By Jemimah Njuki
It is now a known and accepted fact that gender issues and specifically women’s low access to productive resources is a major cause of differences in productivity between male and female managed farms. There have been many discussions on measurements of these productivity gaps, their causes and possible solutions. The State of Food and Agriculture 2011 focusing on women and agriculture made the first global quantitative assessment of the productivity gaps and their implications. The report had some profound findings—that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, agricultural productivity would increase by 20-30% and agricultural output would go up by close to 4%. The additional production would be enough to feed an additional 100-150 million people. This is more than changes from introduction of new technologies! And who said gender does not matter!
A new report by the World Bank and ONE up campaign adds to our existing knowledge of what it will take to reduce this productivity gap. The key findings from the report are;
- That women continue to produce less per hectare than their male counterparts. This varies by countries ranging from a low of 13% in Uganda to a high of 25% in Malawi. And when you compare men and women with similar land sizes, these differences are even more stark-they range from a low of 23% in Tanzania to a high of 66% in Niger. If nothing else, these figures should really spur both programmatic and policy actions to reduce these gaps in productivity.
- While the FAO report focuses on access to productive resources by women as the main strategy for reducing the productivity gaps, this new report gives new insights—equalising access to resources will not necessarily lead to changes in reducing the productivity gap because, women have lower returns anyway to the resources they already have.
The methodology in this report looks at not only the quantity and levels of resources that women use, but also assesses the returns that they receive from these resources, or how well these resources actually translate into increased agricultural productivity. And what the report finds is quite interesting: Even in countries where women have the same resources as men, this equal access does not translate into equal productivity. What this means is that there are other causes to these differences in productivity. The report summarises these as cultural norms, market failures and institutional factors that still constrain women. What does this mean in practice? It means that for example even in countries where women have equal access to extension as men do, the extension messages are more suited to men than they are to women and women cannot effectively use this extension advise.
- Not every factor matters in every country and both policy and programmatic interventions have to take into account the context and the main barriers in that country for women to have equal productivity as men. The report identifies several important areas for intervention: access to labour, differences in the use of and returns to fertilizers and other inputs, women’s security of land tenure even when they have access to land, the gender gap in education, unsuitability of extension information to the needs of smallholder farmers and market access.
The African Union has declared 2014 to be the “Year of Agriculture and Food Security”, bringing much needed attention to the sector’s potential to transform the continent. Addressing these gender gaps must be central to any strategies to increase agricultural productivity in the continent.
While previous efforts have dealt with gender from the margins, studies like this point to the need to meaningfully put gender at the top of the agenda. If 22% to 66% of differences in women’s and men’s productivity is attributed to access to and returns to resources by women compared to men, then surely addressing this must be at the top of any agenda aiming to increase productivity and agricultural output in the continent.
Read the full report here