Farming in sub-Saharan Africa is a family affair. Yet, women continue to face serious challenges and constraints which inhibit them from effectively unleashing their full potential.
March 8 is International Women’s Day and a chance to look at the impact women have on agriculture as well as the constraints they face in the sector.
These constraints include access to resources such as land, finances, markets, appropriate technology and information; limited technical and managerial capabilities; social, cultural and political prejudices; and marginalisation in decision making processes and Farmers’ Organisations (FOs) leadership structures.
SACAU’s Capacity Development Advisor Benito Eliasi, noted that these three issues of access, ownership of production assets and representation in leadership structures of FO’s remain at the forefront. “You will find that there are a number of economic, social and cultural factors that make access and ownership more difficult for women than their male counterparts,” he said.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations notes that women play a critical role in agriculture despite many restraints. About 53.5% of people self-employed in farming are women. While women farmers work the land, women in developing countries hold only 14% of the management positions in agricultural organisations and only 30% of the delegates at the UN climate change meetings between 2000 and 2010 were women.
Eliasi has been a part of a number of SACAU initiatives to address these issues. “SACAU have noted how at a local level you will find many women in leadership positions but as you go up into national and regional structures, you will find very few,” said Eliasi. Access to knowledge and assets is limited for women and, for women trying to build their businesses, this can be an almost insurmountable roadblock.
Part of the reason that SACAU hosts the annual Regional Women Farmers’ Forum is to address these challenges. Occurring near the end of the year, the forum is a chance for women to come together and share experiences. This year’s theme will be ‘Entrepreneurship Development’. The focus will be on building entrepreneurial skills for women farmers. Eliasi is also excited that the forum will be bringing young women and older women together to learn and share their experiences.
Regarding the issue of land rights, SACAU will facilitate members of the forum to participate in the Kilimanjaro initiative that will bring together women in Africa to discuss land issues and women’s rights. The Kilimanjaro meeting is organised by the International Land Coalition (ILC) in collaboration with ActionAid, Tanzania Gender Networking Program and others.
As Eliasi points out, there is still more to be done. “With the Women’s forum we hope to amass knowledge and expertise with the aim to provide solutions. The Kilimanjaro Initiative, although not organised by SACAU, will provide a similar experience for our members.”