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Gender equality stressed at conference on eliminating food insecurity

Source: MediaGlobal

By Rebekah Mintzer

2 March 2010 - Food insecurity in Africa is a massive and multifaceted problem that experts have been trying to solve for years. One common theme that has emerged in the dialogue about African hunger is the role empowering women can play in increasing food security. Women in Africa often have trouble gaining access to credit, legal rights to own land, and knowledge about farming techniques and innovations that thereby limit their ability to profit from agriculture.

“Women contribute tremendously to food security and agriculture; according to some sources, as much as 70 percent of the labor in agriculture is contributed by women. Yet, they face many constraints in their quest to produce food and making a living out of agriculture…” Joan Kagwanja, policy officer for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) told MediaGlobal.

This idea was a major topic of discussion at a 17 February conference on food security in East Africa. Experts and stakeholders from all over the continent met in Nairobi, Kenya to share up-to-date information about mitigating African hunger. Winrock International, a development assistance group based in the United States organized the conference, titled “A 21st Century Framework for Food Security in Africa.”

One of the basic problems that women face in Africa is legal inequity with men. This translates into decreased ability to own and farm land and to fight for land rights within court systems. AGRA was tasked with discussing land policy and its effect on food insecurity at the conference.

“Land is a key determinant to food security — particular, secure land rights and access to land are critical inputs to improving agricultural productivity and facilitating medium to long-term investments that improve soil health, ensure environmental sustainability, and indeed build agricultural resilience to climate change,” Kagwanja said. She went on to explain why in the largely patriarchal societies of Africa, women often lose their land when men leave or are killed in conflicts. “Their rights are insecure in the sense that when these relationships [with male family members] are weak or no longer exist, their rights may cease. This scenario is prevalent in both customary and statutory systems of land governance, obviously affecting agricultural production and food security.”

Such institutionalized dependency on men for economic security leaves women and often their children in a precarious condition because if women cannot own the land they farm they can easily be left destitute.

Another problem for African women is their lack of access to credit, preventing them from getting obtaining the capital needed to start farming. Without loans, women often lack the funds for agricultural inputs, like crops, equipment, and fertilizer.

Women’s lack of access to farming extension programs and education about agricultural techniques also puts them at a major disadvantage and prevents them from producing food and income. According to the World Survey on the Role of Women in Development, published by the United Nations in 2009: “Agricultural extension services which include advisory services, information and training, and access to production inputs such as seeds and fertilizers are critical for increasing the productivity of farm activities. Despite their critical roles in agriculture, women farmers have largely been ignored by extension services in many areas.”

For the complete article, please see MediaGlobal.