The Role of Women in Agriculture Value Chains in Sub Saharan Africa

Globally, there is a great commitment towards the Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) “End Hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030. This has prompted deliberate broad lenses to view Agricultural growth by addressing gender inequality in Agriculture.

There is a need for extensive research and evidence at the national, regional, and global levels to drive initiatives that bridge the existing gender-related gaps and emerging issues that hinder sustainable development and livelihood for smallholder farmers with a focus on women farmers.

Today, we can confirm high-level awareness of the challenges women face at home, work, and farm levels calling for practical solutions to support women in Agricultural to improve productivity, economic, and leadership empowerment.

At this point, we need to understand the critical role of Women in Agriculture and their significant contribution to economic growth through farming. It is from an in-depth understanding of these a role, in addition to the challenges that we are able to tailor-make long-term interventions.

Women as a WorkForce in Agriculture
Did you know that half of the Agricultural taskforce in developing countries are Women? In Asia and Africa, more women are employed in agriculture than in other sectors. Almost 70% of employed women in Southern Asia and over 60% in Sub-Saharan Africa are in Agriculture.

In addition to this, with an exception of Latin America, research shows that in regions with developing countries, employed women are as much likely to be employed or more likely than men be in Agriculture. As a task force in Agriculture, women work as self-employed farmers, unpaid farmers on family land, and as paid or unpaid workers on other farms and agricultural enterprises.

Women are distributed in both crop and livestock at subsistence and commercial levels, in some cases they are involved in mixed agricultural practice that includes; crops, poultry, livestock and fish farming. In Sub- Saharan Africa, women have been appreciated for their good knowledge of crop varieties and cultivate over 120 crop varieties that are managed by men alongside poultry and livestock farming.

Women in livestock management
Women’s role in livestock production varies from region to region and ownership is typically influenced by social, cultural and economic factors.

In most societies, the types of animals kept is a key factor, such that cattle and larger animals are owned by men while smaller animals such as sheep, goats, pigs and poultry are left under the women’s management. Ownership, management and control of the smaller animals shift to the men in a situation where it is a major contributor to family income.

Whether in pastoralism or mixed farming systems, women play a great role in livestock Management, Processing and marketing. Women are the caregivers for the house fed and the animals fed within the homesteads, sick animals, birth attendants and key in milk production. Notably, the use of eggs, milk and poultry meat for household consumption is controlled by women as well marketing of the products and use of income generated from them.

To a great extent, this explains why poultry and small-scale dairy projects for development have focused on women in rural areas. All important decisions around the animals at the household level are to be made jointly by both the man and the woman in the household to ensure sustainability and good returns but it is still a challenge in some societies.

There is hope as some studies report that female-headed households are successful as the male-headed households in generating income from animals despite having ownership to smaller animals.

This shows the significant capabilities of women in livestock management, yet their role is underestimated or overlooked because of gender-biased thinking system from attitudes of the women or their cultural and societal conditioning.

Women’s work in managing livestock needs to be reflected in statistics, showing the significant role in access, control and management of resources such animals, grazing areas, feed resources, animal and animal product marketing on household welfare, food and nutrition security and economic growth at the national levels.

Women in fisheries and aquaculture
It is interesting that even though women are not engaged in commercial offshore and long-distance fishing attributed to the nature of the work and social norms, they are key players in the fishing industries. Women, especially in China and Asia who are major producers, are involved in subsistence and commercial fishing in small canoes and boats in coastal or inland waters as well as fish processing. In Africa, they account for a third of the workforce in fisheries and aquaculture.

Women in fisheries are the entrepreneurs and labor providers before, during and after fish are caught in both artisanal and commercial fisheries. A good example is in West Africa where the women, often known as ‘Fish Mamas’ are intensively involved in the fisheries chain from production to sale.

Women play an active role in the processing and the marketing stage of fish in all regions. A typical open-air market in Kenya and Uganda are women cleaning, drying, deep frying and selling fish. In fact, in most countries, women are significant fish entrepreneurs that most fish processing at household level industries or as paid laborers in large scale processing industry is dominated by women.

Aquaculture is recognized as one way of generating income while also improving household food and nutrition security. Fish consumption ensures dietary diversity by complementing food crops contributing to micronutrients needs. However, statistics show that low fish farming adoption by women especially in Sub-Saharan African living far from water bodies is attributed to issues of land ownership, low access to resources for construction and lack of skill set in management.

In regions such as Asia where aquaculture is a long tradition, studies show that the contribution in labor by women is more than men

Women in Forestry
The interplay between Agriculture and Trees for climate adaptation and mitigation for sustainable Agriculture and biodiversity conservation cannot be emphasized. Women significantly contribute to formal and informal forestry through agroforestry, watershed management, tree improvements, forest protection, and conservation.

While women are mostly involved in managing nurseries to planting and tending to trees, they are also a notable labor force for forest industries in logging and wood processing throughout the world. As farmers, women can be directly being involved in Agroforestry or create employment from nurturing and sale of seedlings.

In the formal sector, studies by FAO in Africa and Europe show that fewer women hold senior or policy-making positions but rather primarily in administrative and support roles with professional women foresters having specialist jobs like research. The narrative can change as evidenced by a good practice trend of adopting women leaders in forestry in some parts.

Women in Crop
Women account for nearly half of the World’s Smallholder farmers and produce 70% of Africa’s Food yet they own only 20% of the World’s arable land. In Kenya for example over 65% of arable land is owned by men. FAO reports on Women doing farming focus on low-value subsistence crops not by choice but from lack of resources to do more.

Woman Smallholder farmer staking tomatoes in her Farm with assistance of FSPN Africa Project Officer Mr, Hamis in Mbeere South, Embu County.
While most women in Sub Saharan tend to small farms for subsistence, they are able to prepare their own land, select seeds, plant and tend to the farms till harvesting and surplus are sold to nearby markets. In the most obvious case where women do not own farms, they provide more labor than men in production.

Research on gender approach to sustainable food systems shows that men and women have preferences and criteria in choosing crop, seed varieties and the process of cultivation. Women are highly recognized by multiple crop systems that cater for risk minimization, vulnerability among other innovative factors.

Interventions to support women in crop farming should not only focus on capacity building, improving access to farm inputs and other resources but also have a traditional understanding of gender roles in the communities to avoid conflicts and ensure the sustainability of the solutions.