Rural women and girls are a powerful development force that contribute to the growth of their regions and national economies. The United Nations estimates that they make up more than 40 per cent of the agricultural workforce and as much as 60 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.
As farmers, they plant, weed and harvest food crops and tend to livestock. In developing countries, women work 12 more hours per week than men. They are also caregivers and entrepreneurs.
Farming is the foundation of many rural societies and mostly the main economic activity. It supports employment, businesses that support agriculture and environmental services, and, by extension, establishment and expansion of economic infrastructure. Critical stakeholders in agriculture, hence rural economies, women occupy a central place in advancing the social and development needs outlined in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s “Big Four Agenda”.
As smallholder agriculture is rapidly evolveing in response to commercialisation, digitisation, and climate change, we must help women seize emerging opportunities. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that if women in agriculture had as much access to land as men, productivity in 34 developing countries would rise by an average of four per cent. It could reduce the number of undernourished people by 150 million, or 17 per cent.
Laudably, there has been considerable investment in creating inclusivity in agricultural innovation and development. Yet the sector underperforms, partly as women face constraints in accessing resources. Investing in them can improve productivity and food security. Studies in Sub-Saharan Africa show food production could increase by 10-20 per cent, reducing poverty, hunger and malnutrition.
The best way to celebrate the contribution of rural women to development is through empowering them. We must prioritise their specific needs within our national development blueprint. This entails advocating gender equality in accessing tools such as credit, decision-making on land use and skills.
We should also ensure women take part in policy dialogues that spur positive change in their favour — as happened with the 2012 UN Women, the World Food Programme and FAO programme.
In Kenya, women regularly work together, in groups and networks, since it is a highly effective way of accessing the assets and services they need to expand their opportunities. National and county-level initiatives to expand the scope and reach of such partnerships is one way to encourage their growth and use by as many women as possible.
Equally, we must promote an equitable balance in workloads and the sharing of economic and social benefits between women and men. That way, we can bring the dream of attaining our sustainable development goals that much closer to reality.