Women and Agriculture: Time to close the gender gap

Levelling the Field

With 2014 declared as the ‘Year of Agriculture and Food Security’ by the African Union, it is timely that the World Bank and advocacy group One Campaign have recently released a report evidencing the ‘wide and pervasive gender gap in African agricultural productivity’. “Levelling the Field: Improving Opportunities for Women Farmers in Africa” details the disadvantages and barriers that many women face on economic, cultural, and institutional levels, resulting in less productivity per hectare than their male counterparts and less opportunity for women to provide food for their families.

The report focuses on six countries including Malawi, MicroLoan’s core country of operation. In light of this, we were incredibly keen to read the conclusions of this research, as well as recommendations on how to work towards closing this gender-gap. In Malawi, the research found that:

  • On average, plots managed by women produce 25% less per hectare than plots managed by men.
  • Women use lower levels of agricultural inputs on their plots compared with men.
  • This disparity accounts for more than 80% of Malawi’s gender gap in agricultural productivity. Differences in the quality of these inputs and the returns they yield drive the remainder of the gap.
  • Policy interventions aimed at alleviating the gender gap should focus on ensuring equal access to and use of agricultural inputs, and should take into consideration women’s child-care responsibilities.Here at MicroLoan, we recognise that investment in women is smart investment; not just for improving their individual lives, but the livelihoods of whole communities. Women are more likely to invest their income back into their families, increasing access to education, healthcare, and dietary requirements for their children and other dependents. We also recognise that although our loan capital and skills training model has proven to be incredibly successful to date, it is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all scenario. With that in mind, our Operations team decided to trial a new type of loan product…Increasing yields: a new type of loan productThe implications of this pilot are significant. Without exception, the women involved said that they were glad they had participated and would do so again given another opportunity. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimate that ‘if women worldwide had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30%, lifting between 100 and 150 million people out of hunger’. It is clear that a loan of quality inputs combined with education and support demonstrably enables women like those we work with in Malawi to increase the amount of food available to them and their families.In line with the aforementioned ‘Levelling the Field’ report, we agree that more needs to be done to ensure that women farmers in Africa can be as productive as men when it comes to food production  – this is why we are eager to provide our new agricultural input loan product to more women over the coming years. If you’d like to help MicroLoan work towards closing Malawi’s gender-gap in agricultural productivity then please donate today.
  • Support women, support food production
  • In May 2013, we collated the results of the pilot, which was deemed to be a huge success. Labour costs were radically reduced as the time devoted to weeding was decreased (previously, women had to hire farm labourers to assist with the work). And with conservation farming also dramatically freeing up more time, the women involved were able to focus on other important activities such as childcare and developing other income streams. Most importantly, there was a very notable improvement in outputs; the pilot groups’ yield of maize averaged an impressive 64% higher than the control groups. It is estimated that a typical family in Malawi needs approximately 26 bags of maize per year to sustain them. Those clients who took part in the pilot produced, on average, 89 bags of maize – a figure not to be ignored.
  • Throughout the rainy season of 2012/13, MicroLoan carried out a pilot among our clients in the Mchinji region of Western Malawi. The women involved (current MicroLoan clients) were invited to take out ‘tilime’ (farming) loans to grow up to an acre of maize to feed their families, and a similar area of groundnuts (used as a ‘cash crop’ to help repay their loan and avoid selling their maize). Instead of cash, the women received inputs of seeds, herbicides, fertilisers, and storage chemicals. Additionally, those participating in this pilot received training in specific agricultural techniques to promote conservation farming; a methodology based upon ‘zero tillage’ (helping to reduce soil erosion, amongst other benefits).
  • MicroLoan: investing in women