Bridging gender gap in agriculture

For many years, Lufina Deodata, 44, was a frequent beggar in her village.  Not anymore.

Thanks to new farming methods that place environmental consciousness at the heart of agriculture, she has improved her family’s welfare.

Two years since joining a local producers’ cooperative, the mother-of-four from Nkhalabzulu Village has thrown away the begging bowl.

“I feed my family all year round and send my children to primary and secondary schools. My satisfactory crop yield gives me enough profit to venture into livestock farming as well,” she says.

Deodata shells groundnuts in Nsaru

Deodata counts six pigs, seven goats and hundreds of local chickens as part of her sprawling, newfound agricultural niche.

Her fortunes changed after she joined Gwiritse Producers and Marketing Cooperative in Nsaru, Traditional Authority Kabudula, some 40 kilometres west of Lilongwe City.

The 242-member cooperative, whose mainstay is soya beans and groundnuts, has become a model not only in Malawi but across the continent.

Gwiritse Cooperative was picked as one of the groups under a United Nations (UN) Women project contributing to the economic empowerment of women in Africa through  climate-smart agriculture”

The project was conceived primarily to close the gender gap in agricultural production following a 2015 study in Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi which unveiled a glaring gulf between men and women involved in and benefitting from farming.

The project, funded by Standard Bank Group to the tune of K2.2 billion (about $3 million), will be implemented by UN Women in Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda where it will target 50 000 women farmers.

In Malawi, 10 000 women farmers in Mchinji, Lilongwe, Mzimba and Karonga will benefit from the project.

Deodata’s cooperative was considered for this project mainly for its women representation.  Out of 242 members of the cooperative, 154 are women—representing 63 percent. 

Standard Bank has injected K340 million towards the project in the country.

Standard Bank chief executive William le Roux believes their intervention both at Pan-African and country level correlates with Africa’s potential as an agricultural hub.

“This project, which has targeted a crucial group in the farming industry, will change the way people see agriculture for many years to come. The more we support women in smart agriculture, the more we stand to benefit as an economy,” he says.

The project runs from January 2019 to December 2020. Malawi will focus on the  production, processing and marketing groundnuts as an agricultural value chain.

Gwiritse Cooperative already has substantial presence in groundnuts farming.

In 2017, it produced and sold 253 metric tonnes followed by 255 and 264 metric tonnes respectively in 2018 and 2019.

“I can assure you that the women of Gwiritse will translate the knowledge and technical support from this project into higher yields. Expect our cooperative to yield and gain more this coming farming season,” she says.

The project aims at addressing entrenched gender disparities in the agriculture sector which has come due to cultural beliefs, mere male chauvinism and unfair social practices. 

For many decades, Malawi’s potential as an agricultural powerhouse has remained a pipeline dream because a majority of its farming population has stuck to subsistence farming.

Even more complex is the fact that women, who constitute around 52 percent of the population and 70 percent of the labour force in the agriculture sector, have been placed at the peripheral of Agriculture as an industry.

According to government statistics, there is a 28 percent gap in agricultural productivity between men and women, leaving the latter incapable of maximising their potential in the field.

True to these statistics, Deodata is the one who is active in farming endeavors as her husband spends most of his time in drinking binges and other “manly traits”.

“I’m the one who decided to join the cooperative because my husband feels like it is wasting time to be part of a cooperative. He, however, appreciates that my membership at Gwiritse Cooperative is benefitting the home. I am not worried about his passiveness in this regard as long as we are managing to live a comfortable life,”  

Yanira Ntupanyama, chief director in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, observes that looking at behavioral patterns within many Malawian households, it would make sense if women are empowered to take a leading role in agriculture.

“We cannot ignore this very important demographic reality. The right and timely empowerment of women farmers is likely to trigger improved productivity, improved nutrition and increased domestic income,” she said.

A forecast by UN Women shows that by closing the gender gap in the agriculture sector, Malawi would increase her annual gross domestic product (GDP) by K75 billion (about $100 million) and lift 238 000 people out of poverty.

Benefits expected from this project are beyond the bounds of agriculture only.

The benefits will spread across education, health, gender and social equality, financial inclusion, ending child marriages and land ownership by women.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development will work closely with the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare as well as Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism in the two-year project.

To Deodata, the future looks well paved.

“I already feel I am on the right track in view of the profits of the past two years. The coming of this project means my friends and I will gain even more from my groundnuts farming.”

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