FAO Regional Office for Africa

AGRF 2023: FAO and partners call for interventions at scale to improve the condition of women in agrifood systems

FAO presents The Status of Women in Agrifood Systems report and advocates for the acceleration of an inclusive, resilient and gender-responsive rural transformation in Africa


The Status of Women in Agrifood Systems (SWAFS) report, launched in April 2023, provides new evidence that demonstrates where gender gaps persist – costing sub-Saharan Africa USD 95 billion annually - and how they can be tackled. While the report brings forth alarming figures, it also highlights progress achieved, particularly in policymaking and women’s rights to land. It also contains clear calls to action that can be adopted by stakeholders in the private, public and international spheres – and those present at the Africa Food Systems Forum (AGRF) 2023.

The AGRF is Africa’s premier forum for convening stakeholders in Africa’s agricultural landscape so that, together, they can take action and share lessons that will move Africa forward. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) gathered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the Zanzibar Ministry of Blue Economy and Fisheries, the     International Agrifood Network (IAFN), the East African Women in Business Platform (EAWiBP), and the Agricultural Research and Development program (AWARD) to highlight key points from the report and provide the opportunity for stakeholders to share insights from their work on empowering women in agrifood systems.

From grassroots to institutional powers: the solution is in collaboration

Born and raised in a family of 11 in rural Zimbabwe, BMGF Interim Director of Agricultural Development Enock Chikava opened the event with an impactful firsthand account of his experience in the agrifood sector: “For me, uplifting the status of women in agrifood systems is a personal mission”. Mr. Chikava has dedicated his life to working towards smallholder farmers' success as they use technology to raise productivity, incomes and nutrition levels.

Dr. Lauren Phillips, FAO Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division Deputy Director highlighted key figures extracted from the SWAFS report regarding the African context. Particular emphasis was placed on the working conditions of women in the continent: “Despite the importance of agrifood systems for women’s livelihoods and welfare of their families, their roles tend to be marginalized and they are often engaged in vulnerable self-employment activities: irregular, informal, part-time, labor-intensive, and often low-skilled.” They also receive lower remuneration and bare the burdens of unpaid domestic work. “On average, women earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men in wage employment in agriculture,” said Dr. Phillips. Limited access to productive resources, services and finance were also emphasized, all which contribute to a productivity gap of 24 percent between female and male-owned farms of the same size. Such figures should not be discouraging, however. They are a wakeup call.

Best practices were also at the centre of the stage throughout the discussion. Robynne Anderson, International Agrifood Network Director General, shared success stories from the recently concluded pilot Accelerator Mentorship Programme for Women-Led SMEs in Africa. The stories of participants that in less than six months were able to establish foundations and obtain processing equipment by networking with bigger companies in the region brought hope and energy into the discussion. “Fifty women joined the programme, and through their networks, cooperatives, associations and connections, over 500 000 women across the region were impacted by the programme,” said Robynne, closing her intervention with a promising outlook into the second edition of the mentorship programme.

Zahor Kassim Alkharousy, Director of the Blue Economy Development and Coordination Department of the Ministry of Blue Economy and Fisheries in Zanzibar, also mentioned the newly established Blue Economy Policy 2022, which contains specific outcomes in equality and for women in the fisheries sector. Improved access to finance and the provision of seaweed processing equipment were listed as priorities under this Policy. To close the panel, Janice Kimaro, EAWiBP representative, stressed the importance of capacity building and trade facilitation across the region as keys to women’s empowerment and gender equality in agribusiness. This is particularly relevant with the roll-out of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement.

Multiplying best practices and solidifying actions across the region

The message delivered by the SWAFS report is clear. To achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in agrifood systems, three main targets must be prioritized:

  • investment in high-quality research and sex- and age-disaggregated da​ta;
  • interventions at scale using proven approaches which close asset and resource gaps such as gender-transformative approaches; and
  • intentional interventions focused on women’s empowerment.

Hitting the three targets above could increase global GDP by 1 percent (USD 1 trillion), provide food security for 45 million people, and increase the incomes of an additional 58 million people and the resilience of 235 million people​.

With the publication of the SWAFS report, FAO commits to strengthen actions on gender equality and women’s empowerment, particularly for rural women who are facing additional intersectional constraints and vulnerability related to their age, ethnicity, disability and Indigenous Identity.  Efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems depend on gender equality and the empowerment of all women. We encourage all stakeholders to make a commitment to join FAO in growing equality.