Gender Equality in Africa’s Food System: Pathways to Impact

by Jun 6, 2024Social Impact, GoGettaz 20240 comments

Gender Equality in Agrifood

Gender equality is one of the impact areas our judges look for in the annual GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize Competition. The simple fact is that women across the continent do not have the same access to land, finance, farming technology, and even seeds and fertilizer, as their male counterparts. Empowering women in the food system with equal opportunities will have a massive positive impact with far-reaching effects from reducing poverty and improving rural livelihoods, to fighting malnutrition and eradicating stunting in young children.

As Geraldine Mukesima, Vice President of IFAD shared on International Women’s Day, “Investing in gender equality and women’s empowerment is not only more urgent than ever but also an incredibly smart investment to generate economic growth, food security, income opportunities and better lives, particularly in rural areas where most of the world’s poorest live.”

In this article, we take a look at what is currently being done and where the best opportunities for further impact lie. We do this by looking at five ways that gender equality can significantly accelerate Africa’s food systems transformation.

 

Political Empowerment: Improving Policy for better Gender Equality in the Food System

Empowering women though political policy, particularly in the realm of agriculture, is emerging as a critical priority for African countries. Rwanda is one of the examples mentioned in the Bridging the Gap Report by the Malabo Montpellier Panel. This small country leads the world in ensuring female representation in political participation and leadership. Through initiatives like the Rwandan National Women’s Council, women from rural areas are actively included in policy and decision-making processes, laying the foundation for gender-equal food systems. This inclusive approach ensures that the voices of women, often the backbone of rural economies and agricultural labour, shape policies that directly impact their lives and livelihoods.

President of the Republic of Tanzania Samia Suluhu Hassan on stage with youth leaders in the agrifood sector

President of the Republic of Tanzania Samia Suluhu Hassan addressing delegates at AGRF2023 on the importance of youth and women empowerment in the agrifood sector. GoGettaz Impact Award winner Nancy Iraba (left) had an opportunity to ask questions during the Youth Town Hall.

President of the Republic of Tanzania Samia Suluhu Hassan is also a vocal advocate of putting political will behind female empowerment in the food system. Tanzania’s ambitious Agenda 10/30 agricultural transformation strategy underscores the pivotal role women play in the country’s agrifood sector. By aiming to increase agricultural growth to 10 percent annually by 2030, with a focus on employing 3 million women and youth, Tanzania’s government is not only boosting productivity but also addressing gender disparities. Through this strategy, women are positioned as significant beneficiaries of new employment opportunities, driving economic growth and fostering gender equality in the process.

Collaborative research efforts, such as those between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the University of Dodoma, further advance the agenda of women’s empowerment in agriculture. Their paper assesses the implications of Agenda 10/30 and provides valuable insights into how increased political and economic participation of women can drive substantial sectoral growth. With initiatives like these and the implementation of strategies like Agenda 10/30, Tanzania provides an excellent example for African countries to transition to a more equitable and productive agrifood system, where women have equal access to resources and opportunities.

 

Women-focussed Agrifood Businesses

Lilian Nakigozi picks a spinach leaf from a raised vegetable garden.

Lilian Nakigozi of Women Smiles Uganda in one of their urban vegetable farms.

 

Women-focused agrifood businesses are at the forefront of transforming Africa’s agrifood systems, showcasing the immense potential women hold in driving economic growth and societal progress. One such example is Women Smiles Uganda, founded by 2019 GoGettaz Finalist Lilian Nakigozi, which addresses the unique challenges faced by women in urban slums. By manufacturing affordable vertical farms and providing training in vertical farming techniques, Women Smiles Uganda empowers women to grow food efficiently in limited spaces, contributing to hunger eradication and community transformation.

In Mali, Agrowomen, led by CEO Fily Keita, is revolutionizing the agricultural sector by supporting women farmer cooperatives in producing and marketing local cereals and oilseeds. Her work in empowering women earned her an Impact Award in the 2021 GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize Competition. Through their range of products sold to both local and international buyers, Agrowomen creates market opportunities for women farmers, thereby increasing their incomes and economic stability.

Fily Keita Agrowomen Stall 2

Fily Keita with Agrowomen products at an expo.

As Lauriane Noelle Vofo Kana reports for Africa News, initiatives like the TRADE project in central Malawi, supported by the Malawian government and IFAD, are instrumental in promoting gender equality in agriculture. By providing training and innovative techniques to farmers like Alefa Ofesa and her husband, Lloyd Phale, the project empowers women with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in agriculture. Lauraine writes, “Working together as equal partners the pair have seen an increase in productivity which has allowed them to earn more.”

These success stories underscore the pivotal role of supporting women and women-focused agribusinesses in Africa’s agrifood systems, demonstrating that by prioritizing women’s empowerment, we can create more inclusive and sustainable food systems for the future.

 

Access to Finance

Finance solutions tailored to women in the agrifood sector are gaining momentum across Africa, aiming to bridge the significant gender finance gap that stifles women’s participation in agriculture. Governments like Ghana and Togo are taking decisive steps, allocating funds and implementing legislative reforms to support women’s access to finance, land ownership, and entrepreneurship. These initiatives are crucial in dismantling the financial barriers that hinder women’s potential in the agrifood sector and fostering gender equality in agricultural value chains.

Solape of Hervest handing a certificate to one of their women farmers

Solape Akinpelu of Hervest handing a certificate to one of their women farmers

Recognizing the pressing need to address the gender finance gap, innovative ventures like HERVEST are pioneering inclusive fintech solutions to empower women farmers and small-scale entrepreneurs across Africa. CEO Solape Akinpelu is a GoGettaz Community member who leverages digital technology and adopts a peer-to-peer model to provide essential financial services, including savings, investments, and credit, tailored to the needs of marginalized women in agriculture. Through a blended finance approach, HERVEST facilitates access to inputs, training, and premium markets, empowering women to thrive in the agrifood sector. The impact of HERVEST’s efforts is palpable, with over 40,000 registered users benefitting from its services and over 10,000 smallholder women farmers receiving blended financing totalling USD 750,000.

 

Gender Equality in Science and Technology

Highlighted in a 2023 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) titled The Status of Women in Agrifood Systems, across Africa there is a persistent “critical tech gender gap”. The report reveals that in 2022, 25% fewer women than men used the internet, with Africa experiencing the largest disparity. This gap has remained constant since 2019 and is particularly significant as internet access correlates positively with income. Limited internet access constrains women’s ability to acquire information on improved agricultural technologies, thus hindering their productivity and economic progress.

Writing about the report for Africa Renewal, Douglas Okwatch notes that women’s representation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers remains low, despite comprising 47% of STEM graduates in Africa. This is impeding their ability to influence the adoption of new agricultural technologies. To bridge this gap is pivotal for the meaningful participation of women in agrifood systems. Providing science-driven education, technical training, and mentorship can empower women, enabling them to diversify activities, enhance productivity, and increase income within the food system.

SAYeTECH multi-crop thresher

SAYeTECH Multi-crop Thresher saves huge amounts of time for women and children who often thresh crops by hand.

Similarly, access to more efficient agriculture technologies can release women from the outsized burden of manual labour associated with food production. A great example of this is the multi-crop thresher engineered by GoGettaz Members Jeffrey Appiagyei and Theodore Ohene of  SAYeTECH in Ghana. SAYeTECH’s flagship product, the multi-thresher ST-6000 reduces the time it takes to thresh an acre of cereal farm using manual labour from 2 weeks to less than 2 hours. This relieves workers, mostly women and children, from the drudgery of threshing by beating with sticks, allowing children in particular to concentrate on their studies.

 

Bridging the Gender Gap in Nutrition

Healthy Seaweed Cafe farmers bring in the harvest

Nancy Iraba (right) with a fresh seaweed harvest ready for processing at Healthy Seaweed Cafe.

Empowering women in agrifood systems is pivotal for closing the gender nutrition gap, which encompasses unequal access to nutritious food, healthcare, and education between men and women. This disparity not only leads to adverse health outcomes for women but also affects the overall well-being and productivity of their communities. Initiatives like Nancy Iraba’s Healthy Seaweed Cafe in Zanzibar exemplify how empowering women economically and nutritionally can have profound impacts. By purchasing and processing seaweed from local women farmers, Healthy Seaweed Cafe not only promotes local seaweed consumption but also uplifts the economic conditions of these women, thereby addressing both nutritional and economic challenges simultaneously.

An enlightening contribution by Ousmane Badiane, Executive Chairperson of AKADEMIYA2063, on CNBC Africa, emphasizes how gender equality in nutrition serves as a catalyst for health and economic growth, as demonstrated by Rwanda’s Village Nutrition Schools (VNS). These schools have played a crucial role in reducing malnutrition among children by educating mothers and providing essential nutritional information. With operations spanning across more than 1,800 villages and benefiting over 6,600 children, the VNS model showcases the transformative power of targeted nutritional education. Such initiatives underscore the importance of empowering women with knowledge and resources to make informed decisions about nutrition, thereby fostering healthier communities and driving economic progress.

 

Conclusion

Achieving gender equality in Africa’s food system is not just a moral imperative; it’s a strategic necessity for sustainable development. As highlighted throughout this article, empowering women across various facets of the agrifood sector—from political participation and access to finance to science and technology, agrifood businesses, and nutrition—holds the key to unlocking transformative impacts. By investing in initiatives that prioritize gender equality, African countries can harness the full potential of their agrifood systems, leading to reduced poverty, improved rural livelihoods, enhanced food security, and healthier communities.

As we continue to strive for progress, it’s essential to amplify the voices of women and support their endeavours, ensuring that they play a central role in shaping the future of Africa’s agrifood landscape. That is where you come in! If you empower women in Africa’s agrifood sector through your venture, enter the GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize Competition. This year GoGettaz has allocated an additional 60,000 US Dollars specifically to support agrifood businesses that are focussed on making an impact. Gender equality is one of the seven impact areas that judges are looking for. Other impact areas on the agenda are: job creation for youth, innovation for climate resilience, improved nutrition, sustainable use of natural resources, advancement of agrifood technologies, and improved rural livelihoods.

You could be one of the exceptional businesses to win a coveted Impact Award. Seize this opportunity to empower women, close the gender gap, and create a more equitable and prosperous future for all.

GoGettaz

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