The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has emphasised that any effort to ensure agricultural transformation in the region must address gender equality.
It noted that the gap between men and women was massive, and that due to unequal access to knowledge, improved inputs, land, and other critical resources, the productivity of women-led farms was 20 to 30 per cent lower than those of men.
“Deeply-rooted sociocultural and structural barriers lead to worse outcomes for women off the farm also. Women are far less likely to be entrepreneurs and own agribusinesses, whether as agro dealers or off-takers,” the AGRA 2020 annual report said.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines gender equality as the equal participation of women and men in decision-making, equal ability to exercise their human rights, equal access to and control of resources and the benefits of development, and equal opportunities in employment and in all other aspects of their livelihoods.
According to the report, problems persist when solutions tackle only one part of the whole.
It said change that sticks was possible when solutions consider the whole – each action that needs to change, each decision-maker’s incentive to change, and each barrier that may make this harder than it needed to be.
“Rarely is there a single challenge to overcome. After all, if it were so simple, we would have seen transformation by now. Consider the smallholder farmer who benefits from better seeds that yield a healthier, more productive harvest.
“We want her to buy the seeds – not seek a handout. We want her to pay for it because she can afford it, recognises the impact on productivity, and sees a clear return on her investment. We want businesses around her to see the opportunity to grow and profit from breeding, producing, and distributing these seeds. And we want those businesses to raise capital, invest, and compete because the rules of the game are clear and predictable,” it said.
AGRA asserted that agriculture transformation to impact the lives of smallholder farmers in Africa was a complex matter, in a context of decades of deeply rooted challenges and discouraging setbacks.
Therefore, it was a challenge that required functioning institutions to build the knowledge and evidence base of what works for farmers, based on the most available science.
“An ecosystem around the farmer, the private sector and government has to be built,” it said.
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In a statement, the President of AGRA, Dr Agnes Kalibata, said African challenges required uniquely African solutions.
She said the last four years had been challenging for African agriculture with climate change turning into a reality, with the associated advent of Fall Armyworm (FAW) and resurgence of locusts in the eastern part of the continent.
These have all been compounded by COVID-19.
“Despite these challenges, AGRA delivered results on the ground, working alongside our Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA) partners.
“We exceeded many of our targets as we work with our partners to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and build resilience among rural communities,” she said.
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The theme for the AGRA 2020 annual report is “Nurturing Change Across African Agriculture” and highlights the emerging results of AGRA’s work as it enters its final year of its 2017-2021 strategic period.
Consequently, it has drawn out its impact at national level, at the level of the key systems necessary for agriculture to work, and at how farmers themselves have been able to take advantage of new opportunities.
Equipping women farmers
At the farmer level, AGRA has reached 3.5 million women from 2018 to 2020 with improved technologies and extension services, 55 per cent of women farmers reported changing the way they farmed compared to 2017, an important first step towards closing the productivity gap.
Part of AGRA’s outreach effort is also the deliberate inclusion of women as village-based advisors (VBAs) making it easier for women farmers to connect, receive services, and have role models. Particular success has been recorded in Kenya, Tanzania, and Burkina Faso, where 24 per cent of VBAs are now women.
To empower women-led businesses, AGRA has supported about 2000 businesses across input systems, agro dealers, and off-takers.
“Our support includes practical business and management skills, as well as linkages to financial services and markets. Among the companies we have helped are 23 seed companies led by women, as well as over 1,400 agro dealers.
“This is an encouraging start, but it is just 15 per cent of the total businesses we have engaged in those areas,” it said.