Will Bridging Gender Gaps Win Agro prosperity for Africa?

At the twilight of year 2013, Accra based Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), one of the continent’s apex agricultural research agencies, gathered agro-research scientists and relevant stakeholders across the continent to among other objectives, shed light on the import of gender mainstreaming as a virile tool for the enhancement of Africa’s agricultural sector.

FARA’s mission was in part; to strategize on how the African continent can make gains by exploiting the huge potentials latent in gender integrated agricultural planning. Added to that was the objective of creating a critical network of stakeholders that would ensure sustained advocacy for gender integration in agricultural schemes.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation, 1997 defined Gender as “‘the relations between men and women, both perceptual and material”. This implies that Gender is not necessarily within the confines of biology – the sexual characteristics of either women or men. It is rather a social construct. The FAO study revealed that it is a central organizing principle of societies, governing the processes of production and reproduction, consumption and distribution.

Similarly, the World Health Organisation views Gender as referring to the socially constructed roles, behaviour, activities and attributes that a particular society considers appropriate for men and women.

Gender is often misunderstood as being the promotion of women only. However, from the FAO and WHO definitions above, gender issues focus on the gender lines, the relationship between them, their roles, access to and control over resources, division of labour, interests and needs.

A study commissioned by FARA in 2013 to review the constraints and opportunities for mainstreaming Gender equality in Africa seem to have a more succinct definition - noting that  Gender determines the economic and social roles played by men and women, boys and girls; and in rural households. Participation in agriculture is just one of many such roles played by their members.

The study noted that African smallholder agriculture is carried out as a way of life - an embodiment of the culture and values of societies. According to that study: “African smallholder subsistence agriculture is governed by a complexity of norms, beliefs and practices that determine individual household members’ roles, rights, expectations, obligations, responsibilities and entitlements within and beyond households.”

The training organised by FARA also revealed that one of the drawbacks to the development of agriculture on the continent was either outright inability to unlock the potential in critical stakeholders in the sector or pretentious non - recognition of the valuable contributions of different gender groupings.

Quite a number of Gender studies have also revealed that when it comes to obtaining access to productive resources in agriculture, the balances tilt in favour of the menfolk compared with women.  In the health sector, the WHO explains that distinct roles and behaviour may give rise to gender inequalities - differences between men and women that systematically favour one group. In turn, such inequalities can lead to inequities between men and women in both health status and access to health care.

In a 2007 study, the Food and Agricultural Organisation identified areas in agriculture where men have always held the ace to include among others: Management and control of agricultural resources, access to financial aid, services and other inputs, access to education needed for acquisition of knowledge and skills related to agriculture and playing roles in agricultural labour activities. According to the FAO study, the norm is that often, women play the backseat in these roles.

Other inequalities between men and women as identified by the study include access to productive resources, services and opportunities which is seen as responsible for the underperformance of the agriculture sector, heightening deficiencies in food and nutrition security, economic growth and overall development. These inequalities are costly and undermine the effectiveness of international development efforts and the impact of development cooperation.

In addition to bringing potential productivity improvements, increasing women’s access to and control over assets has been shown to have positive impact on human development.

FAO in 2013 developed guidelines for gender-sensitive agriculture and rural development policy and programme formulation. The publication envisioned the realisation of the global goal of elimination of discrimination against women. These are the tenets of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified by the United Nations General assembly in December 1979, which became an international treaty in September 1981.

The convention seeks equality between men and women and as well to banish many gender discriminatory laws and practices, which gladly are being amended to enhance women’s political representation.

The publication cites application of CEDAW provisions in some legal proceedings, guaranteeing women’s full rights. It is also indicated that women’s access to land has received a boost in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In the Philistines, there was success in stopping discriminatory acts against rural women in fishing and farming communities. 

However, for many women and girls, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing areas, gender equality is pipe-dream. The reality is that discrimination and gender inequalities are pervasive and persistent for rural women. There is evidence that in most of these countries, rural and urban women fare worse than men.

FAO, 2011 observed that despite their significant roles in agriculture and the rural economy, rural women have less access than men to key productive resources such as land, labour, water, credit and extension.

According to the FAO, in developing countries, only 10 to 20 per cent of all landholders are women. FAO also claims that in most countries, the share of women smallholders with access to credit is 5 to 10 percentage points lower than that of men smallholders with such access, and the livestock holdings of women farmers are much smaller than those of men in the countries studied.

A 2001 study by the World Bank also disclosed that despite the significant roles women play in agriculture and food security in many developing countries, they continue to have a poorer command over a range of productive resources, including education, land, information, and financial resources.

In most African countries, less women than men own agricultural lands, livestock or other agricultural resources, and the resources owned by women tend to be of smaller size.

The inequality actual goes beyond mere ownership and resource control. There are as well, denial of participation in decision making over productive resources, denial of share or participation in land ownership, in sharing and imparting knowledge and wisdom. Indeed, most parts of the African continent still live in the dark, holding as ever valid, the saying that a woman’s role domiciles in the kitchen.

Thus, there is failure to profit from wisdom and abilities across gender, in decision making and role play all which have the agricultural sector suffer.

A 2007 report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) advocates the establishment of an institutional framework that ensure that access to productive resources and infrastructure that is flexible enough to accommodate the dynamics of power, economics, and culture. The reasoning is that bridging the gender gap in agriculture and empowering women, is one of those panaceas for curtailing or taming the scourge of hunger. Clearly, should women have due respect in the African agriculture, there would be greater productivity from farmlands, quantum leaps in agricultural outputs and certainly, reduction of the number of people going to bed hungry.

A strategy is Gender equality - women and men enjoying equal rights, opportunities and entitlements in civil and political life.

According to the Turin, Italy based International Training Centre, the Training arm of the International Labour Organisation, Gender equality has been on the agenda for several decades and while some important gains were made, the progress in recent years has been “slow and patchy”.

The centre observed that though governments and institutions view gender justice as an important issue, truly fair and equitable participation of women in the world of work is still out of reach.

For the FAO, Gender equality implies equal participation of women and men in decision-making, equality in the exercise their human rights, equality in access to and control of resources and the benefits of development, and equal opportunities in employment and in all other aspects of their livelihoods.

Gender equality makes good economic and social sense. The FAO State of Food and Agriculture 2010 -2011 report, revealed that if female farmers had the same access as male farmers to agricultural inputs and services, they could substantially increase the yields on their farms. World Banks report have also inferred that reducing gender inequality would imply falling infant and child mortality, improved nutrition, higher economic productivity and faster growth. Gender equality is also a commitment embedded in international human rights agreements and in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Another globally accepted strategy for righting the wrongs is Gender mainstreaming, which is expected to achieve the much desired utopia – inclusion of gender divides in the interest of improved agriculture. Perhaps, we could profit from realities in the health sector. The WHO posits that Gender mainstreaming mandates creation of knowledge and awareness of Gender and sharing responsibilities among all health professionals.

Gender Mainstreaming thus seeks compelling gender equality in scheming for human socio-economic development activities. Policy development, research, advocacy/dialogue, legislation, resource allocation, planning, implementation and monitoring of policies, programmes and projects all come under the purview of gender mainstreaming.  

In July 1997, the United Nations Economic and Social Council defined the concept of gender mainstreaming as “…the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. In real terms, it is a strategy for consideration of women and men concerns and experiences when designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating policies and programmes- be they political, economic or social having both gender benefit equally. Ultimately, the plan is to realise gender equality.

All said, the implications of the disenfranchisement of women from playing pivotal and indeed active roles in agricultural policies and programmes have been grave. It’s an unfair pay as according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, as over two thirds of women in Africa are employed in the agricultural sector and produce nearly 90 per cent of food on the continent.

Added to that, they are involved in critical elements of food production chain as cultivation, trade and processing for consumption at the family level. The toll of disenfranchisement of women in agricultural planning and policy scheme is high on the economy of non- discerning nations. It simply stifles food security and economic growth.

Naturally then,  the mission of FARA in seeking to catalyse gender mainstreaming in African agriculture, as being complimented by the works of other sub regional research  agencies across the continent like The Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa/Southern African Development Community (CCARDESA/SADC), the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (WECARD), The Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa(ASARECA), The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and  agricultural research institutions in African nation states deserves commendation and support.

Niyi Egbe, an Agro Nutritionist and Media practitioner based in Lagos, Nigeria can be reached via Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.