Women in Africa’s Agriculture and Its Impact on Growth and Productivity
Investing in women farmers will boost agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Gender inequality in access to opportunities is in no way a new discourse in the African context. From areas such as land ownership rights to earning capacity, several bodies have contributed in varying capacities to the available data on unequal access to opportunities between men and women in Africa. Some have even gone further, introducing initiatives and actionable ways to bridge the gender gap in certain crucial areas.
Still, there’s a largely unapproached but equally important aspect in which gender equality is still not adequately prioritized in Africa – improving agricultural output and the right resources to achieve it. When regional performance on the commitment to empowering women farmers was assessed in 2022, African regions were trailing far behind with Sub-Saharan African regions showing a percentage commitment of 28.6% and only 3.3% in North African regions.
From the current data available, women are said to comprise a considerable percentage of the farmers in Africa. According to an academic research report, women contribute up to 40% of the agricultural gross domestic product (GDP), while concurrently being the more active participants in domestic duties. Despite these, women seem to face the most barriers in access to resources for agricultural productivity. As such, one cannot help but wonder, how far can women farmers in Africa go if equipped with the resources required to achieve increased agricultural productivity?
Contributions to Output and limitations faced by women farmers
Women farmers in Africa have always played a crucial role in the agricultural sector. Several reports place them at the front lines of essential agricultural processes including food production, processing, and marketing. According to a report by the African Development Bank, women farmers are the backbone of the agricultural industry in the region, making up 52% of its overall workforce and providing roughly 50% of the agricultural labour on farms in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
With this level of contribution to the availability of food resources, one would expect that the African region would be doing its best to support women farmers in Africa. Unfortunately, this is still far from being the case. Compared to their male colleagues, African women who work in the agricultural sectors as farmers, livestock owners, employees, or entrepreneurs constantly report less access to productive resources.
Data from the World Bank revealed significant gender differences in agricultural production throughout three surveyed African nations, ranging from 13% in Uganda to 28% in Malawi. Similar results have been found in studies conducted in other nations with gender differences in agricultural production, ranging from 8% in Kenya to over 30% in Nigeria.
These disparities in agricultural production between men and women arise due to different constraints. Women have less access to agricultural inputs such as finance and infrastructure and as a result, will deliver lower returns on the inputs they do get and earn less income. There is also evidence of less secure land ownership rights, in addition to gender-based distortions in product markets. So what can be done to change these and aid women farmers in reaching parity?
Taking cues from other countries
It’s important to consider what others in similar circumstances have done in the past when seeking solutions. Certain countries have recognized the impact of women farmers on the agricultural sector and consequently taken steps to empower them for better productivity. These countries also have good results to show for their efforts. Consider Bangladesh, for instance, some researchers have presented findings that show a correlation between higher levels of productivity, efficiency, and positive technological evolution with improved empowerment of women in agriculture. According to the study's analysis of the correlation between Bangladeshi women's empowerment scores and productivity, a 1% rise in women's empowerment ratings was linked to elevated agricultural output ranging from 0.17% to 0.44%.
In certain African countries assessed by the United Nations in 2018, there have also been records of increased agricultural productivity due to women's empowerment. In Rwanda and Malawi, reducing the gender gap in agricultural productivity led to a 7% and 19% increase respectively in crop production in these two countries. The improvements in the GDP in the other three countries assessed were also significant, despite the smaller scale of the increase in agricultural output percentage they recorded. For instance, Ethiopia's agricultural GDP increased by $221 million as a result of the 1.4% increase in crop production.
The positive outcomes these countries recorded came from their increased focus on improving women’s access to agricultural inputs like finance, machinery, and fertilizers. These countries have proved that women farmers can be just as productive and technically proficient as their male counterparts once the right resources are provided. Of course, there is still much to do even in the African countries discussed above. For instance, there is a need to eliminate constraints (caused by domestic obligations) on the time women can invest in agricultural and money-making activities as well as improve access to lands and credit facilities, among others. Still, the results in these countries are quite promising and can be an excellent example for the rest of Africa to follow.
The bottom line…
Barack Obama once said that any team putting only half its players on the field is bound to lose. In the same vein, if key decision-makers in African countries keep focusing more on male farmers to improve agricultural productivity and combat food insecurity, Africa may remain embroiled in its battle against hunger and food insecurity for longer than necessary. The African countries already taking steps towards gender equality in agricultural empowerment should be imitated to ensure positive outcomes in terms of food security. Africa’s agricultural sector has a lot to offer itself and the world, and empowering women farmers is a key step in manifesting this potential.
Ajit8 months ago
This is a very interesting write up.. Thank you