Photograph — Face2Face Africa

The low socioeconomic status of women thwarts the transformation of Africa’s food system. In most African countries, women make up 50 percent of the farming community and produce 60-80 percent of the continent’s food. However,  the existing disparities and inequalities in access to resources and opportunities severely limit women’s contribution to the food system.

More so, some societal and cultural norms further discriminate against and marginalize women. A radical shift in agricultural policies is crucial to negate these disruptions and achieve the food security that Africa needs. Improved access to agricultural resources, technology, and methods will help the continent meet its urgent food demands.

The 2022 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report on food security highlighted women’s potential to contribute substantially to food security. The mitigating factor remains the gender bias in the agricultural sector. In many African countries, it is difficult for women to own or inherit land.

With no legal right to land, many traditions displace women from the land where they are primary cultivators. Embracing policies that secure land tenure for women is fundamental to their contribution to food security. African countries where women’s land ownership is still restricted should establish laws that allow women to own land. Such legislation will ultimately improve their contribution to the food system. 

Women in Africa still suffer from nefarious societal and cultural norms. These women have limited access to agricultural resources like credits, fertilizers, improved seedlings, and labour. The FAO reported that women receive only 5 percent of extension resources like improved seedlings, fertilizers and machinery. That percentage is small compared to the remainder, which goes to men.

As women often do not own properties, they are considered less creditworthy. As a result, women farmers cannot leverage credits and extension services. A  consequence is the inability of women to improve their socioeconomic status and contribute significantly to national food security. African leaders must establish or drive policies that ensure equal opportunities and resources for women.

An example of such policies is the FAO’s policy that addresses gender inequalities pervasive in agriculture and food systems. Governments and key stakeholders should develop agricultural programs that provide women with credits, improved seedlings, fertilizers and other necessary agricultural resources. Such efforts would improve women’s participation in agriculture and boost their input and contribution to Africa’s food system.

In Africa, most women practice agricultural farming at the subsistence level rather than the commercial level. The root cause of this is the belief that a woman’s primary responsibility is homemaking and playing the custodian of her home. A woman’s daily work is assumed incomplete without the unending responsibilities related to childcare, groceries, and house chores. Such a cycle of duties severely limits women’s agricultural involvement at a commercial scale.

At the subsistence level, women only farm to feed their families and immediate community. Knowing this fully well, African leaders must establish measures that meet the conditions of women farmers through technology and mechanized equipment.

Farmers in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Vietnam, India and other countries use equipment like harvesters, tillers, tractors, sprinklers, etcetera. Women farmers in Africa can adopt these technologies.  Such equipment suit women’s needs with their time and energy-saving mechanism. These types of equipment will help to mitigate drudgery. They will also afford women farmers ample opportunity to engage in other rewarding activities.

The roles and contributions of women to agriculture are trivialized and relegated to the background in many African countries.  Unhealthy societal and cultural norms and limited access to resources and opportunities all contribute to a vicious cycle that perpetuates the low socioeconomic status of women.

The feminization of poverty has a devastating impact on Africa’s fledgling food system, with far-reaching consequences for individual households and the broader African community. Policy changes will end agricultural inequalities and improve women’s access to agricultural resources and technology. When women in agriculture are empowered, their socioeconomic status will improve, leading to increased food security.

Article by Chiamaka Adinnu. Adinnu is a writing fellow at the African Liberty.

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