Women’s role in agriculture and food security is critical in sub-Saharan Africa. However many researches point out the lack of visibility of their participation, and contribution in agriculture and development in general. The impediments to women's empowerment encompass their lack of access to decision making processes, their low participation in local governance, as well as their limited access to technology inputs and credit. Land tenure is another stumbling block to women’s full access and control of land and the agricultural output. Although many projects endeavor to address rural women’s needs, their empowerment should go beyond the efficiency, functionalist approach that only value their productive and reproductive roles. It is a matter of equity to empower women in a key sector where they are the major contributors to household, community subsistence and food security.
In developing countries, more than 60% of women are directly involved in agricultural work, but very few gain access to information, training or supplies. More action and less rhetoric on this issue could put more food on the world's table and help drive economic growth, writes Pamela Whitby.Lindiwe Majele Sibanda has agriculture in her blood.
One of five children, she grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe where her parents still live and farm today.
"Farming," says Ms Sibanda, who runs her own commercial cattle farm, "is a family tradition."
She admits, however, that cattle farming is one type of agriculture that it is possible to run remotely and she does this from her base in South Africa.
"You vaccinate, you put in place your programme and you get a good manager," she explains.
Having an extended family helps too, which is "the beauty of being an African".
Women contribute She is among just 10% of women in Africa who own livestock and among the 1% of women who own land.
Ms Sibanda, who trained as an animal scientist in Egypt and the UK, is committed to improving the livelihoods of Africa's rural women through her work as chief executive of a food, agriculture and natural resources policy analysis network called Fanrpan.
The organisation on ensuring food security and alleviating poverty in Africa."Women are responsible for the lion's share of agricultural production and there are real benefits in getting our women farmers involved in influencing policy," she says.
She has a point.
According the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), some 70% of the world's food is grown on farms of less than two hectares and these are tended largely by women.
Hard work In sub-Saharan Africa, women grow as much as 90% of the region's food.
Yet despite the central role they play, the conditions they work in leave much to be desired.
For one, the working day of women is at least 50% longer than that of men.
In addition, some 75% of the essential work women do, such as planting, hoeing, weeding and harvesting, is done with the most rudimentary tools and little outside assistance.
What is more, government agricultural strategies, which facilitate access to information, training and farm inputs (seeds and fertilizer), have typically focused on increasing production of cash crops and are largely provided to men.
Women, meanwhile, have access to just 5% of such resources.
Little training Another overlooked challenge is how the agricultural work environment affects the health of women, says Dr Saloshni Naidoo from the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health at South Africa's University of Kwa-Zulu Natal.
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