Oct 21, 2020
How can Africa unlock the potential of Gender-Responsive Agricultural Policies to feed its people?

Women play a critical role in feeding African populations through their roles in production, aggregation, marketing and processing. Yet, from limiting access to resources and information to supporting small food processors to access finance, information and markets, government policies play an important role in either enabling or constraining women’s success in the sector. The fundamental question is; How can gender-responsive agricultural policies enable more inclusive agriculture and food systems? Addressing this question requires the agricultural research and development community to interrogate several issues, including:

  • The tools that exist to guide policymakers in developing and implementing more gender-responsive agricultural policies
  • The current state of women’s representation in agricultural policymaking on the African continent
  • How the numbers and experiences of these women in agricultural policymaking can be improved to accelerate their career impacts

On September 7,  2020, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) hosted a dialogue to answer these questions and to stimulate a conversation on gender-responsive agricultural policies. The session, “Unlocking the Potential of Gender Responsive Agricultural Policies to Feed Africa’s Cities”, was held at the 2020 African Green Revolution Virtual Summit (AGRF) and moderated by Dr Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, AWARD Director and Dr Meredith Soule, Division Chief, Inclusive Development at USAID.

Notable gaps

The discussion revealed that governments still have a long way to go in pursuing gender-responsive agricultural policies. The most persistent gaps in enacting more gender-responsive agricultural policies pertain to a lack of clear understanding of what gender-responsive policies are and what they should entail.

Lack of reliable national-level statistics on women’s role in agriculture continues to impede the implementation of gender-responsive policies.

Hon. Thoko Didiza, Minister of Agriculture, Land Reforms and Rural Development, South Africa, emphasized the need to increase women’s representation in leadership to champion for more gender-responsive policies. Improving women’s participation in leadership is the key to building sustainable agri-food systems in Africa.

Kenya’s Hon. Lina Jebii Kilimo, Cabinet Administrative Secretary for Livestock & Fisheries, at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock & Fisheries, indicated that beyond gender-responsive policies, there is need to focus on equal representation at decision-making positions. Equal representation in decision-making is both strategic for increased adoption and uptake of policies that reduce barriers for women and has more potential for attracting increased funding. Ensuring that women have the same access to productive resources as men could increase their yields by a significant amount.

Opportunities to leverage

Dr Susan Kaaria, Lead, Gender Team, Social Policies and Rural Institutions Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), underscored that equal representation at decision-making positions has the potential to produce intentional strategies and policies that reduce barriers to feeding families. “Ensuring that women have the same access to productive resources as men could increase their yields by a significant amount” noted Dr Kaaria.

Equal representation at decision-making positions has the potential to produce intentional strategies and policies that reduce barriers to feeding families.

Ms Tiffany Atwell, Vice President, Global Government and Industry Affairs at Corteva Agrisciences, highlighted that strategic public-private partnerships could and do play an important role in facilitating the development and enacting of more gender-responsive agricultural policies in Africa. Partnerships, such as the recent one between Corteva Agriscience, Land O’Lakes Venture37, Bidco Land O’Lakes, Forage Genetics International (FGI) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) highlighted by are effective in promoting inclusive, sustainable farming practices and consequently improving livelihoods.

Additionally, the participants agreed that despite barriers like power, gender norms, political will and limited access to opportunities, there are recognizable steps that are being made to champion for equal agenda towards transforming the face of African agriculture. These include access to data, funding opportunities, capacity building and developing research institutions.

The role of evidence-based research as a catalyst for achieving gender-responsive policies cannot be over-emphasized.  World Bank’s Ms Patricia Van de Velde stressed that evidence-based research is critical for building buy-in on the need for gender-responsive agricultural policies. The World Bank has intentionally ensured that all its projects assess gender gaps and track how the different actors are enabled and disenabled.  These assessments and tracking help the Bank to identify pragmatic ways of closing gender gaps in and through its projects. As part of its focus on building an evidence base, the World Bank is supporting initiatives such as ‘50 by 2030 initiative’ and The World Bank’s ‘Women, Business and the Law’ which assesses institutional regulatory underlying constraints, among others.

Institutions like FAO have been instrumental in ensuring global policy debates on food security and nutrition pay attention to gender. Through their committee on world food security (CFS), a multi-stakeholder group on agriculture, FAO is supporting the development of guidelines that countries can adopt to develop gender responsive-policies and laws.

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on gender-based policies

COVID-19 has brought a sharp focus on agricultural policies, revealing the need to interrogate how policies are enabling equal participation of women in agricultural production, given the pandemic’s impact on the movement of food across and within countries.

Dr Kaaria noted that national policy response plans for COVID-19 have consistently struggled to address gender issues. To help governments address gender in their response plans to the pandemic, FAO together with OXFAM and other partners have established parliamentary dialogues on gender-responsive approaches to food security and nutrition. FAO has also developed tools and methods to strengthen the capacities of countries to design and implement gender-responsive policies during the pandemic. The gender in agriculture policy analysis tool helps governments to analyze their policies from a gender perspective, identify the gaps, and develop concrete solutions on the way forward, access to land, markets and advisory services.

Way Forward

To shape a pathway towards gender-responsive agricultural policies, there is a collective need to: identify and promote diversity; adopt better, more-inclusive funding strategies. Governments need to facilitate increasing the numbers of women in agricultural leadership through political representation and increasing spaces for women in leadership.

Beyond the political leadership, there is a need to provide women with the right tools and strengthen their capacity to understand the issues they need to contribute to.  Achieving this transformation will require new approaches and extensive collaboration among all stakeholders in the agricultural system.

Gender-responsive policies should not be limited to production but should cut across the entire agricultural value chains including in agri-finance, agro-processing, access to inputs, research.

Watch the event recording here.


African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). Hosted by World Agroforestry Centre, United Nations Avenue, Gigiri. P.O Box 30677-00100 Nairobi, Kenya.

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