Gender equality in African agriculture: An innovation imperative

Author:Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg
Position:Director, African Women in Agricultural Research (AWARD), Nairobi, Kenya

President Barack Obama once highlighted the importance of leveraging the talents of Africa’s women using the analogy of a football match. He pointed out that any team that decides to only put half its players on the field is destined to lose the match. Africa is playing a life-and-death match when it comes to food security, especially in the context of climate change and population growth. The ... (see full summary)


Women in African agriculture

Women play a central and critical role in African agriculture. Around 62 percent of them are involved in farming. Women do the bulk of the work to produce, process and market food. They are on the frontline of agriculture. Yet when it comes to shaping research agendas, setting priorities, decision-making and leadership in agricultural research and development, women are heavily underrepresented.They account for just 22 percent of agricultural scientists, with just one in seven women occupying leadership positions in agricultural research.

This means we are playing with only half a team. We need to broaden our focus so that we leverage the talents of women and men. We can no longer afford to wilfully leave women on the side lines. We can no longer ignore their innovation potential. We need to embrace their amazing talents, their ability to solve problems and to innovate.

Women have so much to bring to the table. Their insights and perspectives can help researchers come up with effective solutions to address the unique challenges facing Africa’s farmers, many of which are compounded by climate change.

Unlocking Africa’s agricultural potential

Africa needs to build a robust and efficient agricultural research and innovation ecosystem. Our ability to make African agriculture more productive, profitable and sustainable depends on it.

In a context of climate change, rapid urbanization and rampant malnutrition, we need to ensure that African “agripreneurs,” especially farmers, have access to the type of innovations they need to overcome the unique challenges they face. If we are to feed ourselves and build thriving economies, it is imperative that we increase the pace of agricultural innovation. We can no longer afford to outsource our agricultural research needs. We need to leverage the talents of all innovators, including those of women. Only then will we deliver workable solutions that are relevant to the needs of Africa’s farmers. We cannot afford to play with half a team!

Innovation has a critical role to play at every step of the agriculture value chain. Take indigenous vegetables, of which there are many in Africa. Many of them are being overharvested in the wild. There is a serious role for agricultural research to expand our knowledge in this area. How do we ensure they are farmed sustainably? How can we help farmers develop thriving businesses around indigenous plants and vegetables? And how can we help...

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