The Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), celebrates the International Women’s Day – 8 March 2016. We pay special tribute to all the women in the agriculture sector who remain committed, focussed and enduring to feed their families, communities, nations and the world. The gender statistics in the sector remain glaringly unbalanced as climate change and malnutrition continue to challenge households. It is pertinent that Africa understand these challenges when addressing agriculture. This sector remains one of the important economic generators for the continent contributing 25% of the continent’s GDP. This accounts for over 60 percent of African citizens rely on agriculture. Women make up almost 50% of the agricult ural labour force in Sub-Saharan Africa. A total of 62% of economically active women in Africa work in agriculture, making it the largest employer of women. In some countries, such as Rwanda, Malawi and Burkina Faso, over 90% of economically active women are involved in agriculture (AfDB, 2015).
We as FANRPAN have played our role in confirming why women are the cornerstone of African agriculture. From 2009-2012, we implemented the Women Accessing Realigned Markets (WARM) project in Malawi and Mozambique. WARM focussed on strengthening women farmers’ ability to advocate for appropriate agricultural policies and programmes through access to knowledge, technology, credit, better seeds, fertiliser and other inputs. Three key learnings emerged from the project: (i) creating platforms for community dialogues that involve both women and men by allowing the voicing of community issues; (ii) giving women the voice through engaging policy champions that translate the women’s perspective in forums; and (iii) action research that trains researchers to be more sensitive to the community needs, especially of women farmers.
Fast forward 2015, lessons learnt and ready to step a notch higher, FANRPAN engaged in another programme – Agriculture to Nutrition (ATONU): Improving Nutrition Outcomes Through Optimized Agricultural Investments. This is a six-year project focussing on what agriculture can do for nutrition. Specific focus is on rural smallholder households, especially women of child-bearing age and young children in the first 1000 days of life after conception. This is where the high nutritional demands of pregnancy, development and early childhood must largely be met through food grown, or income earned, on family farms.
ATONU is a deliberate conversation, action and undertaking that deals with the agriculture and nutrition nexus. It asks the question of what can agriculture do for nutrition? This nexus addresses key challenges and provides solutions for – malnutrition, under nutrition, stunting and, at the economic level addresses a loss of as much 8 percent in GDP in some countries due to unproductive citizenry. Simply stated, we need healthy mothers to produce healthy babies and healthy babies to become productive citizens. ATONU represents a win-win situation for the women. Because nutrition is multi-sectoral in approach, for the first time, we place the women in the centre and ask the following questions– What can we learn from the health sector? What is the relationships between health, agriculture and nutrition? The women become the centre of this transformation.
Of equal importance, as we celebrate today, is that FANRPAN projects such as WARM and ATONU speak a multidimensional language, not only the status of women in one particular sector but resonate across others. Research has shown that unless gender imbalances are addressed, humanity will not embrace the power and collective effort of addressing emerging challenges on our planet. Melinda Gates in Our 2016 Annual Letter talks about – More Time – “Globally, women spend an average of 4.5 hours a day on unpaid work. Men spend less than half that much time. But the fact is that the burden of unpaid work falls heaviest on women in poor countries, where the hours are longer and the gap between women and men is wider.” Time is something we can never get back, it simply goes. By not recognising the time women spend to make everyday lives normal realities, it is unrealistic for the world to expect women to become more productive. Irrespective of economic status, race or geographic location, this one challenge of time, if addressed globally, is a resource for all of us, freeing women to put energies into other tasks. No matter how good we draft our policies or design implementation frameworks, we need to address these underlying imbalances to harvest humanity’s full potential. We know what needs to be done and we should just do it.