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Monday, 29 September 2014

Empowering women farmers’ key to enhancing food security

By Bob Aston
Women are increasingly playing an important role in food production, notably in small scale farming which plays an important role in achieving greater food security. Despite their contributions to the global food supply, women farmers are often undervalued and overlooked in agricultural development strategies.
Women usually have limited access to the resources necessary to effectively operate their farming operations. This is making it impossible for African women to become the thriving farmers they need to be to pull them out of poverty and give their children a better life.
Women are involved in various types of activities including; producing agricultural crops, rearing animals, collecting fuel and water, caring for family members and many other tasks, which are often not taken into account within the definition of “economically active employment”.
Women farmers planting
Charity Wainaina, 33, has been farming since 2005 in Dimcom area, Sipili Division in Laikipia County. She has been planting maize in a one (1) acre piece of land. She noted that as a woman she faces more challenges that her male counterparts. To begin with, the land that she has been using is registered through the husband’s name though it is a family land.
“Being a woman farmer is challenging. One thing that is very difficult is access to market as middlemen usually exploit women more than men. People do not usually take female farmers seriously. These are some of the things that we have to live with,” said Charity.
According to the United Nations (UN), agriculture is the most important source of employment for women in rural areas. Women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries but despite this their involvement in selection of suitable crops and adoption of innovative and good management practices, is very low.
Women are also said to own less than 2 percent of land and receive only 5 percent of extension services worldwide. Furthermore, estimations by the World Food Programme (WFP) reveal that 60 percent of chronologically hungry people are women and girls.
These statistics highlight the wide gender gap that needs to be bridged in order to achieve greater food security.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), providing female farmers access to the same resources as men could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million.
In many cases women are the farmers, yet they do not have access to land tenure, extension services, finance, education, market, basic infrastructure needs and lack of control of family funds.
Woman farmer at her farm
Women also have to overcome gender discrimination and cultural barriers. Although the Kenyan constitution allows women to inherit and also owe land, traditions and customs in some Kenyan communities continue to prevent women from having effective ownership of land.
It is clear that if women farmers are given equal access to resources there would be significant increase in agricultural productivity. This would go a long way in ensuring that women gain better control of their economic destinies.
According to a World Bank report titled Levelling the field: improving opportunities for women farmers in Africa, a key hindrance to agricultural development and broader growth is a wide and pervasive gender gap in agricultural productivity. The report argues that tackling the barriers that hold back the productivity of female farmers could both enhance gender equality and usher in broader economic growth.
Investing in women farmers and instituting policies that close this gender gap in Kenya could yield enormous benefits for women and their families.
In order to empower women farmers it is important to strengthen women’s land right, improve their access to hired labour, enhance their use of tools and equipments that will reduce the amount of labour they require, encourage them to use certified fertilizer and seeds, tailor extension services to their needs, promote cultivation of high value crops among women, provide market linkages to women and raise education levels of adult female farmers.
Increasing women's participation in the rural economy is a powerful tool for poverty reduction and economic growth because female farmers tend to spend more money on nutritious foods, healthcare, education, and housing when their incomes increase.
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