UN plans to double farmers’ income in Africa in three years

Combating climate shocks and food insecurity with the help of climate-smart agriculture has been identified as a priority

By Vineet Kumar
Published: Thursday 21 December 2017
Most agricultural policies fail to consider differences in the resources available to men and women, their roles, labour burdens and the constraints they face. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The United Nations launched a new initiative to build climate resilience of a million women and youth in the Sahel region of Africa through climate-smart agriculture at the One Planet Summit held in France last week. The initiative “Climate Smart Agriculture Programme” by UN Women is among 12 initiatives that were showcased at One Planet Summit on behalf of UN systems.

Women’s Empowerment through Climate-Smart Agriculture is one of UN Women’s flagship initiatives designed to ensure that UN Women can deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This programme will support national governments to address multiple SDG targets across multiple goals. Combating climate change and environmental degradation have been identified as a priority.

Women farmers more vulnerable to changing climate

Women make up more than 40 per cent of the agricultural labour force in the Sahel region and they play a crucial role in enhancing food security and nutrition. In most places with high prevalence of undernourishment, women farmers have significantly less access to land, information, finance and agricultural inputs in Sahel. This makes them more vulnerable to climate shocks, and affects health and the food security of the entire household. Lack of employment, on the other hand, puts youth at risk of terrorist recruitment.

Agriculture remains one of the most important areas of women’s work globally with more than one-third of the employed women being engaged in the agricultural sector. Yet women farmers face a number of key structural barriers that limit their access to land, information, finance, infrastructure, technologies and markets. Closing the gender gap in agriculture through informed investments represents a huge opportunity for women’s empowerment, economic development and societal resilience.

Agriculture policies and investments fail to take care of gender gaps

Most agricultural policies and investments still fail to consider differences in the resources available to men and women, their roles, labour burdens and the constraints they face. In the absence of concerted efforts to address gender gap in agriculture in the context of a changing climate, women farmers are at risk of being trapped in a downward spiral.

It has been estimated that equalising access to inputs could increase agricultural outputs by up to 20 per cent in Africa. However, a changing climate means that there is a shrinking window of opportunity.

Key components of UN Women’s initiative on climate smart agriculture

Increasing productivity and incomes without damaging the environment;

  • Enhancing adaptation by strengthening local communities’ resilience and capacities;
  • Reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions through responsible farming, soil management and afforestation.

 UN Women’s initiative on climate-smart agriculture aims to transform livelihoods of a million people by doubling their income in three years. This focuses on following components:

  1. Engender climate-smart policies and increase women’s land tenure security by building political will and addressing discriminatory social and customary norms.
  2. Increase women farmers’ access to climate-smart information by strengthening the capacity of agricultural extension workers and ensuring that climate information services are timely and user-friendly.
  3. Increase women farmers’ access to finance to invest in climate-smart agriculture by engendering lending practices of public and private financial institutions, including through directed lending, and credit enhancement mechanisms.
  4. Increase their access to high value-added markets by supporting women farmers to form cooperatives and strengthening their capacity to meaningfully participate in the green value chain. Preferential access through quotas, targets and tax exemptions for women cooperatives may be required. Investments will be needed in local infrastructure, including post-harvest storage and processing facilities.

The implementation plan

Initially, the programme will be launched in 12 to 15 pathfinder countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It is expected that the methodologies and experiences will be adapted and extended to self-starting countries.

This initiative is a programme of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) and the G5 Secretariat. The participating UN agencies are the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the UN’s children’s organization UNICEF, UN Women, the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration, the UN Population Fund, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the UN Development Programme, under the umbrella of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWAS).

Women in Agriculture: Some facts

  • Women form about 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries (FAO 2011).
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, this proportion increases to 59 per cent of employed women being in informal agricultural employment (UN Women 2015).
  • Total agricultural output in Africa could increase by up to 20 per cent if women’s access to agricultural inputs was equal to men’s (DFID 2010).
  • Less than 20 per cent of agricultural landholders worldwide are women (FAO 2010).
  • Only 22 per cent of women in low-income countries hold bank accounts in rural areas (World Bank 2015).


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