Leading Women Trailblazing Small-Scale Farming – An Untapped ResourceMary-Jean Nleya
In a world that produces enough food to feed everyone, one in nine people go to bed hungry everyday, that is an approximate number of 815 million people. Food security remains a global challenge. Sub-Saharan Africa has an estimated 233 million people who are hungry. In 2015, the international community incorporated Sustainable Development Goal 2, which aims to “end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. With these statistics, small-holder farmers work on 80% of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa and women small-holder farmers make up almost 50% of the labour force in the agriculture sector; but produce almost 30% less than their male counterparts because of obstacles experienced, such as barriers to receiving farming inputs, access to financing and others. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), if only women had the same access to resources to ensure their productivity, they would “increase yields on their farms by 20% – 30%, thereby lifting 100 – 150 million people out of hunger”.
Currently, women are not receiving adequate support from governments and donors for their farming activities; instead technical assistance and resources when provided are not targeted enough to reach women farmers. This means women small-holder famers experience difficulties in maximizing their farming potential by virtue of being small-holder famers and also because of being women. There is therefore a great need to close the gender gap in small-holder agriculture – these could be beneficial to the entire global food security system.
Despite the current challenges that women specifically face in the small-holder agriculture sector, their resilience is palpable. “I really enjoy farming – farming is my calling”, said Annie Bongololo Kaipa a 36-year-old Malawian small-holder farmer in the Kanengo Area of Lilongwe. “I have 4 plots, I bought my fourth plot in 2008 – I farm sugar cane, maize, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes and bananas”, she further explained. When asked about the reason behind her purchasing more plots to farm, she said: “I am motivated because it is through this that I am able to make a living for my children and use the income to take them to school”.
Ms. Annie Kaipa planting seeds and working on her farm
There have been initiatives such as the five-year US$14 million project by the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), this project particularly sought to empower women small-holder farmers and is known as the Gender, Climate Change and Agriculture Support Programme. Despite such ambitious projects, women small-holder farmers similarly placed as Annie Kaipa face daily challenges of purchasing fertilizer and watering their farms, “Fertilizer is expensive and I water my various plots by hand using this watering can – this is a great challenge. I wish I had a treadle pump – it would be very helpful”, she said. She went further to explain, “The market for selling the produce can also be a challenge – sometimes I plant potatoes but then it is difficult to sell, because I am competing with the supermarkets. The supermarkets do not buy from people like us. If the supermarkets could buy from us, it would really improve us and our farming businesses”.
Ms. Annie Kaipa and her brother, Thomson on Ms. Kaipa’s farm
With an estimated population of 18 million, Malawi’s economy relies heavily on agriculture, with agriculture contributing 30% to the country’s GDP. It is therefore imperative that women small-holder farmers be supported for the welfare of the country itself and the global food system. Research shows that the kind of support that ought to be extended to women small-holder farmers includes: earmarking resources to be targeted to women small-holder farmers specifically; breaking down gendered barriers that inhibit women farmers’ access to farming inputs; providing technical assistance and training to women small-holder farmers etc. In the words of Annie Kaipa, “I am looking for a bigger market to sell to – if supermarkets were incentivized to buy local produce from small-holder farmers like myself, I would be in a position to expand my farming business and would adequately take care of my family”. Indeed empowering women can lift communities out of hardship and specifically empowering women small-holder farmers has the potential to feed more hungry mouths and transform the global food system, the development and business community should harness this incredible resource.