- What are some of the key challenges women and youth in agriculture are facing? For example, many rural areas in the developing world aren’t stimulating places for youth to live and develop? How can we make rural areas more attractive to youth?
Women in Malawi, as in most countries in Africa, contribute significantly to agricultural production. In Malawi, women are key producers of maize, the main food crop in the country. They also contribute significantly to the production of other key cash crops such as soya beans, groundnuts and rice. Inspite of this, most female farmers face many challenges that affect their productivity: They lack access to land, credit, training and extension services, as well as capital. Furthermore, the productivity of female farmers is also affected by their limited labour availability and the competiting requirements for their labour between household responsibilities(reproductive roles), farm work (productive roles) and community responsibilities.
The challenges that female farmers face constrain them from moving up the value chain. Women are mostly involved in farm work but their participation in marketing, agro-processing and other value-adding opportunities is limited. This means that the they fail to benefit from these more rewarding activities and opportunities. For example, in Malawi, time and labour availability constrain women from looking for more rewarding markets for their farm produce, which in most cases exist in areas far from their homesteads. Instead, they sell their produce at very low prices to intermediary buyers who then sell on to agro-processors and/or export markets.
In order to assist women increase their productivity as well as to access input and output markets, they need to participate in farmer groups that are sensitive the needs and challenges that the female farmers face.
In Malawi, the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) assists smallholder farmers in general, and female farmers in particular, to join or form Farmer Associations so that they can benefit from economies of scale in accessing the inputs and services that they require. Through the associations, members are able to acquire cheaper inputs and consolidate their produce so that they can increasing their bargaining power with buyers. In addition, buyers are willing to bring their markets closer to the farmers becaus ethey are assured of accessing the commodities that they need in bulk. Although this benefits all farmers, it is female farmers who benefit more because unlike male farmers, they have fewer options and opportunities for selling their produce because of the time and labour constraints discussed above.
NASFAM is also encouraging more female farmers to take up leadership positions in the farmer groups so that they may also contribute or drive the agenda of the groups. We also work with succesful female farmers, encouraging them to be role models for other women. The other women are more encouraged when they see how their fellow women have managed to improve their livelihoods by participating actively in association programmes as well as in taking up leadership positions.
In trying to promote the empowerment of women and youth in agriculture, it is important for the gender agenda to be clearly defined and pursued with real commitment. Often, gender in agriculture has been misinterpreted or pursued because it has been given as a requirement by donors and development agencies. Gender in agriculture needs to be pursued because women contribute significantly to agricultural production and because the inequalities that they face not only affect their productivity, but also affect agricultural production in general. It is therefore necessary to analyse the participation of women throughout the value chains and ensure that interventions aimed at improving agriculture are always gender-aware. From access to land, through access to inputs, technology, extension services and markets, it is important to consider how men, women and the youth are going to benefit so that equity of particpation and benefits can be achieved.