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Gender-Responsive Investments in Africa

Women play a vital role in Africa’s agricultural sector. As farmers, processors, and marketers of agricultural products, they contribute significantly to the continent’s economic development. However, they continue to face a lot of challenges such as lack of access to agricultural inputs, finance, land, information, and agricultural technologies. Although women provide 70 percent of agricultural labour on the continent, they remain underrepresented; they are not treated as equals of their male counterparts in the sector—women farmers face the burden of unpaid work as well as lower wages compared to men.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), gender-related challenges faced by women in agriculture hinder women’s productivity, which reduces their contributions to the agricultural sector and the achievement of broader economic and social development goals. Similarly, a 2016 Africa Human Development Report suggests that gender inequality costs sub-Saharan Africa approximately $95 billion annually.

To enhance gender-responsive investments in African agriculture, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) convened a dialogue themed “Gender-Responsive Investments in Africa’s Agriculture for Inclusive Food System” to discuss game-changing solutions that will enhance gender-responsive investments in agricultural research for inclusive food systems on the continent. This took place on the 4th of May 2021. It was hosted by FARA jointly with the sub-regional organizations (ASARECA, CCARDESA, CORAF, and AFAAS), in partnership with the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD); as well as the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD).

Among others, the objectives of the meeting were to identify and discuss the main gender issues in African agriculture and propose solutions to a gender-inclusive private sector engagement as well as contribute towards a framework for advocating for increased investment in gender-responsive approaches in agricultural research for development.

Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director of FARA, who welcomed participants to the meeting, said that women and youths are crucial in African agriculture, especially in the promotion of digital services and commercialization of research products. Hence, Dr. Akinbamijo called on stakeholders in African agriculture to advocate for gender-responsive investments in agriculture and the use of gender-smart approaches when engaging women and youth in agricultural research for development (AR4D). He noted that “FARA is playing an active role in strengthening the capacities of AR4D institutions in Africa and in gender mainstreaming towards achieving the sustainable development goals.”

While delivering a keynote address, Dr. Jemimah Njuki, Director for Africa at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) cum Custodian of the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Change Lever of the UN Food System Summit 2021, noted that although women play a crucial role across the agricultural value chain; yet, they remain underrepresented and under-resourced.

“Women are key actors in food systems—they are food processors, runners of factories and processing businesses from their kitchens; some are scientists, and others policymakers. But often their roles remain invisible and they face a lot of constraints and limitations such as lack of access to financial services and market opportunities,” Dr Njuki said. “[Thus], this begs the question: How do we transform our food system in ways that are just and equitable?”

Dr. Njuki added that despite the critical role women play in African agriculture there are fundamental gender inequalities in food systems. She said that women's empowerment and gender equality should be put at the center of conversations on the continent towards achieving a just and equitable food system that leaves one behind. We need to ask ourselves: How can our food and agricultural systems contribute to achieving gender equality and justice? What is it we need to do to our food and agricultural research systems?

Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Director of the African Women in Agricultural Research for Development (AWARD), a non-profit organization that works toward inclusive agriculture-driven prosperity for Africa, said that AWARD aims to bridge the existing gap in gender in African agriculture through gender-responsive agricultural innovations that work toward agriculture driven prosperity for the continent.

“Gender is a critical element in how agricultural research develops on the continent. Our mission is investing in African scientists and institutions to deliver and influence innovative gender-responsive agricultural innovations,” Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg said. To support Africa's capacity for gender-responsive agriculture, Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg pointed out that AWARD is driving the recognition that agricultural value chains begin at research. Hence, African scientists and researchers must be supported to lead and develop gender-responsive innovations on the continent.

“Often, we hear people talking about the intersection of gender in the African agricultural sector, and a lot of times it's easy to assume that that work should only begin at the production stage or even at the farm gate. But we know that agricultural value chains start with research. And embedding that gender lens at the research level and not at the end of the value chain is critical,” noted Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg.

Most of the participants during a breakout session at the dialogue, strongly agreed that there is a need to address the connection between agricultural research and agricultural markets while ensuring women’s participation at the fore. Dr. Providence Mavubi, one of the participants at the dialogue, noted that agricultural research should solve the needs of the agricultural market, and it must be consistent with the needs of women who use agricultural services. “If the research does not consider women, [the agricultural] products will not work for us,” said Dr. Mavubi.

A solution to that is better gender inclusive agricultural research, Kamau-Rutenberg suggested. “Gender-responsive agricultural research is more efficient. It is often more inclusive, better targeted and produces more relevant innovations with higher rates of adoption,” Kamau-Rutenberg said.

Gender-responsive investments and approaches to agriculture hold great potential for transforming the income levels of women farmers in Africa. The strategic mainstreaming of gender in African agriculture will also increase women’s participation in agricultural research for inclusive food systems. This will also enhance their chance to contribute to spurring economic growth, which will consequently lead to prosperity on the continent.

Photo credit: Bioversity International

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Saturday, 18 September 2021

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