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Towards prioritising actions for women in Africa's agricultural sector

In sub-Saharan Africa, women produce up to 80% of food for household consumption and for sale on local markets, according to the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). In the case of staple crops such as rice, it is mainly women who are responsible for sowing, weeding, harvesting, processing and selling this agricultural product. However, poverty based on the estimated cost of basic needs affects many women farmers. If most agricultural programmes now target them as a priority, it is because the conditions for achieving food security and agricultural development depend on them. Over the past decade, AfricaRice, in partnership with the CGIAR, has increased its commitment to reducing the gender gap in rice production and value chains in Africa. This has resulted in the implementation of Research and Development (R&D) initiatives to improve the empowerment of women in the rice sector and more broadly in agriculture.

Analysis of the challenges of empowering women farmers: the case of TAFS-WCA

TAFS-WCA is the CGIAR initiative for the Transformation of Agri-Food Systems in West and Central Africa (TAFS-WCA). It aims to meet the challenges of food security by improving the living conditions of producers and agricultural value chains. The first phase of the initiative runs from 2022-2024. It focuses on various countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  TAFS-WCA is structured around several work modules, including gender.  As part of this, research has been carried out in Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria on the empowerment of women in the African agricultural and rice-growing sector.

Initial results show that women are still much more disadvantaged. They are less likely than men to be autonomous. On the question of access to means of production, there are significant disparities between women and men. Theoretically and legally, women can have a right to land. In practice, however, very few women own or inherit land, due to customary land tenure systems that benefit men to the extent that land is passed from father to son in patriarchal societies, or from uncle to nephew in matriarchal societies.

It also emerges that women's access to credit from financial services is limited. The requirements they have to meet in order to obtain credit, in particular the complex and lengthy administrative procedures, the need to draw up a business plan, the high interest rates and short repayment periods, and the obligation to have a custodian, are considered difficult and less suited to their situation. In addition, women have less access than men to resources such as quality seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, mechanised work and other advanced agricultural technologies. As a result, women are slightly more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than their male counterparts.

This situation is indicative of the weak leadership of women in rural communities. It should be noted that even if they can take part in decision-making, they generally have no authority over men. Their traditional social status keeps them in a state of permanent submission to men. Peasant women can speak out, but only when authorised or invited to do so by their husbands, brothers, fathers, uncles, and so on. It is then usual to see that they rarely speak out in public or keep quiet about their own problems for fear of expressing themselves. The reason is that many peasant women are illiterate and lack self-confidence and intellectual skills. Hence their inability to assert their rights or assert themselves independently of the social order established for the benefit of men. In a way, this explains why women farmers have fewer responsibilities in community organisations outside the groups they themselves run. Very often, they play a secondary role and serve as stooges in their communities.  This context partly explains the persistence of many forms of violence against women in rural areas. The best known are domestic violence (beatings, intimidation, threats, insults, etc.), sexual violence (rape, touching, sexual harassment, etc.), forced marriages, femicide and genital mutilation. These cases are very rarely referred to the appropriate services (police, gendarmerie, etc.) because community members prefer to settle out of court. Victims who are independently tempted to go to state services to obtain justice are sometimes disowned and marginalised. In addition to this, women farmers are also made socially dependent on men through a reduction in their control over personal and household income.

The above shows the need for specific intervention to address the challenges of empowering women farmers. This is the path being followed by AfricaRice, which is now insisting on an R&D approach at the heart of which gender is tending to take on a predominant and transversal role.

Gender transversality at the heart of R&D at AfricaRice

AfricaRice or the African Rice Center is an institution whose mission is to contribute to poverty alleviation and food security in Africa through research and development activities, while ensuring the profitability and sustainability of production systems. Gender plays an important role in its target activities. It is a subject that is taken into account by all the programmes, and in particular by the Policy, Innovation Systems and Impact Evaluation Programme (PII). AfricaRice researchers actively involve women in their respective activities, particularly in their thematic research, varietal selection activities, technology development and capacity building. Similarly, under the AfricaRice Lead, a pan-African action group on gender in rice research and technology development was set up in 2011. Its aim is to ensure that the challenges of gender are effectively integrated into R&D in rice-growing and, more broadly, in the African agricultural sector.





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