While governments and organisations are striving to achieve sustainable food security in Africa, gender inequalities pose challenges for women farmers and rural agri-entrepreneurs in Africa. Our correspondent Fatsani Gunya digs into this issue by talking to programmes officer for Gender and Agriculture at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) Dr Margaret Kroma.
Why is Agra incorporating the aspect of gender in its programming as it strives to grow the continent’s agriculture?
Agra believes that smallholder farmers must be at the heart of its transforming agenda with practical local knowledge and skills being augmented by products of agricultural research. The continent’s agriculture sector can only achieve its full potential if the important role played by women in agricultural value chains is acknowledged, appreciated and supported. That is the reason we decided to come up with various programmes at Agra which aim at enhancing such a spirit.
Our focus, therefore, is on smallholder farming system that is largely dominated by women. My job is to ensure that the investments we make in Africa benefit women.
What role do Africa’s women play in agriculture?
The statistics in Malawi indicate that 70 to 80 percent of the production system is done by women. That alone gives one a clue on the role women play in smallholder production systems across Africa.
However, it is a pity that even if they contribute such a considerable level, one does not see them having a say when it comes to benefits of their sweat. Africa may never turn its potential to become the world’s food basket and lead supplier of raw materials to the heavily industrialised countries if member countries don’t keep the trend in check. The future largely depends on the woman and we are talking of that smallholder woman farmer operating in a rural setting.
How do you intend to incorporate women in the production systems without necessarily compromising cultural norms?
We understand that Africa is unique in the sense that its production systems are dominated by women. Secondly, the continent has some social systems which are very different from the rest of the world. Such systems clearly state or draw a line on the roles of men and women.
As Agra, we do not want to change that. This is Africa and we respect that fact. But at the same time, women are the biggest producers of crops that are grown and it is why they need more responsibilities in agri-value chain. We, therefore, see women producers and rural entrepreneurs as having some significant potential to transform agricultural economies and drive growth. Building needed capacities to support them translates potential to substantive achievement of Africa’s green revolutions goals in Southern Africa and beyond. And this is what we try to do.
How do you implement programmes to achieve efficiency?
As Agra, we want to build skills in developing gender responsive indicators to measure progress and achievement of change objectives over time. We also want to help connect practitioners and researchers working on gender and agricultural value chains to facilitate the identification of common ground and learning and knowledge sharing of successful approaches in strengthening gender in agriculture value chains.
How does Agra perceive the role of women producers and agri-entrepreneurship in general?
Agra’s vision is to lift small-scale farmers, most of whom are women, out of poverty and hunger. Its programmes aim to boost farm productivity and incomes, safeguarding the environment and supporting the African agricultural value chain which includes seeds, soil health, water, market access, agricultural education and more.
Small holders need reliable access to improved seed–well adapted higher yielding varieties. They need integrated soil health management agronomic practices to get the most from their improved seed, ready access to efficient markets for their produce and affordable credit.
What would Africa lose if it doesn’t follow your advice ?
If we do not put concerted efforts into value addition, what it simply means is we are exporting jobs to those countries that will add value to our crops. Value chain development is at the heart of Agra’s approach to its agricultural programming. But gender inequalities pose real risks for women producers and agri-entrepreneurs in chain transactions from farm gate to the table.
To achieve food security and spur economic development, women food producers and rural entrepreneurs must be at the centre of all efforts along agriculture value chains to substantially raise the productivity and incomes of millions of smallholder farmers who dominate Africa’s rural landscape.