Gender revolution: a prerequisite for change
Although they play a pivotal role in African agriculture, women have to contend with limited access to financial and technical resources, skewed land policies, lack of know-how and appropriate technology. Whatever challenge affects smallscale farmers, women are the worst hit as they form a majority in this group. The role of women in African agriculture may be receiving increasing international interest, particularly as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently remarked that, "a green revolution in Africa will happen only if there is also a gender revolution." However, although the empowerment of women in agriculture may have been much talked about in recent years, little progress has actually been made.
In a briefing paper at "Towards an African Green Revolution?" held at the Salzburg Global Seminar, Pascal Sanginga of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) notes that rural women in Africa produce 80 per cent of the food and do most of the work in storing, processing, transporting and marketing food. "Despite this," he continues, "African women own one per cent of the land, receive seven per cent of the agricultural extension services and less than ten per cent of the credit given to smallscale farmers. They are not represented when policies are formulated, when programmes are developed, when budgets are drawn or when decisions are made about their work and their life." Even within farming organisations the pattern is frequently found: in Zimbabwe, for example, women constitute about 75 per cent of the members of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, but only five per cent of the officers are female.
Empowerment of women, according to Sanginga, cannot be delivered through agricultural development programmes that focus on improving access to basic agricultural needs. Such programmes, he argues, do not address gender-specific causes of poverty, such as inequalities in ownership of land and assets, decision making, education and social norms. Rather, a successful and uniquely African green revolution must mobilise local institutions and farmers' organisations to come up with collective solutions that address farmers' needs.
"Women have a very big role in Africa's green revolution," says Celina Cossa, founder and President of the General Union of Co-operatives (UGC) in Mozambique. "Now is the time for women to fight hunger through this revolution and women are in the right place to make it a reality." Formed by poor women at the height of Mozambique's civil war, UGC is today a leading agricultural organisation that has helped its members gain financial independence by helping to secure credit and land rights.
From six initial cooperatives, the organisation has grown to more than 185 cooperatives with over 5,500 members, 95 per cent of whom are women. Its activities have expanded from growing vegetables to poultry production, cashew nut processing, pottery and micro-finance. It also has its own school and vocational skills training centre. "As women, we need to transmit skills among each other. This will help us to gain the power that we need as women to make the green revolution possible," says Cossa. "At UGC, we have demonstrated the power of women by empowering them to take action for themselves and change the situation of their families."
Science and business skills
For Harriet Ssali of the African Women Agribusiness Network and J.H Floricultural Growers, women's empowerment in Uganda depends on strengthening farmer organisations like the Uganda National Farmers Federation to work directly with grassroots farmers. Like Cossa, Ssali believes that the solution to a gender revolution in African agriculture lies in building women's capacity, particularly through training in business management. "Women can better manage their agricultural businesses if they have the appropriate skills," she says.
Pascal Sanginga agrees, arguing that Africa must find more innovative ways of increasing the efficiency and productivity of women's time, labour, and assets. Key to this, he believes, is increasing women's negotiating, marketing and management skills, as well as their basic literacy and numeracy. Citing the example of Kenya, where rural women receive little education, he suggests that a year of primary education provided to all women farmers would boost maize production by 24 per cent.
But education and capacity-building for women are also needed at higher levels. In an effort to boost the role of women in agriculture, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) has announced an innovative fellowship programme for 60 female agricultural scientists in Africa. The African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) programme offers specially-tailored two-year career development fellowships. It is open to African women conducting research in crop sciences, including horticulture, to help fight hunger and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.
Whilst the AWARD programme is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for women scientists in Africa, much more needs to be achieved if the poor social status of Africa's women is to be addressed, including their ability to contribute to decision making and their marginalisation on land issues.
Written by: Busani Bafana
Date published: July 2008
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