Agriculture: gender divide in focus

At the AfDB annual meetings in Ahmedabad last week, we attended a session on “Women in agriculture”. Based on official data, about 80% of economically active women in Africa cite agriculture as their primary activity. However, agricultural value chains reveal disparities in access to formal finance for women. The median capital available to female agriculturists is two times lower than what is provided to their male counterparts.

Reema Nanavaty, Secretary General of Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) India, noted that smallholder farmers need to be catered for through education, technology and connectivity. SEWA is an organisation of poor, self-employed female workers. Their productivity is not captured in the formal economy.

Ada Osakwe, founder of Agrolay Ventures (a private investment firm dedicated to growing the agriculture and food sectors in Africa) and Nuli Juice, was also on the panel. A key part of her message was the need to encourage sustainable markets i.e. female smallholder farmers should be linked to processors and end-users to avoid wastage.

At Nuli juice, ingredients are sourced directly from farms. This model was adopted to encourage productivity amongst farmers involved and to allow for inclusive growth within the agriculture sector.

Arica Harvest, a foundation established in 2002 with its headquarters in Kenya, has a mandate to reduce rural poverty and food insecurity through improved agricultural systems. Dr. Wambugu, its chief executive, placed emphasis on the role of education, particularly in nutrition and its long lasting benefits on general well-being. Her stance was that if nutrition is taken more seriously, increased attention will be placed on agricultural activities.

According to Africa Harvest, every US$1 spent on dealing with malnutrition could potentially yield US$16 from agricultural output.

Ms Kakar, managing partner at Dalberg Global Development Advisors, focused primarily on the lack of access to finance for female agriculturists – a long lasting issue within the sector. She opined that local investment models be created. The ability to scale appropriately is also critical. Although investors tend to see optimal return on investment, the impact of their investment on the economy is very minimal.

We learnt from this panel that 10 – 15% of agribusinesses in Africa are run by females. However, there is negative yield gap of 30% in terms of how their agricultural output compares with male agriculturists.

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