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USAID Africa Bureau

Deeply-rooted inequalities facing women farmers in Africa undermine efforts to feed the continents growing population and reduce poverty, revealed a joint study by the World Bank and The ONE Campaign

Examining production disparities between male and female farmers in Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda, the report stated closing Africa's agricultural gender gap will boost household incomes and food security.

"By spearheading proven, effective policies that target the needs of female farmers - such as strengthening land rights - governments can help farming families tackle the low-productivity traps that entrench poverty and prevent millions of farmers from leading decent lives,” said World Bank vice president for Africa Makhtar Diop.

Though nearly half of Africa's agricultural workers are women, their per-hectare productivity is significantly lower, in part, because they lack equal access to fertilizer, labour and training.

"We ignore this gender gap at our peril and ultimately at great social and economic cost," said ONE Africa director Sipho Moyo.

"If governments and partners invest in agriculture and, in particular, its women farmers today, they can be assured of a legacy of greater equality and boundless opportunity that will benefit Africans for generations to come and may usher the beginning of the end of aid dependence for our people.”

With two-thirds of Africans depending on farming for their livelihoods, the report said giving women equal access to productive resources could increase farm yields by as much as 20 per cent on the world's most food-insecure continent.

Despite a 4.8 per cent increase in Gross Domestic Product between 2000 and 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization said agricultural production has grown less than one-per cent per year.

The FAO said poor overall agricultural productivity, low incomes in rural areas, and high rates of malnutrition overwhelm better varieties of bananas in eastern and central Africa and higher-yielding maize as well as increased production of cotton, tea, and flowers.

"By tackling the low productivity that ails African agriculture, we can help unleash the potential of the farm economy to be a major driver of economic growth, providing jobs as well as food, income and nutrition security," Diop said.

"Through concerted action, we can make tangible improvements in the lives of African farmers, women and men alike," Diop added.

Female farmers tend to live in smaller households with fewer men, possibly because of widowhood, migration or divorce. So women farmers across Ethiopia, Malawi, northern Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda have fewer family members to help out in the fields and at home.

When they do hire male labourers, those workers tend to generate far lower returns than they do for male farmers. The report suggests that may be because women are not able to pay as much for the best workers, that men work harder for a male supervisor, and/or that women may not be able to supervise those labourers as effectively because they are also performing household roles not shared by men.

The World Bank and The ONE Campaign prescribe stronger women's land rights, improved access to hired labour, and better access to tools and equipment that reduce the need for additional labour. Providing community-based childcare, encouraging women to use better fertiliser and seeds, promoting higher-value cash crops, and boosting women's access to training and technology will also help narrow the agricultural gender gap.

One example is the Tufts and Oxford University's Project Alphabetisation de Base par Cellulaire - or Project ABC - which found that cheap, shared mobile phones and proper instruction can transform the lives of women farmers by improving access to real-time information on markets, pricing, agronomy and weather.

Both female and male participants in the project considerably improved their literacy and maths skills, with women farmers driving production increases as high as 8 per cent compared with non-ABC households, in part by diversifying with cash crops such as peanuts and okra.

"The continent still faces major challenges including food and nutrition, insecurity, unemployment, particularly of youth and women," said African Union commissioner for rural economy and agriculture tumsiime Rhoda Peace.

"Africa's agriculture can and should significantly contribute to addressing these challenges," Peace added.

Scott Stearns