It is good to see the increased interest in the marginalisation of women smallholders and the need for better support and land reform. A closer look at this topic shows that we need to take into account the ageing of farming population and the specific forms of discrimination that older female farmers face.
HelpAge’s recent analysis of agricultural censuses in low- and middle-income countries shows that farmers in these regions are ageing. Older women represent a growing share of the farm population. In Uganda in 2009 for example, women over 55 years represented 7.5 per cent of the female farmer population. This proportion has been increasing in the past ten years.
Older women farmers represent an important part of the agricultural workforce. In Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America the proportion of economically active women over 60 who derive their livelihood from agriculture is higher than that for younger women. Data from the most recent labour force surveys, show that in sub-Saharan Africa, 58.7% of older women are employed in agriculture, while only 43.4% of the 40-59 years old and 38.3% of the 15-39 years old derive their main livelihood from agriculture . Older women are thus more dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods relative to other age groups .
At the same time, their access to land and other property is threatened by discriminatory inheritance rights and practices that leave them with little or nothing when their spouses die. Programmes and policies supporting female smallholders need to take these age -related vulnerabilities into account and actively seek their redress.
A detailed report of the above findings will be published online on HelpAge’s website shortly.