Women in Malawi are breaking gender barriers to take on meaningful roles in science and technology.
After years of marginalisation, more women and girls are embracing science to overcome challenges haunting their nation, where they constitute 51 percent of the population.
Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which highlights their strides and impact in the quest for full and equal participation in science.
This year’s theme calls for greater “investment in women and girls in science for inclusive green growth.”
The United Nations (UN) urges communities to encourage women and girls to participate in science for sustainable economic growth and utilisation of natural resources.
Malawi, which relies on agriculture for food and economic well-being, requires a robust women-led scientific agenda to combat hunger, poverty and climate change.
In fact, women constitute about 70 percent of the labour force though they are marginalised when it comes to productivity.
Government statistics show that there is a 28 percent gender gap in agricultural productivity.
It is estimated that if this gap is narrowed, then Malawi would lift around 238 000 people out of poverty and increase the annual gross domestic product (GDP) by some K75 billion.
Closing this gap also means increasing women’s contribution through best farming practices.
A climate-smart agriculture initiative by UN Women promotes the inclusion of women and girls in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) to spur economic growth and sustainable development for all.
The science aspect in the UN Women initiative has allowed 10 000 women farmers in Mchinji, Lilongwe, Mzimba and Karonga to access climate resilient seeds and farming technologies.
The project—Contributing to the Economic Empowerment of Women in Malawi through Climate Smart Agriculture—promotes the use of improved varieties of groundnuts, modern farming system that helps farmers reap more from a small piece of land and creation of a value chain that presents attractive markets.
Climate change remains a growing threat to food security systems in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In the past decades, a steady rise in temperatures, coupled with irregular rainfall patterns in the region, has affected crop and livestock production alike.
Nowadays, governments and their partners are championing climate-smart agriculture (CSA) to achieve food security.
CSA focuses on various farming actions, including planting fast-maturing and drought-resistant crops, to reverse falling yields.
These resilient crop varieties and land management techniques are a result of strenuous scientific laboratory work.
The UN Women project offers rural women an opportunity to be part of this scientific agricultural revolution characterised by modern climate resilient techniques and seed.
It empowers the women farmers to adopt climate smart technologies to improve groundnut farming in Malawi.
Agriculturalist Stan Juma says science has played a critical role in the emergence of climate resilient seed regimes.
He explains: “Through research, scientists have also developed farming techniques to mitigate the effects of climate change and improve productivity.
“Advances in crop science and molecular breeding programmes have seen the development of highly adapted crops—enhancing climate change adaptation and strengthening food and nutritional security for rural communities.”
Juma observes that women and girls must be trained in new technologies to build resilience in the face of climate change.
He says: “We must give women and girls access to game-changing innovations and technologies in agriculture. There must be deliberate sharing of agricultural skills and knowledge while encouraging young girls to help change outdated social structures and cultural norms.”
Lufina Deodata, a beneficiary of the UN Women project, says learning new farming methods has brought a new perspective among members of Gwiritse Cooperative in Lilongwe Rural.
“There is renewed optimism because we now have answers to what was a major problem. Days of high yields are back with the new knowledge at our disposal such as suitable seeds for our soils and new farming techniques,” she says.
The project—funded by Standard Bank Group to the tune of K2.2 billion—targets 40 000 women groundnuts growers in Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda.
The bank has injected K340 million into the Malawi project. As a UN Women champion on women and girl initiatives, the bank believes sustainable development on the continent is only possible when it includes everyone, more so those who are a majority of the population.