Supporting Rural Women Farmers; The Pathway to Poverty Reduction in West Africa

Supporting Rural Women Farmers; The Pathway to Poverty Reduction in West Africa

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The International Day of Rural Women, World Food Day  and International Day for the Eradication of Poverty which fall on 15, 16 and 17 October respectively are very important dates in working towards the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Poverty eradication which is central to the SDGs seeks to improve the lives and future prospects of everyone, everywhere by 2030.  In adopting this ambitious global agenda in 2015,  world leaders resolved to free humanity from poverty by 2030 and to secure a healthy planet for future generations and build peaceful, inclusive societies as a foundation for ensuring lives of dignity for all.

The challenge world leaders’face is theeffective mobilization of actions to lift the 767 million people who still live on less than 1.90 US dollars a day, and to ensure food security for the 793 million people who routinely confront hunger.   Highlights of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the International Day of Rural Women and World Food Day provide invaluable insights into addressing the multiple challenges of eradicating poverty and to providing sustainable solutions to the attainment of this goal.

Poverty is often linked to low income.  In West Africa the low per capita income of many sectors of the population indicates that there is widespread poverty.  Evidence indicates that the majority of the populations do not have a purchasing power of US$2 a day. This evidence further suggests that a vast proportion of the populations of West Africa are poor over extended periods of time.

Low income is not the only determinant of poverty however.   Poor people view poverty through different manifestations of deprivation which include hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, lack of access to basic services including water and sanitation, and discrimination or marginalization from the decision making processes.

Taking all these indicators into consideration we deduct that poverty related deprivations are related to the lack of or low level of incomes and to a lack of access and ownership of productive and economic resources as well as a lack of access to basic social services – education, health and information.

Hunger and poverty are inextricably linked to rural women.  Globally, women comprise 43 per cent of the agricultural workforce.   In Africa, 80 per cent of the agricultural production comes from small farmers, who are mostly rural women.  Despite the important role that women play in agricultural economies by supporting household and community food self-reliance, they are inadequately supported to carry out their roles effectively.

West  African rural women suffer from the high illiteracy rates;  have less access than men to secure land tenure, agricultural inputs, financing, water and energy; appropriate infrastructure, technologies, and extension services  and are the most visible face of poverty.  According to some estimates, closing the gender gap in access to land and other productive assets could increase agricultural outputs by up to 20 per cent in Africa.

It would also enable women farmers to adopt climate-resilient agricultural approaches. In essence, providing equal access to women and men farmers to land and other productive resources can provide a “triple dividend” of gender equality, food security and climate management, thereby offering a cost-effective and transformative approach to the pursuit of the SDGs.

Systematically addressing gender gaps in responding to climate change is one of the most effective mechanisms to build the climate resilience of households, communities and nations. Growing recognition of the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and girls has been matched in recent years by a rise in awareness of their roles as change agents and the tremendous value of gender equality and women’s empowerment for producing social, economic, and climate resilience benefits.

The theme for World Food Day this year is ‘Change the future of migration, invest in food security and rural development’.  Out migration from the rural to the urban areas and to other countries has contributed to the depletion of the much needed human resources in rural areas. The phenomenon of moving out in search of greener pastures is not limited to men alone but young women have also left for a variety of reasons including marriage, labour, trading and education.   This indicates that farming is not really a main alternative for rural women and this has implications for household and community food security.

The UN system seesthe October 17 Call to end poverty‘as the path toward peaceful and inclusive societies’.   According to Irina Bokova, the outgoing director general of UNESCO: ‘National plans to eradicate poverty will be stronger if they are inclusive, integrating the voices of all parts of society. Access to basic services is essential, as is the required knowledge capabilities — but eradicating poverty calls also for greater participation by all women and men, starting with young people, whose empowerment is key to success.

Providing support to West Africa’s women farmers is only one pathway to eradicating poverty. However, it is a significant contribution for as long as women farmers do not receive the maximum support it is certain that the agricultural systems of the sub-region will continue to suffer from low productivity and yields.

Though gender sensitive laws, policies and programmes are now being designed these have to be accompanied with the required resources to a level and scale that is capable of addressing their needs in a gender transformative manner.As long as this is not done we run the risk of not meeting the Goals 1 and 2 of the SDGs.