To End Hunger in Africa, We Must Put Women at the Centre of Agricultural Growth
Published in Partnership with Forbes.com.
- Realizing the agricultural productive potential of women is essential to helping Africans take greater ownership over how they get their food.
- We as a global community must work together to empower women-led farmers associations and small-scale businesses to break the inter-generational cycle of hunger. We need to advocate for gender equality as necessary for long-term agricultural and economic development.
- Scaling up investments in the nutrition of rural women and girls is central to their economic empowerment. Putting in place safety nets for the most vulnerable rural women and girls, such as activities that promote access to health care and education, lays the groundwork for a more prosperous future.
In recent months, we have seen just how interconnected global food markets have become. Droughts in North America, Europe and central Asia have led to decreased global grain supplies and high food prices, which in turn have affected the ability of African communities—particularly in food-importing countries—to feed themselves. With 239 million people on the continent undernourished, Africans must take greater ownership over how they get their food. Fortunately, there is growing recognition of this challenge and the fundamental role that women play in meeting it.
Women are at the heart of a significant untapped potential to increase agricultural production in Africa. To improve economic growth and agricultural productivity, we must put women, particularly women farmers, at the centre of efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition.
Women make up more than 50 percent of the agricultural labour force in Africa. They are the main producers, processors and traders of food. Ensuring access to land, financial services, technology and energy is key to enhancing the role of rural women all along the agricultural value chain. Linking rural women to markets helps them access broader and more profitable trade and business opportunities.
Realizing the productive potential of women is essential, as gender inequality is both a significant cause and an effect of hunger. A recent report by the International Food Policy Research Institute showed that countries with the highest levels of hunger have corresponding levels of gender inequality. Rural women routinely lag behind rural men, as well as urban women and men, in most social indicators. They continue to face barriers that prevent them from improving their lives as well as those of their families.
These barriers have been measured by WFP’s sister agency the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which estimates that the gap in production yields between men and women is between 20 and 30 percent. Causes include differences in access to land, credit and agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilizer. Closing this gap and boosting domestic food production would make more food available on local markets, lower food prices and reduce reliance on imported foods. Addressing this requires supportive public policies, engagement of community organizations and innovative partnerships between UN agencies, NGOs, host governments and the private sector.
It is also clear that scaling up investments in the nutrition of rural women and girls is central to their economic empowerment. Proper nutrition for rural women and their young children, especially in the critical first 1,000 days of life, contributes to good physical and mental development so children can grow up healthy and strong and become active and productive members of society. Meanwhile, malnutrition and food insecurity impede productivity and economic growth.
Putting in place safety nets for the most vulnerable rural women and girls, such as activities that promote access to health care and education, lays the groundwork for a more prosperous future. An extra year of primary school boosts future income by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school can lead to future incomes that are 15 to 25 percent higher. School meals and take-home rations encourage families to send their daughters to school.
At the policy level, we as a global community must work together to support rural women. We need to empower women-led farmers associations and small-scale businesses to break the inter-generational cycle of hunger. We need to advocate for gender equality as necessary for long-term agricultural and economic development.
To kick-start this process, WFP has teamed up with UN Women, FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development to develop a five-year strategy to empower rural women in seven countries, including Ethiopia, Liberia, Niger and Rwanda. This alliance will work to generate lasting improvements for the livelihoods and rights of rural women.
At the community and national levels, we must work to end hunger and malnutrition and to increase the resilience of rural women to climate and economic shocks; then we need to find ways to bring the most successful projects to other communities in need.
With projects like Purchase for Progress (P4P), a five-year pilot, WFP works with partners to reduce barriers faced by rural women. Through P4P, women receive credit, agricultural inputs and training to support them to grow more and better quality crops, to sell their surplus and earn more. As a result, women have a greater say in the home and in the community, and they can invest in other projects to boost their incomes.
We can solve the problem of hunger with existing knowledge and technology. We must rise to the challenge presented by high, volatile food prices and turn it into an opportunity for the continent of Africa and, most important, for its women. Food and nutrition security are inextricably linked with gender equality and the empowerment of rural women. Let us work together to accelerate action at all levels to ensure a lasting solution to the food crisis, in Africa and around the world.