G is for gender


25 September 2014

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: gender

"It is women that hold the key to tackling hunger and malnutrition. Yet their needs are often not recognised or understood.” Sandra Kabati in her fields at Mangambwa Village, Senanga District - Zambia.

There is a widely acknowledged gender gap in agriculture. Women farmers carry out around 70% of the agricultural labour. They also carry out most of the food preparation, sourcing of water and fuel wood essential for household food consumption. They do, on average, around 90% of the weeding and hoeing on agricultural land, as well as 60% of the harvesting and marketing of produce and products. And yet the significant role that women play in food production is often ignored or not considered by policy makers.

There is also a significant productivity gender gap: women produce less per hectare than men. This is partly because of unequal division of labour within the household (women do the lion’s share of this) which leaves women with less time to spend on agricultural activities. It is also because land tenure arrangements tend to benefit men who have more control over land. In a survey of 16 African countries, only 2% of women had land titles. As a result, men tend to have more access to agricultural inputs, investments, and extension services (e.g. training, advice). The United Nations estimates, that if women had the same access to agricultural resources as men, they would be able to increase output on their farms by 20-30%, raising total agricultural production by up to 4% worldwide.

Corporate agriculture tends to fail women. Corporate investors have been found to favour employing men over women, and women working for large agribusinesses tend to get less secure employment.

An agroecological technique known as ‘farmer managed natural regeneration’ (FMNR), a low-cost re-vegetation technique carried out across parts of the Sahel, has had a significant impact on the availability of fuel, wood and water. In Burkina Faso for example, women have benefitted from this improved supply as it has freed them to grow groundnuts as a cash crop and earn extra income selling tree-based products such as the leaves of baobab, flowers of kapok and fruits of the shea and locust bean.  The evidence shows that FMNR puts women in a stronger economic and social position making them able to feed their families with a more nutritious and diverse diet.

In Niger, women who were traditionally excluded from access to resources have gained responsibilities associated with FMNR: there are now trees to tend while the men migrate during the dry season. Trees which provide firewood and leaves are a useful source of income which women can sell while investing in goats, sheep and other plants.

Photo credit: DFAT photo library


About the A-Z of food sovereignty project

The A-Z of Food Sovereignty in Africa shows the positive alternatives to corporate-led agriculture. A new letter was posted each day in the lead up to World Food Day arrived on 16 October 2014.

Africa’s small-scale food producers already know how to produce enough food sustainably to feed themselves but the political and economic rules which govern the food system are set against them. These rules are written by and for multinational companies and political elites, in support of a global food system that benefits them rather than the millions of smallholders and family farmers who produce the food and get little in return.

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