African women and agrifood systems : from invisibility to action

Temps de lecture : 5 minutes

Jennifer Eloundou

Following the success of the first edition of the Hand-in-Hand Investment Forum (IF) in 2022, the second edition of the Investment Forum will take place from 17 to 20 October 2023 in Rome,during the World Food Forum, with the presence of 31 countries, including 15 African countries.This international conference is an opportunity for governments to present their investment plans, focusing on investment opportunities in domestic agriculture and the food value chain.In this context, and in view of the challenges to which this summit intends to provide solutions, the Gender in Geopolitics Institute is calling for greater inclusion of women in agri-food systems and full recognition of their rights as major players in this field in Africa.

Agriculture is the backbone of many African nations, sustaining livelihoods and economies. In this context, the role of African women in agriculture cannot be understated. According to the status of women in agrifood systems report, in sub-Saharan Africa, 66 percent of women’s employment is in agrifood systems, compared with 60 percent of men’s employment[1]FAO,The status of women in agrifood systems, 2023 available here As they produce 70% of the continent’s food[2]World Economic Forum, Women grow 70% of Africa’s food. But have few rights over the land they tend, March 2018 , available here … Continue reading, women in Africa play a crucial role in agrifood systems, contributing significantly to agricultural production, processing, and marketing. They are not just farmers but also entrepreneurs, community leaders, and agents of change.

They are often involved in subsistence farming and small-scale agricultural activities, as well as being active participants in local markets and value chains. In addition to this, they are heavily involved in agriculture within the informal economy, contributing significantly to food production and their communities’ livelihoods. They also play a vital role in small-scale agriculture across the continent and are often responsible for tasks such as planting, weeding, harvesting, and processing crops. These women contribute to both subsistence and commercial farming, producing a substantial portion of the food consumed locally.

The current state of play: women’s invisibility as a result of socio-cultural systems

African women continue to face challenges of invisibility and inequality within the agricultural sector. This  invisibility refers to the often overlooked and undervalued contributions that women make to the agricultural sector. 

While they play a significant role in farming, livestock management, and other agricultural activities, their work tends to be less recognized and remunerated compared to their male counterparts. This is due to various challenges, such as limited access to land, credit, inputs and technology, as well as gender-based discriminations and gender gap. The report on the status of women in agri-food systems highlights that the gap between men and women in internet use in Africa remains the widest[3]FAO,The status of women in agrifood systems, 2023 available here In 2022, 34% of women used the internet compared with 45.5% of men, a gap that has remained constant since 2019, according to Statista. This disparity extends to the agricultural sector, where the FAO report revealed that as more women take up jobs in the non-agricultural segments of agri-food systems, gaps in access to relevant technologies become more apparent.

Land ownership and access to land are significant challenges for many women in Africa, especially those involved in agriculture. There is still much to do to ensure that women own land in equal part to men and that legal frameworks protect their rights because traditional norms and legal systems often favor men when it comes to land ownership and inheritance. Women in Tanzania declared that ownership contributed to their ability to meet their own needs independently of their husbands, thus breaking down the sociocultural male power structures. This lack of access to land limits women’s ability to engage in agriculture and hinders their economic empowerment. In agricultural cooperatives for example, membership is often conditional on land ownership, and as women are heavily under-represented in land ownership in Africa, this prevents them from joining. Only 10% of land is owned by women, whereas 70-90% of all wealth in Africa is generated by land[4]UN Women Africa, East-African Countries Lead in the localization of the SDGs relating to Women’s Land Rights, February 2018 available here … Continue reading.

Some efforts improve living conditions for women involved in agriculture

Efforts are being made to address this issue by advocating for legal reforms, promoting women’s land rights, and providing education and support to empower women to access and own land. These initiatives are crucial for promoting gender equality and fostering sustainable agricultural development in Africa. Farm Africa[5]FARM Africa, Working with women, creates resources to help women farmers learn about farming. This international organization contributes to the empowerment of women by involving them in concrete projects. The Female Food Heroes initiative[6]OXFAM, Celebrating women farmers: Oxfam’s Female Food Heroes competition available here, launched by Oxfam and local partners, is an annual award that gives women an opportunity to be seen and heard by highlighting their achievements and the challenges they face.

At national level, joint projects between national bodies and international institutions continue to be implemented in order to encourage the participation of women in agriculture. In Tanzania, Farm Africa and UN Women are working  together to close the gender gap in the sunflower sector by training women and establishing connections between farmers and buyers. In 2021, a rural women’s initiative implemented in Rwanda[7]World Food Programme, Rwanda: How training is helping women farmers grow, December 2021, available here  and supported by the World Food Programme in partnership with other UN agencies, IFAD, FAO and UN Women, enabled rural women involved in agriculture to reduce gender inequalities and poverty, improve food security and empower women as leaders, decision-makers and agents of change.In Ethiopia, USAID-funded[8]USAID ,Empowering women through agricultural development in Ethiopia available here
REST program helped improve access to and control of water for agricultural production in order to strengthen smallholders, empower women and increase production.

In addition to this,advocacy campaigns are increasingly calling for the rights of women working in agriculture to be recognised.The “Stand for Her Land” campaign for example is a global campaign to raise awareness of land discrimination[9]Stand For Her Land, The Stand For Her Land Campaign available here and to close the gaps in the implementation of women’s land rights.

Recommendations to stakeholders at the Hand in Hand Investment Forum 2023

Recognizing and empowering African women in agrifood systems is essential for achieving sustainable development and food security in the region. Efforts to promote gender equality and provide support for women farmers can lead to increased productivity and overall well-being within rural communities.

Governments and institutions should ensure equal gender representation at the local and national levels within action groups, teams, committees for agriculture, and other institutions dedicated to agrifood systems and environmental action. It is also important to support women leaders within the civil society who advocate for agricultural policies and women-owned businesses, such as agribusiness startups, that  can drive innovation and market participation and provide feminist movements with strategies to develop skills in communication, leadership, and any other areas that can influence policy processes.

In addition to this, efforts to empower African women in agriculture must encompass various dimensions. Access to education and training should be prioritized, equipping them with essential skills and knowledge.Moreover, technology and digital tools are pivotal in bridging gender disparities. Mobile applications that provide market information, weather forecasts, and financial services can empower women farmers and entrepreneurs. 

Reforms must also focus on changing unequal land laws. The role of governments is therefore to ensure that the law takes precedence over customary laws and to guarantee women’s land rights in order to combat the discriminatory traditions and practices of patrilineal inheritance and the unequal division of land. We also need to work on the ground to raise awareness among community leaders of the importance of women’s role in the management of natural resources, in order to strengthen the impact of the measures adopted by governments in this area.It is also important to encourage the management of agricultural property by women, by providing them with the legal support and training they need for this role, and to recognise the workload created by women’s increasing involvement in agriculture and pay them commensurate with their work.

In conclusion, African women in agriculture are the unsung heroines of food security and economic development. By breaking down barriers, expanding opportunities, and investing in their potential, we can unlock a brighter future for Africa, where women lead the way towards sustainable agriculture and prosperity for all. The participation of African women in agriculture is so important that any discrimination against them leads to dysfunctions in the system. Studies carried out in Malawi and Tanzania have shown that gender norms defining women’s participation in income-generating activities have an impact on food security in these countries.Their empowerment is not just a matter of gender equality; it is a catalyst for the continent’s growth and resilience.


1, 3 FAO,The status of women in agrifood systems, 2023 available here
2 World Economic Forum, Women grow 70% of Africa’s food. But have few rights over the land they tend, March 2018 , available here
4 UN Women Africa, East-African Countries Lead in the localization of the SDGs relating to Women’s Land Rights, February 2018 available here
5 FARM Africa, Working with women,
6 OXFAM, Celebrating women farmers: Oxfam’s Female Food Heroes competition available here
7 World Food Programme, Rwanda: How training is helping women farmers grow, December 2021, available here
8 USAID ,Empowering women through agricultural development in Ethiopia available here
9 Stand For Her Land, The Stand For Her Land Campaign available here