“Farming is a profession of hope” – Brian Brett, Canadian poet, editor and journalist.
But is this profession really bringing in rays of hope to the women farmers of Africa?
More than 60% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population are smallholder farmers, and women farmers play an essential role in the African agrarian sector. Smallholder farmers face many obstacles in Africa that limit their growth and success, like issues of financing, infrastructure, climate, technology, and education. However, women farmers, apart from these issues, have to deal with the problems of gender discrimination.
One of the significant issues women farmers face is that they do not have secure access to land. Men lead most farms in African countries. In Africa, women’s land rights have been a historical problem, dating back to the pre-colonisation period when the land was inherited only by the male members of the family. In Rwanda and Ethiopia, women can only access land through marriage. In Congo and Kenya, women farmers own only about 25% and 4% of agricultural land, respectively, even though they make up about 60% of the agricultural workforce (World Bank).
Men and women have different access to paid labour. In Uganda, the female share of the labour force stands at 56%, in Niger, it is 24%, the share in Nigeria is 37%, and it is 32% in northern parts of Africa. Despite their fair contribution to agricultural productivity, the total income share received by women is half the share received by men. Perhaps, the issue of the wage gap is predominantly seen in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the world bank, 37% of women in the region have a bank account, compared to the 48% of men. While the percentages are low for both the sexes, what is to be noted is that there is a gap which has been widening over the years.
Women lack or have only limited access to extension services and necessary agricultural inputs that would help their farms flourish. Moreover, they face issues associated with the marketing and trade of the produce. The World Bank reports suggest that millions of women are engaged in one form of trade or other in Africa. They sell agricultural produce and manufactured goods within and across national borders. However, the trade policies of the country are not favourable to them. They face restrictions of non-tariff barriers like lack of finance, information and formal networks that often push women into the informal trade. Women are also forced to pay bribes and sometimes harassed by customs and immigration officials.
Women farmers in Africa lack knowledge about their rights. A simple strategy of ensuring women farmers have access to the same level of inputs as their male counterparts won’t erase the significant gender gap. However, some creative policymaking would help bridge the gap. Policies should be tailor-made for women farmers, and they should be given decision-making power and authority to manage crops and generate income, proper training, networking, and financial support. African women are helping one another with a growing number of women’s organisations, such as microfinance groups, working to improve access to financial services, new technologies, and information. But, to overcome the deeply ingrained gender inequality, it must be openly addressed. There is potential for agriculture to improve in Africa, and with the right policies, women farmers could be motivated to contribute even more to Africa’s development.