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Gender-Responsive Investments in Africa’s Agriculture for Inclusive Food Systems

On May 4, 2021, partners and stakeholders including African Women in Agricultural Research for Development (AWARD), Private Sector Actors, CAADP-XP4 Partners (ASARECA, CCARDESA, CORAF, AFAAS, NAASRO, GFRAS, and FARA), IFPRI, Policymakers (Permanent Secretaries from Ministries of Agriculture and country-level selected focal persons to the UN Food Summit 2021), Researchers (DGs of the NARS), Youth networks such as YPARD, Farmer Associations (Continental, Regional and selected country-level), and other key partners within the food system space in Africa (TAAT, CG, etc) convened on a 1-day virtual webinar co-hosted by the FARA secretariat in Accra, Ghana, and AWARD in Nairobi, Kenya. This collaboration sort to present a strategic platform that fosters continental and global collective actions to- wards strengthening gender-inclusive private sector engagement in African Agricultural Research and Development. The main objective of this dialogue was to provide a platform for key stakeholders in agricultural research for development and the private sector to discuss game-changing options and solutions that will enhance gender-responsive investments in Africa’s agricultural research and development for inclusive food systems.

Although women and young people constitute the majority of the continent's population, most young Africans are either unemployed or underemployed and seldom consider agriculture as a means of livelihood. Women are the main drivers of agriculture activities, however, women face a lot of challenges that limit their impact. Women are underrepresented, unacknowledged, and under-resourced with regard to their involvement in the agriculture value chain. Similarly, female participation in agricultural research and higher education has been particularly low in Africa and currently stands at 24%. It is therefore quite important to come up with sustainable solutions targeted at feeding the growing population while reducing the inequalities in the communities we serve. It is of great importance to understand that these inequalities hamper the engagement of women in agriculture and that they are taken into consideration in the development of strategies to improve Africa's AR4D through private-sector engagement.

Women make significant contributions to the economy in their role as entrepreneurs, on-farm workers, employees, or through unpaid care work at home. Women farmers play a vital role in African agriculture, doing most of the work to produce, process, and market food. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), For instance, women produce 60-80 percent of the world’s food. This gap does not only hinder women’s productivity but also reduces their contributions to the agricultural sector and the achievement of broader economic and social development goals. Agriculture holds enormous potential for jobs creation among Africa's fast-growing young population and consequently transforming the continent’s economy. However, African women and youths continue to face unique challenges that prevent them from unleashing and utilizing the profitable opportunities agriculture offers.

Hence, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) – the AU's body responsible for coordinating and advocating for agricultural research for development (AR4D) – aims to bridge the existing gap in the involvement of women and youths in agriculture through the implementation of youth engagement programmes focused on addressing issues of employment and Agripreneurship in Africa. On this basis, FARA organized this platform together with the Sub Regional Organizations (ASARECA, CCARDESA, CORAF, and AFAAS) and in partnership with African Women in Agricultural Research & Development (AWARD) and the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) to help address these challenges in the African context.

Setting the scene, Prof. Funmi Para-Mallam highlighted unique challenges faced by women in agriculture in the rural setting in Africa. She mentioned that looking beyond important and positive initiatives happening in Africa, women still continue to face difficult challenges. "The issue is on equal access. Women still lack savings, collateral to start new businesses and grow new ones. When looking at capacity development within the sector you find that women in Africa lack basic business skills". She further lamented that skewed institutional frameworks which are meant to promote private sector investment are still in favour of foreign direct investment and still not targetted at domestic growth. "Many institutions are still not investing adequately in gender-inclusive strategies".

Following this was Dr. Yemi Akimbamijo who spoke strongly about the need for integration of technology in agriculture in order to achieve SDGs. He mentioned the crucial role women and youth play in this process. "FARA has a role in advancing science agenda for agriculture in Africa and there is no better time than now, considering the fact that we are running low on time to meet the SDGs". He elaborated that reaching the targets requires the facilitation and application of science, technology and innovation in agriculture and that women and youth are critical pieces in all these. "In all of these, women and youth are crucial and they are the centre of these interventions especially in the promotion of digital services and commercialization of the research products". He emphasized that gender mainstreaming is not just about women empowerment, but building of individual, organizational and institutional capacities to mainstream gender.

Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg was next to speak about agriculture research in Africa. Dr. Wanjiru spoke about the important collaboration between FARA and AWARD in accelerating research impact making sure that gender lens is a critical element in the way the agricultural research sector develops and grows on the continent. "Our vision is a gender-responsive agriculture innovation system that is working towards agricultural driven prosperity for the continent". "Our particular mission is investing in African centres and institutions to deliver and influence innovative sustainable gender-responsive agriculture research and innovation". She discussed how they are engaging with African research institutions on the continent to ensure they have what it takes to prioritize and embrace gender responsiveness in both policy and practice. "There are a couple of things that AWARD is doing to support Africa's capacity for gender-responsive agriculture. The first is driving the fact that the agricultural value chain begins at the research stage. We must begin to support the ability of researchers to lead and develop gender-responsive innovations".

Giving a keynote address, Dr. Jeminah Njuki spoke about food security and gender equality and how prioritizing gender equality can get us closer to food and nutrition security. “What a great opportunity this UN Food systems summit is, not just for the global community, and also for us in Africa, to actually bring our heads, our thoughts, our influences and our expertise to actually see how ca we transform our food systems. And not just to transform our food systems, but transform them in a way that is just and equitable”. She mentioned that the food systems need to transform, feed and nourish people in a sustainable way that does not stretch our planetary boundaries. However, in doing so, we need to recognize the intertwined nature between food security, nutrition security and gender equality. “We have got evidence that gender-based discrimination or denial payment is one of the major causes of food and nutrition insecurity”.

This was a great opportunity for myself and many other young people in agriculture that participated in this webinar. I think this should be the beginning of long, genuine and transformative conversations that will spread just beyond the agricultural industry. Women and youth face challenges in many other social and economic sectors and it is time to acknowledge those challenges and create conducive environments for women and youth participation and representation. It essential to realize that, the gender-related bottlenecks to the involvement of women and youth in agriculture, do not only have an impact on enterprise development, but also on the overall productivity of both men and women, and the competitiveness of the Africa continent. This is actually stated in the 2016 Africa Human Development Report that gender inequality costs Sub-Saharan Africa approximately 95 USD billion per year. Investing in gender-smart approaches to agribusiness will certainly have much larger economic benefits for the continent.

The right time is now, to reinvent African agriculture to be more gender-responsive and responsible.

Photo credit: World Bank

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Sunday, 28 November 2021

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