– Africa’s hopes of feeding a population projected to double by 2050 amidst a worsening climate crisis rest on huge investments in agriculture, including creating the conditions so that women can empower themselves and lead efforts to transform the continent’s farming landscape.
As we celebrate the 2020 International Day of Rural Women, Africa needs to reflect more on the role women play in food and nutrition security, land and water management.
Also, the impact of COVID-19 on women’s capacity to provide food for their families and care for their loved ones underscores the importance of strengthening their capacities by designing gender responsive actions.
We know the world has the technology and resources to eradicate hunger but finding the right policies and the will to implement them often elude us.
Fortunately, young women and men carrying out evidence-based research in sub-Saharan Africa are coming up with some possible answers on how to tackle these pressing issues.
Working with the support and guidance of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a research-for-development non-profit, these researchers are aiming to facilitate agricultural solutions to hunger, poverty and natural resource degradation in line with IITA’s goals and particularly its gender research strategy.
Bear in mind that over 60% of all employed women in sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture, and that women produce up to 80% of foodstuffs for household consumption and sale in local markets. But these women farmers are disadvantaged by a range of factors, such as laws, policies, gender-blind development programs, and entrenched norms and power imbalances within and outside their homes and communities.
Fundamental gender constraints clearly shape how women and men are involved in and benefit from agricultural food systems. Manifested as harmful gender norms, attitudes and power relations, they have a particular impact on how young women participate in value chains or have access to resources such as land, as well as their decision-making powers and how money earned from their labor is spent.
Gender-blind policies and development interventions do not take into account the different roles and diverse needs of men and women, while gender-accommodative policies confirm that gender constraints exist but can propose ways to work around them for the benefit of women.
IITA’s gender research strategy brings to the surface the underlying causes of gender inequalities to inform and guide policies to address these causes with interventions that reduce poverty and increase gender equality in low-income countries with boosts to job opportunities and economic, food and nutrition security.
In the months before the coronavirus surfaced and with funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), IITA launched 80 research fellowships for young African scholars, with an emphasis on young female professionals and students aiming to acquire a master’s or doctoral degree. Grantees are offered training on research methodology, data management, scientific writing, and the production of research evidence for policymaking.
Known as CARE (Enhancing Capacity to Apply Research Evidence), the three-year project aims to build our understanding of poverty reduction, employment impact, and factors influencing youth engagement in agribusiness, and rural farm and non-farm economies.
Achieving these development outcomes requires working with multi-stakeholder groups at multiple levels to transform unequal power relations between female and male youth in various social institutions, including in the household, community, market, and the state.
For example, in southern Benin, graduate student Grace Chabi looked at why young agricultural entrepreneurs are predominately male. Among her policy recommendations are a call to remove gender biases from land ownership, credit, and employment practices. Policies should also facilitate female agripreneurship networks and target funding to agribusinesses owned by women.
Research by Akinyi Sassi in Tanzania found how stereotypes can negatively affect women’s intentions to use information and communication technologies (ICT) to access agricultural market information, but that contrary to such stereotyping, female farmers were more strongly influenced than male farmers by their perception of the value of using phones to find such information. Such gender factors can be considered when promoting ICT use.
Cynthia Mkong of Cameroon has examined the issue of role models, social status, and previous experience in determining why some students are more likely to choose agriculture as their university major. Almost a quarter of young women in Cameroon are unemployed, compared with 11% of young men. Building effective policies to improve the education of girls and household income at all levels could reverse declining youth interest in agriculture.
Adedotun Seyingbo examined employment among Nigerian youth and how gender and other issues, including land access, influence how more young people remain in non-farm employment rather than staying in farm jobs.
Also in Nigeria, Oluwaseun Oginni looked at rural-urban migration and found that 43% of youth migrants are female. A better future, educational opportunities, and marriage are among the reasons young women are leaving rural areas.
Adella Ng’atigwa examined how to empower youth to reduce horticulture postharvest losses in Tanzania and found that women have fewer losses as they are more involved in vegetable production and marketing and are more able to handle perishable crops.
All these research projects also illustrate IITA’s gender research strategy using what is known as an ‘intersectional lens’. This means an examination of deep inequities, sometimes violent and systematic, that intersect with each other: such as poverty, racism, sexism, denial of rights and opportunities, and generational differences. In this way the connections between all struggles for justice and equal opportunities are illuminated.
A gender transformative approach adopted by IITA aims to address the root causes of gender inequalities for more sustained and meaningful change for female and male youth. With such changes, Africa, with the world’s youngest and fastest growing population, will be better equipped to handle its future challenges with women at the forefront.