Tag Archives: Africa

Valuing Women in Rural Agriculture

Recognizing the Role of Women Smallholder Farmers to Achieve Food Security and Development in Eastern Africa

If agriculture is the economic spine of East Africa, then smallholder farmers are its individual vertebrae. They undertake most land utilization and food production and, in a country like Ethiopia, where agriculture accounts for 43 percent of GDP and 80 percent of export earnings, produce nearly all the cereals, pulses and oilseed crops. Similarly in Tanzania and Uganda smallholder farming accounts for about 75 percent of agricultural production and over 75 percent of employment.  Smallholders are, in short, critical to food security at all levels.

The fact that many smallholders are women is often overlooked, and wrongly so.

Women constitute at least half the agriculture labor force and perform vital productive roles. Yet even when tenure rights are legally confirmed, traditional social norms restrict access to land and water resources and modern extension services may not reach them due to a lack of recognition and effort on the part of agricultural extension workers and the sector as a whole. Their mountain of challenges also includes lack of access to credit (linked to the lack of tenure rights hindering their capacity to borrow from banks) and, where micro-finance institutions do try and target women, these institutions may have higher transaction costs and therefore charge higher interest rates, making loans for women more unaffordable.  Their access to markets is also frequently restricted by limited mobility and lack of market information and as a result they may sell raw products to more local retailers and receive limited income as a result.

The situation of women farmers in GWI program site, Dera district in South Gonder Ethiopia, is a case in point. Most female headed households in Dera belong to a vulnerable group of farmers having the smallest landholding size, an average of less than one hectare of land. Social norms restrict women from tiling land and female headed households are forced to enter into share cropping arrangements, asking male relatives to till the land for them, in return for sharing half ofETH088 the crops produced on their small plots.

Similar to women elsewhere, women farmers in Dera have limited access to extension services. Most of them don’t visit farmers training centers, either due to workload or because there is a general perception that training on farming techniques is a man’s thing. Female headed households have the lowest rate of uptake of agriculture water management technologies. In Dera, only 8.7% use hand dug wells and 0.74% motorized pumps for irrigation, compared to male headed households, 30.8% and 3.1%, respectively. Most of the women farmers are not members of the most common farmers’ organizations, multi-purpose cooperatives, and do not attend farmers meetings. As a result, they miss vital farming related information communicated to farmers through the cooperatives. Women farmers in Dera are often hard pressed for money to buy inputs, such as, fertilizers and improved seeds. When they face hazards, such as their crops being attacked by pests, they feel helpless, with little clue of about what actions to take and where to get services. They struggle to make a meager earning selling what little they produce, among all these hardships, in the local market, often in smaller quantities. Bigger markets are usually out of reach for them.

This cycle of low productivity traps them in a low input-output model of farming, limiting their future income potential and creating missed opportunities to improve the welfare of their households and surrounding communities. It is an established fact that income earned by women is usually spent on household consumption items, including food and the health and education needs of children. Their success in farming, therefore, can generate positive spinoffs across the economy through contributing to a more productive and skilled labor force that can drive forward economic growth.

What can be done?

Change should begin with the recognition of women as productive farmers by governments and donors alike.

Governments need to take the necessary measures to ensure women’s land tenure rights are recognized legally and de facto where this persists to be a problem. They should also increase gender sensitivity within agricultural extension services, including identifying and promoting technologies that are more suitable for women, especially around the development of more effective management and use of water in agriculture. This should combine with a focus on crops traditionally cultivated by women  or crops over which they have more access and control using models of extension support that allow women to combine farming with other unpaid care work responsibilities. It will also be important for governments to invest in labor saving technologies that help to reduce the demands of reproductive work on women’s time.

The Global Water Initiative  East Africa recognizes these challenges and aims to support women farmers through evidence-based advocacy at different levels. Our core concern is to achieve greater political commitment to investment in water for agriculture in Ethiopia as well as Tanzania and Uganda. Our strategy to make this change happen is through building a body of evidence with key partners under Learning and Practice Alliances (LPAs) in which women smallholder farmers can articulate their concerns and aspirations and bring their voices into institutions and fora responsible for investing in water for agriculture. We envisage the progressive development of smallholder capacity, particularly of women,  to engage with decision makers, to raise their concerns and demand that decision making reflects their needs and priorities in the efficient utilization of water for agriculture.

Bethel Terefe

Program Policy Advisor, Ethiopia

A Quick Climb to the Top

I am used to programs where things build up slowly, steadily, and sometimes laboriously to a climax. But attending a recent Global Water Initiative Regional Advocacy meeting in August, a much more nimble dynamic seemed to be afoot. A group of about 50 (?) participants from national- and intermediate-levels of government in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda, research institutions, the media and NGOs came together in Morogoro, Tanzania to discuss the grave need for enhanced financial investments and political commitment to water for smallholder agriculture in East Africa. In a mere day and a half of meetings and with revisions to the draft text rather bravely facilitated in a plenary discussion, these individuals had penned their names, and thus affixed their commitments, to a joint charter urging for governments and other concerned stakeholders to take action.

Let me put things in context. This was the first time this particular group of people had come together. The meeting organizers had merely hoped for consensus around a draft charter text; it was participants that wanted to sign a finalized charter before leaving. An official from Uganda even requested that the word “government” be added in a certain place to leave no ambiguity as to who needed to take action.

Having been involved from the NGO side with projects that aim to work closely with government, I tried to reflect (with the hopes of future replication) on what the ingredients of success were. Maybe it was the fact that GWI, an action-research project, has been designed to involve government early on, rather than carry on independently before sending forth some well-researched but ill-timed and uninformed requests—a shortcoming many programs are guilty of. Maybe it is that government, despite its reputation for bureaucracy and interminable deliberations, is comprised of many individuals who are eager to improve the lot of their constituents and are capable of swift action. Or maybe all were inspired to do bold things by the grandeur of the Uluguru Mountains overlooking the venue. Whatever the secret, I hope to see more of this catchy enthusiasm spread out from the various players that came together to change the face of water for smallholder agriculture in East Africa.

By Malaika Cheney-Coker
Learning and Influencing Advisor, CARE Water Team


Welcome to our Blog

GWI East Africa is nearly a year old now and we want to use this opportunity to invite comment from you on what we do, how we can help make change happen in support of smallholder farmers in East Africa and how we can reach out successfully to influence key decision makers.UGD00430 Whilst we have time to achieve change – the Global Water Initiative East Africa (GWI EA) Secure Water for Smallholder Agriculture is a 5-year program of action research, advocacy and policy influencing – there is urgency behind what we do. Each year of poor or unreliable rainfall, farmer food security it seriously affected (in both Tanzania and Uganda this year, for example, rains have been poor (see how this has affected production levels in Tanzania). Our funding partner, the Howard G Buffett Foundation, generously supports our work because of a firm commitment to achieving change in support of smallholder farmers, the bedrock of household food security in East Africa.

Our program in East Africa is part of the wider Global Water Initiative working in addition in West Africa and Central America on water for agriculture issues. In all regions the focus is on generating solid evidence to support policy change. In East Africa our goal is that through this change, smallholder farmers will achieve greater food security through more sustainable access to and productive use of water.

We are working towards three strategic outcomes to achieve this goal: Greater political attention to water for smallholder production evidenced through changes in policies and plans, and their effective implementation at local, national and regional levels; Increased investment in smarter, affordable and innovative solutions to providing water for smallholder production, especially for women farmers; and that the voice and influence of smallholders, particularly women, will increase within institutions responsible for access to and control over water for agriculture.

These are complex and challenging outcomes to achieve, but we’re confident of success given the right political support and public debate. We will be using this blog to showcase what we are doing regionally, but also to invite guest blogs from our partners and others working with us across East Africa. Please sign up and join in. A starting point should be our Regional Charter on Investment in Water for Smallholder Agriculture. Concluded and signed up to by all participants at a recent regional meeting in Morogoro, the Charter sets out six key undertakings in support of water for smallholder agriculture. Please take a look and join us by signing up to the Charter here!

Dr Alan Nicol
Program Director
GWI East Africa