Kenya has set a small, but great, example of how governments on the African continent can empower women to realise the immense potential of agriculture on the continent.
The government of Kenya recently launched an affirmative action policy to preferentially award 30 percent of government ministry tenders to women-owned businesses in each sector, including agriculture. The goal is to strengthen women-led businesses and break barriers for women in agri-businesses and other businesses.
Such policies and efforts are needed, particularly in agriculture. Overall, women are major stakeholders in the agricultural value chain. Yet, women venturing in agribusinesses continue to face many barriers, including having less access to: land, agricultural markets, recent innovations in farming technologies, agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, credit and training.
However, data shows that when women have equal access to opportunities and resources, they increase yields on farms by 20-30 percent, and raise their total agricultural output by 2.5-4 percent. When you calculate that with 564 million women farmers, this would mean feeding an additional 150 million people.
Recent projections show that agriculture and agribusiness is expected to be a $1 trillion sector in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030. For women to take advantage of these emerging markets, they must be supported across the entire agricultural value chain. And to make a real impact on food production, food security, and economic development, agricultural policies need to undergo a reorientation to focus on empowering women farmers so that they can reap the fruits of their hard work. Ensuring that women get 30 percent of government ministry tenders is just part of the solution.
Much more needs to happen.
To begin with, there must be a sustained effort to enforce or introduce affirmative policies to address and help close gender discrimination in land ownership. Women’s lack of access to landownership affects their ability to access financial services and other development schemes that they could use as they continue to invest in improving crop productivity – further allowing them to satisfy the market demands.
According to the World Economic Forum, women own less than 20 percent of the world’s land, and according to United Nations, that number is even less in developing countries. This has to change. Governments must introduce affirmative action to ensure that women have equal access to land ownership.
Introducing affirmative action policies to end gender discrimination in land ownership can pave the way for women to earn more.
In Tanzania, for example, women with strong property and inheritance rights earned up to 3.8 times more income. In Rwanda, the World Bank reported that, improving land owners’ tenure security caused women to increase investments in their land by 19 percentage points, which was double the impact on men. There’s a similar trend in Latin America where in Honduras and Nicaragua, women with equal land rights contributed a greater proportion of income to household than men.
Secondly, policies must be put in place to ensure that women have access to programs that allow them to train and retrain so that they can continuously upgrade their knowledge and crop production skills while staying updated on recent agricultural innovations; innovations that would allow them to increase productivity and allow them to fulfill market demands.
Moreover, as these policies are being designed and implemented, they must be sensitive of other workloads that women have which can greatly impact women’s ability to fully participate in agricultural trainings and other value adding activities. Many of them are the main caretakers for children and older family members and have tough schedules.
The good thing is that African governments in Liberia, Kenya, and Rwanda, and development agencies like USAID and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and funding foundations like Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have frameworks that provide guidance in designing and rolling out gender-sensitive programs and initiatives. Such policies must not only be on paper, they should actively be implemented and followed.
Once trained, the right policies must be put in place to ensure that women farmers have access to inputs they need to put the training and acquired knowledge to use. From modern improved seeds, to fertilizers and environmentally friendly pesticides, all are essential ingredients to reap the dividends that come with modern agriculture.
Laslty, women need to access unique niche markets. The current effort by the Kenyan government to ensure that women get 30 percent of all the tenders by government ministries is highly commendable. More African countries should follow suit. These will allow, women, who, despite all their tight schedules, toil hard—and form most of the agricultural workforce—get the benefits of their hard work.
But, women farmers, can also take concrete steps on their part to ensure that they can deliver on this newly opened niche market. One way is to form cooperatives. Since many women are smallholders, who own less than one acre of land, making it difficult to individually meet the market demands, forming cooperatives would be a strategic move that would allow them to pool resources, get access to better financing, get better price deals when purchasing agricultural inputs, and negotiate for higher prices when marketing their produce.
Closing the gender gap in all areas of agriculture, and across the agricultural value chain, while creating the right environment to ensure that women who venture into agribusinesses reap the whole suite of benefits requires many more gender-affirmative policies to be rolled out both on the African continent and around the world. Doing so will unleash the power of women, economically empower them, catalyse country-wide economic development while building strong and resilient countries.
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