Saturday, October 31, 2009

Women grow 80% of the food in Africa

Usually, the image of a farmer in Africa is of a male. However, women are responsible for 80% of Africa's food production.

From All Africa we read this interview with Annina Lubbock of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Lubbuck is asked about gender integration efforts in developing Africa's agriculture.

Can you describe what Ifad's gender mainstreaming efforts entail?

I would say our approach to gender has two prongs. We use gender mainstreaming but we consider that gender mainstreaming is an instrument towards an end; it is not an end unto itself. So that means giving attention to how gender is addressed in all aspects of project design, from the identification of the activities, to monitoring and evaluation of them, to the management arrangements. It also means designing and implementing specific actions that will actually empower women, especially rural women. Our main entry point for improving the status of women is their economic empowerment. We think that's a precondition to all the rest.

It's also improving women's decision-making and to improve their overall wellbeing. Their labor load continues to be so high and services so poor in rural areas they will actually be constrained from engaging in more productive activities and income generating activities.

To what extent has gender mainstreaming been successful so far?

We did a survey of the performance of projects on gender and what we found is where the projects are having greatest is success is in building women's capacity and knowledge. After that definitely the improvement of women's income earning capacity. [It has been] less successful in improving women's decision making role at the community level because here you have a whole series of cultural restraints to deal with, which is stronger in some areas than others. Of course there are some [communities] which are very conservative where it's not really recognized that women can have a public role. The public space is supposed to be a man's space.

Interestingly, what we found is projects really need to do more to reduce women's workload. Very often women have been given more opportunities, they're earning more income, they're producing more, they're participating more, but their workload has increased. Sometimes they accept that because in exchange for that they have a higher status, they're more listened to in the communities and they've got more income to spend for their families.

What are the greatest obstacles to achieving household food security in Africa?

The obstacles are multiple - from environmental degradation, climate change, population pressure, governance, international food prices and so on. But I would say one of the key elements is precisely the lack of recognition of the role that women have in producing food, but also in generating the income with which they buy food. There is so much evidence that women use their income differently than men. They tend to use it for the family and they are the ones who buy the food. Not recognizing this means that women have not received targeted support, because women have specific roles and constraints so the types of services they get have to be differentiated. This is a major stumbling block, especially in Africa.

Just how important women are to food production in Africa?

Women's labor is behind 80 percent of the food production in Africa, which is extremely high. It's higher than in any other region in the world and yet women are doing all of this with a hand tied behind their back. They have the same problems that all smallholder farmers have in terms of access to markets, to inputs, to credit, but then on top of that they have their own specific constraints as women.

[This] means they have little time to juggle between their productive and reproductive roles, they have less income to finance except microfinance, they don't have access to banks because of lack of collateral, less access to land, less access to services. Extension contacts are very limited and according to the [Food and Agriculture Organization] only five percent of extension contacts worldwide are with women farmers. Only 15 percent of extension workers are women, and in some contexts this is a determining factor in actually reaching women.

No comments: