Agricultural sector

By Linda Manda Head of Agribusiness, Customer Coverage, CIB at Standard Bank Group

The agricultural sector in sub-Saharan Africa is essential to local and regional economies as a development base for food security and employment.

Within it, there remains an invisible force that drives productivity in the region and the world. It is a sector that is too easily overlooked and underestimated for the scale of its contribution, often shunned for growth opportunities, ignored in transformative discourse and largely untapped in sector development plans.

That invisible force is African women who are the backbone of our agricultural economy, accounting for at least half of the sector’s workforce in the region. Conservative estimates predict that these women, whether farmers, livestock owners, laborers or entrepreneurs, are responsible for producing most of our food.

Unexpectedly, the level and quality of this participation remains highly gender-skewed, with men enjoying better access to agricultural inputs, finance and productive resources, especially in rural agriculture.

The South African agricultural landscape is a perfect example.

Recent studies show that women constitute on average only about 20% of agricultural owners in the country. As employees of the sector, they are the most represented in the least skilled jobs and represent only 34% of general agricultural workers. In higher positions, women make up only 16% of farm managers and 26% of supervisors.

Unleashing the potential of women in the sector is key to unlocking growth, especially now that Africa’s food security is under serious threat. Having yet to recover from the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, the continent – which is heavily dependent on food imports – is caving under pressure resulting from the Russian-Ukrainian war which has driven up world prices of grains, fertilizers based on sunflower oil and crude oil at unprecedented levels.

But the crisis presents an opportunity for Africa, which holds 60% of the world’s available arable land, all of which can be harnessed to promote self-sufficiency and self-productivity, alleviating food insecurity due to winds external opposites. However, this is not possible without first overcoming the very many challenges faced by women in the sector.

Arguably the biggest barriers are land rights, accessibility and financial literacy.

Whether they are growing cocoa orchids in Côte d’Ivoire, cashew nuts in Tanzania or tobacco farmers in Zimbabwe, women farmers are excluded from decision-making throughout the cycle of crop production and sale. Unequal rights to land stem from a diverse mix of customary, religious and statutory norms that place women at a distinct disadvantage. Land is the central factor of production in agrarian economies, and when a woman farmer is not empowered to make decisions about the land she works, her potential for sustainable growth is reduced. Being landless makes it more difficult for the woman to be recognized as the owner of the harvest and therefore patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes alienate them from the decision-making process to sell the harvest and control the profits.

The challenge of accessibility is vast. This ranges from finance, to knowledge sharing on good agricultural practices, to infrastructure, market information and market entry – each having an interrelated effect on the next and leading to a vicious cycle that hampers development. female farmers.

Agricultural finance is also often the most difficult to obtain, especially for rural women farmers who have limited financial literacy and little or no access to financial services or the institutions that provide them. They are therefore mostly unbanked. SMEs in the sector are no better off, as they are characterized by a lack of capacity to prepare bankable documents to access formal credit.

Without the necessary access to finance, these rural women farmers cannot obtain the necessary infrastructure to scale their business, in addition to the common water and energy supply challenges that affect the entire sector – women are also the first victims of the limited access to drought-resistant seeds. , fertilizers, pesticides, advanced agricultural equipment and machinery.

Without the necessary infrastructure, it is more difficult for women to supply the market effectively. The FAO estimates that on average, farms run by women produce 30% less than farms run by men – this “harvest deficit” has nothing to do with an ability to farm and everything to do with barriers gender issues faced by women.

Less production equals less income – and so the cycle begins again.

In addition to all of the above, women are even more victims to entrenched gender roles based on cultural, patriarchal and traditional values ​​that along the value chain contribute to unfair bias, sexism and discrimination.

While large-scale reforms are needed to effect change in agriculture, one of the most immediate solutions is the adaptation of digital technologies in the sector. Emerging agricultural technologies provide farmers with the information, tools and technical support needed to make agriculture more productive and sustainable. Integrating these technologies into women’s agricultural activities can significantly improve access to markets and financial instruments.

For example, Standard Bank’s OneFarm Share initiative in South Africa, which matches requests for food aid from suppliers with good quality surplus fresh produce, has since 2020 collected and distributed more than 270 tonnes of food to accredited beneficiary organizations, providing more than one million meals to vulnerable people. The initiative further serves as a digital business-to-business platform to connect and deliver services across the agricultural ecosystem through lending, protection, growing, trading and sharing, creating a marketplace for farmers to sell products in a way that they may not have. previously had access.

Across the continent, Standard Bank has formed partnerships with local farmers’ associations and cooperatives, United Nations agencies and relevant international aid agencies, to boost agricultural economies and improve livelihoods. Specifically, we have partnered with UN Women on a Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) program in Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa and Malawi. This 3-year program aimed to empower women with modern agricultural technologies to increase productivity and incomes while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Closing the gender gap in agriculture would generate significant gains for the agricultural sector and for society. FAO estimates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase total agricultural production in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent.

But urgent action is needed to make it a reality.

While it is relevant to address systemic inequalities and the infrastructural, policy and strategic frameworks that disproportionately impact women in agriculture, it is also important to advocate for financial education at the local level and to promote the inclusion of young people in the sector. This has the potential to improve short-term agribusiness opportunities and boost socio-economic development in the region.

Only by maximizing the talents of women farmers in the region and leveraging digital technology to facilitate this process can we hope to address the chronic and pressing food security challenges on the continent.

Lana T. Arthur