Women represent 43% of the labor force in the agricultural sector, and the figure rises to 70% in some countries. Implementation of the FoodTrade ESA Gender Action Plan has seen projects adopt approaches that seek to address women farmers’ access to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), including post-harvest handling, by facilitating better access to training venues in villages. Using local trainers and languages and recruiting female trainers are some of the measures used to enhance knowledge and skills. 49% of farmers trained on the benefits of using improved inputs in the past quarter were women. We see how Kilimo Trust, one of the programme grantees, is taking deliberate steps to ensure more women benefit from programme resources.
FoodTrade ESA grantees are taking deliberate steps to reach more women by conducting trainings and setting up demonstration plots at locations more accessible to women, working around their typical time schedules and producing localised training material specifically for women. As a result, women have improved their farming methods resulting in better quality and quantities of yields (up to three times in excess of previous harvests as established in FGDs among Kilimo Trust beneficiaries in Kenya and Uganda).
Kilimo Trust (KT) works closely with Zinduka women’s group who are based in Mshewe village, Mbeya, Southern Tanzania. The group was founded by Andusamile Mbandile and is comprised of 23 women farmers. The group has a shared vision of spearheading development in their community on the back of agribusiness. The group has formalised their group with a constitution, rules and regulations. KT is implementing a consortium model to improve production and link farmers directly to regional markets. Their approach focuses on establishing trading systems that build the confidence of large buyers such as exporters, processors and large institutions, who are reluctant to source supplies from smallholders. The organisation is working to strengthen the beans value chain across the East Africa Community (EAC). With the funding, KT is promoting regional solutions to local problems.
Witness Kayanga, the Chairperson of Zinduka Women Group, underscores some of the challenges that women in agriculture continue to face. “Despite the roles we play in agriculture as women, we suffer from high illiteracy rates, patriarchal structures, and long distances to fetch water, only to harvest less yields and face barriers to market entry.”
“KT literally showed us the way from scratch. Before the trainings, we were all over the place practicing mixed farming in poultry, fishing, sunflower, maize, beans, ground nuts and multiple other crops. KT helped us narrow our focus to farming of Masipenjele beans because of its high demand in the market,” explains Andusamile Mbandile the founder and secretary of the group. The group converges to evaluate the produce, markets, assess the sales as well as individual achievements. The close monitoring of their plans makes the group exceptional.
“Today ALL the women in the group have water in their homes and no longer have to travel long distances to fetch water,” adds Andusamile. “As a group we have built seven houses, improved the quality of all our houses, and this has raised our social standing in the community, giving us credibility as decision makers and financial contributors in our families. Our children are now going to school hassle free and for most of us, even our marriages are stable,” she finishes with a smile. These women exemplify the promise that Africa’s women farmers hold in improving the well-being of their society.
The journey of the Zinduka women has been a remarkable one – from insignificant yields of food crops and poor quality yields of cash crop, to better food for their families and cash crops for sale. They also produce their own quality seeds, opening up new revenue streams.
Closing the gender gap could increase yields on women-run farms by 20-30%. This could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5- 4 percent. To realise Africa’s full agricultural trade potential and strengthen food security, we must ensure that women involved in this sector are given access to better opportunities.