Though farming was originally thought of to be predominantly a man’s profession, women play a key role in contributing to food production in Africa. Raising food production and combating hunger in the continent is paramount in policies and programs, and subsequently, efforts have been made to encourage interest in agriculture in spite of gender.
Nonetheless, Africa is a continent marked by marginalization of women, and agriculture is no exception to the trend. Statistics show that women contribute significantly to agriculture in different activities. Weeding, planting, harvesting, food processing and animal rearing are activities in which women play an important role. Not doing a disservice to men who are actively involved in these activities, the role of women cannot be underestimated. According to the World Bank and Food and Agriculture Report (FAO) report, women produce up to 70% of Africa’s food. Women are commonly found rearing animals and processing food. Though activities such as gardening, small scale livestock rearing and post-harvest processing often go under the radar when detailing the involvement of women in agriculture, these activities often bring food to the table in their respective homes and oftentimes, leave excess for sale.
Besides food production, women make up a significant portion of farm labour in Africa. Some sources estimate women to be between 40 – 50% of total farm labour. Farmers, farm hands and hired farm labour on farms often have women in large numbers. Due to the low level of female literacy in Africa, over 60% of them in Sub-Saharan Africa are involved in agriculture. The other 2 major sectors which are manufacturing and services do not have as many women as agriculture. In spite of this seemingly important role they play in African agriculture, their hands are tied, thereby putting the brakes on how much impact they can make towards reducing the hunger level in Africa. Economic and institutional factors, cultural barriers and low literacy levels are just some of the reasons that put a ceiling on the productivity of women in agriculture. For instance, in Kenya, land and property rights of women are restricted by customary laws, which govern over 65% of the land. This makes it difficult for a woman to acquire land of her own for farming purposes or otherwise. Consequently, access to land is usually through a male family member or relative. This has the effect of leaving women vulnerable, as they have little to no control over their farming and proceeds, in addition to reducing the incentive for long-term investment. Policies such as these surrounding land ownerships put women farmers at a disadvantage.
Some other African countries have customary laws along these lines. In Cameroon, it is considered improper for a woman to receive land donations from people. Furthermore, women have zero rights to land, except from marital bond or family ties. In other words, the right to access and lay claim to land for a woman is virtually impossible when she stands on her own. This outlook towards ownership of land by women is echoed in Tanzania. Property rights are dictated by customs, which often revolve around a woman’s affiliation with a man. This leaves little room for women in customary law and land acquisition. A report from The Montpellier Panel sums this up by pointing out that women own less than 20% of the land in Africa.
These restrictions to land limit the contribution of women to farming and food production in Africa. It makes it difficult to get access to credit, agricultural extension services and finance to buy or lease land for farming. Recruiting farm hands and obtaining funds or loans are also complex. Access to seeds, fertilizers and other agricultural input is very low also. This goes some way to explain why a lot of women are involved in small shareholdings and subsistence farming rather than more profitable agricultural ventures such as cash crop production. Even more damaging, these result in women being given little attention in agricultural empowerment schemes, enlightenment on new agricultural techniques and lower exposure to opportunities for expansion. This ensures their literacy levels remain low in addition to continued usage of crude farm tools. Therefore, women in agriculture are hindered in their efforts to make a higher contribution to producing more food and reducing hunger in Africa.
Conversely, women constitute the larger fraction of the poor in Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the key role they play in agriculture, its beggars’ belief why they have been overlooked and paid less attention in agricultural development in the continent. As much as the figures stated for female participation cannot be exactly determined, it cannot be overlooked that women play a key role in food production in Africa.
However, hope appears to be on the horizon for marginalized female farmers in Africa. In line with goal 3 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which focuses on promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women, some African countries have made strides to achieve this. In Ghana, more laws are being enacted to protect women in disadvantaged positions (such as widows) in order to avoid loss of land holdings. Similarly, in Mali, conferences to give women more power in land management decisions are held constantly. Steps like these go a long way to create legal models that take the needs of women farmers into concern, and for the greater good, higher agricultural productivity for Africa.
Adeniyi, L. (2010). Women Farmers and Agriculture Growth: Challenge and Perspective for Africa facing the Economic Crisis. Paper presented at the Joint 3rd African Association of Agricultural Economists (AAAE) and 48th Agricultural Economists Association of South Africa (AEASA) Conference, Cape Town, South Africa, September 19 – 23, 2010.
Africa Renewal (2014). Gendering Agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/special-edition-agriculture-2014/gendering-agriculture
Alliance for Science, Cornell University (2019). New Initiative Aims to Empower Africa’s Female Farmers. Retrieved from https://allainceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/2019/12/new-initiative-aims-to-empower-africas-female-farmers/
IIED (2014). Women’s Land Rights and Africa’s Development Conundrum – Which Way Forward? Retrieved from www.iied.org/womens-land-rights-africas-development-conundrum-which-way-forward
The World Bank (2021). Women, Agriculture and Work in Africa. Retrieved from ww.worldbank.org/en/org/programs/Africa-myths-and-facts/publication/women-agriculture-and-work-in-africa
UN Women (2014). Women’s Key Role in Agricultural Production Emphasized. Retrieved from https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2014/10/sharefair-women-technologies
World Economic Forum (2018). Women Grow 70% of Africa’s food. But They Have Few Rights over the Land they tend. Retrieved from www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/03/women-farmers-food-production-land-rights/