Two thirds of Africa’s citizens depend on farming for their livelihoods and more than 90% of the poorest people engage in agriculture, according to the World Bank. Women make up around 50% of the agricultural labour force in sub-Saharan Africa and most of them are smallholder farmers.
Regardless of where they are, women in agriculture and rural areas face the same challenge: they have less access than men to productive resources and opportunities. The 2014 World Bank report, Levelling the Field: Improving Opportunities for Women Farmers in Africa, shows that women farmers in Africa produce between 13% and 25% less than their male counterparts.
The report also suggests that improving gender equality through agriculture could translate into a generation of Africans who are better fed, better educated and better equipped to make productive contributions to their economies, within agriculture and beyond.
If this gender gap in agriculture could be closed, significant gains for society could be generated. In a 2011 report, Closing the Gender Gap for Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded that if women had the same access to resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30%. This could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12–17%, meaning that 100 to 150 million fewer people would go to bed hungry every day.
Both the FAO and the World Bank say that empowering women farmers and investing in rural women can significantly increase productivity, reduce hunger and malnutrition, and improve their livelihoods as well as those of the community.
Zoegas’ Coffee by Women initiative, Kenya
In 2011, coffee brand Zoegas, which sits within the Nestle stable, initiated its Coffee by Women initiative to include more women in coffee farming in Kenya. Its goal is to increase the number of female farmers and to increase the amount of sustainably-produced coffee beans.
According to Zoegas, there is a shortage in the production of sustainably-produced coffee beans and the benefits of more sustainable farming techniques have to be better communicated and demonstrated. It believes the private sector plays an important role in investing in developing countries but also in guiding consumers towards sustainable choices.
Maruzis Bee Keepers Association, Uganda
In Uganda, beekeeping has been carried out for many generations and has played an important role among rural populations. Apart from being a valuable source of income, products derived from honey are valued for their medicinal properties and bees, of course, play a valuable role in the pollination of crops to secure high yields.
However, beekeeping in Uganda has been largely traditional and subsistence in nature, explains Rose Akaki, smallholder farmer and one of the founding members of Maruzis Bee Keepers Association. According to Akaki, every family in a village has a bee colony which is harvested once a year for home consumption. When there is excess, it is sold in the local market to earn money for basic necessities.
In a speech Akaki gave at a United Nations event in 2014, she recounts how she and a friend shared the idea of organising a women’s group to participate in improving beekeeping practices in their area. They strongly felt that having a beekeeping association could address four of the many challenges rural women farmers face. These include:
- Access to and ownership of land: bee keeping does not require much land; bees and the crops can co-exist and complement each other.
- Limited access to credit: beekeeping does not require a lot of funds, and people in the community could share equipment such as a hive smoker.
- Limited access to advisory services or support groups.
- Access to available markets: having the possibility to get help in processing, packaging and selling their products.
Since its formation in 2012, the Maruzi Bee Keepers’ Association has grown beyond the village to regional memberships. Although the target is women, men can also join, since, according to Rose, it would enable members to build synergies for better results.
The association now enables joint processing, packaging and marketing of Go Honey products, previously produced by the small cottage industry started by Akaki’s family.