Mon, Mar 24, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Leveling the field for females is the key to African agriculture

By Liz Ford  /  The Guardian

Investing in childcare and adult education, as well as giving women farmers the same access as men to fertilizer and training, could significantly increase food production and improve their lives and that of their families, according to a report that highlights the deep-rooted gender gaps in Africa’s agricultural sector.

The report, published by the advocacy group One and the World Bank on Wednesday, found that despite women comprising more than half of the continent’s farmers, political indifference and social constraints mean productivity on female-managed plots is significantly lower per hectare than those managed by men.

It argues that closing the gender gap could bolster food security and livelihoods. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that if women had the same access to resources worldwide, their yields could increase by up to 30 percent, which could result in up to 150 million fewer people going hungry. The latest figures from the organization show that 842 million people experience chronic hunger.

Comparing the differences between men and women farming similar-sized plots of land in similar contexts across six African countries — Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda — the report shows that production rates among women are 23 percent less in Tanzania and 66 percent less in Niger. In Nigeria, dramatic differences were found between women and men living in the south and north.

The report, titled: Levelling the Field: Improving Opportunities for Women Farmers in Africa, analyzes data from national surveys of smallholder farmers conducted by the World Bank’s Africa region’s Gender Innovation Lab between 2010 and last year. The report is the first to pull this data together to look for trends across the continent, One says. More than 40 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa live in the six countries featured.

The authors make 10 recommendations to governments on ways to increase productivity. These include strengthening women’s land rights, providing childcare facilities, offering education to women, supporting women’s access to markets and increasing their use of quality seeds and fertilizer.

The report looks at the quantity of resources women can access compared with men and the returns they receive on these inputs. The research found that even when women had equal access to resources, it did not necessarily translate into equal production levels.

“This novel insight points to broader norms, market failures or institutional constraints that alter the effectiveness of these resources for women,” the report reads.

One of the main barriers to women’s agricultural output is their inability to mobilize extra labor, the report found. On average, women tend to live in smaller households with fewer men, perhaps owing to widowhood or because the men have left to look for work. As a result, women have fewer relatives to assist with work on the land and household chores. The findings suggest that women may also be less likely to afford hired help, or pay them as much as their male counterparts, and that they may not be able to supervise hired hands as well as men because they are not able to spend as much time in the fields due to housework or childcare responsibilities.

“Despite the fact that female farmers across all six profiled countries face these types of labor challenges, evidence on policies aiming to help women overcome these barriers is rare. For these reasons, African governments and donors must prioritize attention in this area and develop effective programs that help women farmers hire outside labor, use tools and equipment that reduce the amount of labor they require on the farm, and access community-based childcare,” the report says.

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