Labouring: African women constitute 40% of the agricultural workforce and produce 70% of the continents food. Photo: Luis Tato/AFP
As South Africa commemorates Women’s Month, the country will reflect on the progress made in achieving gender equality and main-streaming the gender agenda across all areas, including agriculture.
Agriculture sustains 70% of Africa’s livelihoods, while playing an integral role as an engine of economic growth and poverty reduction. African women, on average, make up 40% of the agricultural labour workforce and produce 70% of Africa’s food, but their contributions continue to be barely recognised. Many face gender discrimination according to a survey by American agricultural chemical and seed company Corteva Agriscience, which was carried out in several African countries.
This is despite several multi-pronged initiatives to help women launched by African governments, universities, nongovernmental organisations and others. African Women in Agricultural Research and Development, for example, is an initiative aimed at mentoring, empowering and raising the next generation of women in agricultural sciences, while strengthening their research and leadership skills. The Kenyan government passed affirmative policies that preferentially give tenders to African women-led agricultural enterprises. International aid agencies such as USAID also have initiatives aimed at correcting gender imbalances in agriculture.
These efforts are starting to pay off. A recent feature by online site Quartz Africa, based on an article about the gender gap published in the Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security, reported that African women are starting to take the lead in agricultural research. There is evidence of a positive relationship between empowering women and an increase in agricultural crop productivity, and reducing the gender gap in agriculture.
But much more needs to happen. In line with the month-long celebrations taking place in South Africa, women who are already making it in agriculture and the many enterprises they have founded must be celebrated. This includes publicly highlighting women who are excelling in the rest of Africa. Doing so will show women that they can pursue agriculture and succeed.
Second, there is a need to get more women trained and retrained. Agriculture is a knowledge-intensive field, with new technologies emerging every day, from drones and sensor technology to climate-smart agriculture, which all improve productivity.
The training done must be respectful of women’s workloads and the other difficulties they face. African cultural dynamics are biased in a way that, while women farm, it is men who participate in agricultural extension training. This leaves women at a disadvantage, especially about recent agricultural technologies.
Scholarships for African women must be created. African governments, agricultural universities, and institutions at the forefront in agricultural research and policy, such as South Africa’s Agricultural Research Council, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology and the Alliance for a Green Revolution must set aside internships and positions for women. We must invest in a sustainable pipeline so that women can keep thriving and succeeding in agriculture.
Even as we celebrate success, we must create platforms where women in agriculture can connect and share both the successes and challenges that they face every day.
If Africa wants to build a thriving agricultural sector, we must invest in women and inspire them to pursue agricultural sciences.
Esther Ngumbi is a postdoctoral researcher in the entomology department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and a Fellow at the World Policy Institute