If we are going to end hunger in our lifetime, we need to promote gender equality. Across developing countries, they make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force.
Many of them are smallholder farmers, and from paid employment to trade and marketing, women participate in all aspects of rural life. They raise crops and animals, collect water and wood for fuel, and care for family members.
And women are more likely to reinvest their income back into their families to improve education, nutrition and health.
Yet, women farmers are not as productive as men due to less access to land, markets, farming technologies, fertilizer, credit and training.
That is a lot of untapped potential. We know that if women had equal access opportunities and resources, they increase their yields and feed more hungry people in the world.
In fact, if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase their farm yields by 20-30 percent, feeding an additional 150 million people (United States Agency for International Development [USAID], 2015).
The women-in-agriculture programme in Nigeria, which was established in cognizance of this inequality and the shortcoming in extension services for women farmers, has been a huge success.
Women’s groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil societies have empowered and given rural women farmers a voice and effectively championed their cause.
Women farmers now have better access to farm inputs and credits although many barriers remain and would have to be addressed to further enhance their role.
Rural women farmers deserve better recognition and greater appreciation of their tangible contributions to agriculture and rural development and food security (Yemisi, 2009).
Ironically, women are known to be more involved in agricultural activities than men in sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, Nigeria inclusive.
As much as 73 % were involved in cash crops, arable and vegetable gardening, while postharvest activities had 16 % and agroforestry, 15 percent (Abdullahi, M R., n.d.).
Their involvement in agriculture in Nigeria has attracted greater attention in recent years. Reasons for their involvement are as many as are diverse.
In some states rural women have virtually taken over the production and processing of arable crops (Afolabi, M.M., 2008), being responsible for as much as 80 % of the staple food items.
Estimates of women’s contribution to the production of food crops range from 30% in the Sudan to 80% in the Congo (F.A.O. 1995); contributing substantially to national agricultural production and food security, while being primarily responsible for the food crops.
However, factors militating against women in their participation in agricultural production are many, some of which are socio-cultural and economic in nature.
The task of surmounting such obstacles can be very daunting, even though women have largely succeeded in overcoming some of them. Thanks in no small measure to the actions and persistence of women’s groups and community-based organizations and the civil society organizations fighting their cause.
African women have begun to make major demands for their participation and inclusion in the policy and economic processes relevant to agriculture.
Indeed, they have started to develop and promote local expert materials in the field of agriculture (Duncan, B., 1997). Gender discrimination, rather than ignorance, is the reason for the lack of women participation in agricultural programmes and projects.
In recognition of the importance of women in national building, the Nigerian government, more than ever before, is keen on rural poverty alleviation as a way of improving the economy. Focus is on planned and desirable change in the rural societies in the form of agricultural development.
In an attempt to bridge the gap between men and women farmers in Nigeria, various women groups and organizations have emerged.
Such groups and organizations have contributed substantially to the gains women farmers have recorded and the voice that they now have in overall national policy on agricultural development.
One such group is the Women Farmers’ Advancement Network (WOFAN), a private initiative founded in the early 1990s whose headquarters is in Kano, Nigeria.
WOFAN works with 250 women’s groups in five different states in northern Nigeria in an effort to mobilize and train rural women in the management of information and communication. Community participation is a key strategy (WOFAN. 2003).
The network also organizes a weekly radio broadcast that features the efforts of rural women. Experiences from a few African countries are worth mentioning here. In the Sudan, the number of national NGOs working in the area of agriculture increased, as the number of regional and international NGOs decreased (Franklin, S., 2007).
As many as 21 projects are targeting women in the area of livestock and dairy.
In Tanzania, on the other hand, NGOs have become a dynamic arena for women’s empowerment and support to rural women in agriculture has increased with the formation of women-in-development at NGOs headquarters. An increasing number of international NGOs are dealing with women and agriculture, among others.
In Namibia, there are a few women’s groups and NGOs which work to enhance women’s role in agriculture and food production and advocate on behalf of women farmers.
The survival and sustenance of agriculture and rural development in Nigeria, as well as in many sub-Saharan Africa countries, rest squarely on the rural women. They therefore deserve to be given due recognition as far as decision-making process in agriculture is concerned (Yemisi, 2009).
In 2010, the U.S. Government launched its global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. At the heart of Feed the Future’s strategy is an understanding that women play a vital role in advancing agricultural development and food security, helping to reduce poverty and promote global stability.
Through the initiative, women farmers are provided training and opportunities to adopt new agricultural technologies in order to increase their productivity, reduce unpaid work and improve their families’ nutritional status (United States Agency for International Development [USAID], 2015)
The general conclusion is that female farmers might be at least as efficient as their male counterparts if the constraints they face in resource endowments and in accessing land, input, and agricultural finance could be addressed.
The potential gains from closing or at least reducing the extent of the gender productivity gap could therefore be substantial, particularly in countries with larger shares of lands owned and/or managed by women (Adamon, et al., 2016).
For instance, FAO estimates that if agricultural lands managed by women were to use equal quantities of inputs as in men-managed plots, then agricultural output in the developing countries would be raised, on average, by 2.5-4% and the number of undernourished people would decline by 12-17% (FAO, 2011).
Compiled by Damilola Omotoyinbo
Yemisi I. Ogunlela, Aisha A. Mukhtar. (2009). Gender Issues in Agriculture and Rural Development in Nigeria: The Role of Women. Humanity & Social Sciences Journal 4(1), 19-30.
USAID. (2015). Achieving Gender Equality in Agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.usaid.gov/what-we-
Abdullahi, M.R., (undated). Women in agriculture: The role of African women in agriculture. National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Service, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria.
Afolabi, M.M., (2008). Women as pillars of national economy in Nigeria: A study of economic activities of rural women in six local government areas of Ondo State. IAFFE Summer Conference, International Association for Feminist Economics, Torino, Italy, 19 June- 21 July 2008.
F.A.O. (1995). A synthesis report of the African Region: Women, agriculture and rural development. Report prepared under the auspices of FAO’s Programme of Assistance in Support of Rural Women in Preparation for the Fourth World Conference o Women; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
Duncan, B., (1997). Women in Agriculture in Ghana. Accra: Friedrich Eberhart Foundation
WOFAN. (2003). Women’s Farmers Advancement Network-Nigeria. Retrieved from http:/www.comminit/en/node/
Franklin, S., (2007). Gender inequality in Nigeria. Taking IT Global online Publication.
Adamon N. Mukasa and Adeleke O. Salami., (2016). Gender equality in agriculture: What are really the benefits for sub-Saharan Africa? Africa Economic Brief, Volume 7 Issue 3.
FAO. (2011). The state of food and agriculture: Women in agriculture – closing the gender gap for development. Rome, Italy: FAO. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/i2050e/i2050e.pdf. Accessed: September 21, 2015