Globally, reports the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the majority of economically active women in the least-developed countries work in agriculture. Furthermore, and according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture,30% of farmers in the U.S. are women. This can easily be attributed to gender-specific obstacles, which put female farmers at a significant disadvantage before they ever plough a field or sow a seed.
Arguably, the biggest roadblock is land rights. In developing countries, only 10-20% of landholders are women, and in some parts of the world, women still cannot legally own or control land. When a female farmer isn’t empowered to make decisions about the land she works, she can’t enter contract farming agreements that could provide higher earnings and reliable sources of income.
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. We recently celebrated the 2020 International Day of Rural Women, and with it the realization that Africa needs to reflect more on the role women play in food and nutrition security, land and water management.
Also important to consider is 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.
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.
For instance, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a research-for-development non-profit, is providing guidance to the researchers aiming to facilitate agricultural solutions to hunger, poverty and natural resource degradation in line with the organization’s goals and particularly its gender research strategy.
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. However, 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.
Inherent gender bias in the economic system, for example, regularly limits a woman’s access to credit. That’s especially true for smallholder female farmers in developing countries where cultural norms and lack of collateral often prevent women from borrowing money. Without adequate funds for capital investments, female farmers are less likely than men to buy and use fertilizer, drought-resistant seeds, sustainable agricultural practices, and other advanced farming tools and techniques that increase crop yields.
Abolishing gender-specific barriers in farming, the FAO reports, would not only empower women to achieve their highest economic potential, but it could also help feed a hungry world. According to the FAO, most of the approximately 820m people worldwide who are currently undernourished live in developing countries—the same places where women are key to food production. Giving females access to the same resources and education as males could increase food production by women by up to 30%, potentially eliminating hunger for 150 million people. Also, the FAO asserts, earning extra income would enable women to spend more money on health care, nutrition, and education for their children—investments that could produce long-term, positive results for farm families and their neighbors.