By Christian Benoni
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 12 (IPS/TerraViva) Any strategies to ensure food security must address women’s access and right to land ownership, stress experts and activists meeting on the sidelines of the CSW in New York.
“Women cannot be net food producers and yet they lack land rights,” said Augustine Mahiga, the permanent representative of Tanzania to the United Nations.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries, yet they lack control of land.
New research on food insecurity in Africa shared at the CSW indicates that while women are the mainstay of small-scale agriculture, from wage labour to day-to-day family subsistence farming, they have more difficulties accessing resources such as land and credit, as well as productivity-enhancing inputs and services.
The research involved nine countries in southern, eastern and western Africa and was commissioned by the Hairou Commission, which supports the advocacy work of grassroots women.
“The government should come up with an initiative to ensure that women are given loans to buy land. It has been a tradition that the issues of land are a preserve of men, [but] women can do a lot more if given the same opportunities like men,” says one of the respondents from Kakamega, western Kenya, who is quoted in the report.
Similarly, in Gambia, land is communal, and men determine who uses the land and how, according to Isatou Njie-Saidy, the women’s affairs minister. However, the government has now embarked on a subsidy programme to provide fertiliser and seeds to smallholder farmers, mostly women, to increase food production, according to Saidy.
The same subsidy programme has helped the Malawian government transform its agricultural sector by providing subsidised hybrid maize seeds and fertilisers to farmers. It has since moved from having a serious food deficit to becoming a net maize exporter.
“We are happy because the programme has empowered most women to produce sufficient food for the family, and for sale,” said Luciana Kuboma, a Malawian farmer.
However, erratic weather patterns have made farming difficult, with prolonged drought contributing to massive crop failures. The priority now is for governments to invest in irrigation systems.
“We need our governments to put money into irrigation where women can be able to farm throughout the year. The current weather patterns have shown that we cannot continue to depend on rain-fed agriculture,” said Violet Shivutse of Groots Kenya, a grassroots women organisation in Kenya.
The country is still far from harnessing its full irrigation potential. There are plans to increase the land under irrigation from the current 120,000 hectares to 400,000 hectares, with a long-term vision to achieve the full potential of 1.3 million hectares.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, African countries “produce 38 percent of their crops from about seven percent of their cultivated land, on which water is managed.” This means that more investment in irrigation would see greater returns in terms of food security, and end the cycle of food crises in the continent.