Wednesday is International Women’s Day. Since 1975, the day has been marked annually under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) to celebrate the successes of women and draw attention to the unique challenges they face. It is a day to reflect on efforts being made to deal with gender inequality and create equal opportunities for women.
On this day, we are all reminded that the world is off track when it comes to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on gender equality. All over the world, discrimination has prevented women from enjoying globally agreed human rights. According to the UN, only 26.2% of seats in national parliaments globally are occupied by women, although they constitute about 50% of the global population. When it comes to managerial positions worldwide, only 28.3% are occupied by women. Moody’s Analytics indicates that closing the gender gap would boost the global economy by 7% or $7 trillion. At the pace employers are moving, it will take 132 years to achieve pay equity.
As we mark this great day, we cannot help but express a deep sense of gratitude to women across Africa who are breaking their backs and challenging the status quo to ensure our continent has enough food for all. Across Africa, about 50% of the entire workforce in the agricultural sector are women. Women play a key role in ploughing lands, planting seeds, harvesting produce, processing foods, as well as marketing, and cooking food.
Sadly, women have far less access to farming inputs like land due to outdated socio-cultural norms and laws. According to data from the UN, only about 50% of women worldwide have ownership and/or secure tenure rights over agricultural land. Women farmers struggle to raise collaterals to seek credit to adequately finance agricultural production activities. They also struggle to get access to inputs like improved seeds, fertilisers, tractors, extension services, and irrigation facilities to undertake farming activities. As we celebrate this day, let us walk the talk. Governments must institute legislations to ease access of women in agriculture to lands, access credit, and get the necessary technical support to undertake food production.
Innovation and technology for gender equality
The theme for this year’s celebration is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”. The theme encourages the world to use digital innovation, technology, and education to empower women and girls worldwide.
At AGRA, we have been undertaking various initiatives to empower women and help boost agricultural production in Africa through digital innovation. Gender empowerment is a significant component of AGRA’s strategy to inclusively transform food systems in Africa. Through our VALUE4HER Women Supply Chain Program, we have built Africa’s first ‘women in agribusiness digital marketplace’ called Value4HerConnect, which is offering integrated business solutions to women agri enterprises. The initiative also supports women-led agribusinesses with finances so they can expand their operations and create bigger opportunities for more women.
The story of Edith Akosah Wheatland, the founder of poultry production firm Rockland Farms in the Ashanti Region, is one that inspires us a lot. She got a matching grant of $9,000 from VALUE4HER to add 20 more women smallholders to her supply chain, and to as well train, coach, and mentor them. Miss Wheatland has surpassed the target and is providing about 300 women farmers in her operational area with farming inputs, extension services to grow maize, as well as a ready market for their produce. From an average low of 0.3 tons of maize yield per acre, the women farmers being supported by Rockland Farms now get an average of 1.2 tons per acre. Now, these women have more money to feed their children better, take them to school and give them better healthcare. This is one of the several pieces of evidence that investment in women has catalytic effects that can transform not only households but communities.
AGRA maintains a strong focus on women and youth in our work. We are working to make more improved seeds available to women farmers so they can increase productivity. We have supported women farmers with improved agricultural extension services through our Village Based Agent (VBA) extension model. We have supported women farmer groups with inputs, and markets. We have led consortiums that have set up input credit schemes that are supporting women with credits. We are introducing women to affordable high-quality fertilisers. We have launched the Women Agripreneurs of the Year Awards to reward hardworking women, and address constraints faced by women in accessing productive resources and business opportunities.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, AGRA provided avenues for continued access to inputs, mechanisation, and advisory services for women. We created the Women's SME (small-medium enterprises) Rescue Fund and employed a swift disbursement system to support women. We deployed digital tools for women to access inputs and financing, as well as market products. We tailored training and capacity building for women to respond, recover, and build resilience. We did all these because we at AGRA are clear in our minds that women are playing a key role in ongoing efforts to reduce poverty, improve food security and sustain the environment.
We at AGRA are committed to partnering with governments across Africa to roll out more policies and initiate special projects that prioritise the interest of women.
To all the great women working day and night to keep the world satisfied, I salute you. May your efforts yield the deserved returns.
By Juliette Lampoh, Ghana Country Manager, AGRA