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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

How Women Will Help Africa Become More Food Secure

May 17, 2012

This week the United Nations Development Program released the African Human Development Report 2012 that tackles the perpetual problem of food security, malnutrition and hunger in Africa. According to the UNDP, 1 in 4 Africans are undernourished and in sub-Saharan Africa millions of people are hungry and malnourished because of high food costs, erratic weather, violence and conflict, and transportation issues in countries where infrastructure is stark. The Sahel, in fact, is experiencing a hunger crisis now and last year the Horn of Africa was entrenched in a massive famine.

While hunger grabs headlines when famines strike, malnutrition remains a perpetual problem that plagues the continent. Malnutrition impedes children’s growth resulting in stunting and educational deficiencies. In adults malnutrition leads to less productivity. Collectively, malnutrition poses a growing threat to the African continent’s output as a whole.

The complex web of food security issues rests on sub-Saharan Africa’s ability to irrigate its land, provide greater incentives for people to live an agricultural lifestyle as opposed to urban living, invest in pest-resistant seeds, improve land rights and gender equality, and educate farmers on how to yield more food and contend with weather and drought issues.

Women subsistence farmers are the future of sub-Saharan Africa’s food output, if discrimination can be overcome.

Despite these obstacles women subsistence farmers are the future of sub-Saharan Africa’s food output as they make up over half of the region’s agricultural workforce. But first discrimination must be addressed, and gender rights and land ownership must be fostered in order for women farmers to thrive and produce food for the continent. In fact, according to the African Human Development Report only 15% of women own land in sub-Saharan Africa. Women also have less access to farm equipment, fertilizer, crop education, credit, and new technologies according to the report. And yet, last year’s report from the foundation, Improving Opportunities for Women in Smallholder-based Supply Chains, revealed that women farmers “pay greater attention to crop quality, both in production and in post-harvest activities, and deliver better-quality products”.

Women are able to yield more crops when they are equally involved in decision making and when they have access to collectives where they can pool their resources and openly voice their opinions about growing food and land ownership. The African Human Development Report mentions that in Nigeria women yield 40% less crops than men, but if they were afforded the same access to technology, decision making power, fertilizer, and credit, among other key factors, they would yield the same quantity of crops as men or more.

As it stands sub-Saharan Africa has massive challenges to overcome to completely feed itself. As the UNDP report reveals women will feed the continent, it’s evident that they just need a chance to do it.

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