In parts of Africa, less than 10 percent of women own land and female farmers are less likely to invest in improving land without formal ownership. As a result, agricultural productivity suffers, according to a report by ThomsonReutersFoundation.
While some countries in eastern and southern Africa have improved laws granting land ownership rights to female farmers, many women remain unaware of these laws, said Agnes Kalibata, Rwanda’s former agriculture minister.
Up to 30 percent of women have land access in eastern and southern Africa, compared to less than 10 percent in northern and central Africa, Kalibata said.
In many developing countries, land titles are kept in the husband’s name. Without formal land titles, women have a harder time feeding and educating their children.
“In Africa, six out of 10 women depend on the land for their livelihoods,” Kalibata told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Women need equal access to the land.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today awarded a $5 million grant with the aim of achieving greater parity among women and men in sub-Saharan Africa so they more equally share the benefits of agricultural research, Cornell University reported.
The grant was given to Cornell University in partnership with Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. The money will be used in an initiative called Gender-responsive Researchers Equipped for Agricultural Transformation (GREAT). Researchers will be trained over five years to help create more inclusive and effective agricultural systems by addressing the priorities of both women and men in sub-Saharan Africa.
Margaret Mangheni, associate professor at Makerere University, has more than 20 years of experience with gender-sensitive agricultural development projects in Uganda and across Africa. She will lead the project at Makerere.
The initiative “will increase opportunities for equitable participation and the sharing of benefits from agricultural research and improve the outcomes for smallholder women farmers, entrepreneurs and farmer organizations across sub-Saharan Africa,” she said.
“Women play critical roles in food production and processing, but their input is frequently overlooked by agricultural researchers,” said Hale Ann Tufan, gender specialist and adjunct professor at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She will lead the project for Cornell. “Gender-blind research projects and products inadvertently increase the burden on women and limit the potential positive impact of research outputs.”
In Rwanda, Kalibata is credited with helping enact legal changes that give Rwandan woman 50 percent ownership in their family land. Kalibata also made it easier for widows to inherit family plots when their husbands die, according to ThomsonReuters.
“Incredible things are going on in Rwanda when it comes to women’s land rights,” said Rena Singer, spokeswoman for the Washington-based rights group, Landesa, ThomsonReuters reported.
If women can’t inherit land, it reinforces gender inequality, she said.
Even in countries like Rwanda with progressive land laws, lax enforcement and patriarchal customs can make it harder for female farmers to control their incomes, Kalibata said.
Many women remain unaware of new laws granting them access to land ownership. Governments should invest in education so rural women understand they have the right to own valuable land assets, Kalibata said.
Data on women’s land ownership is limited, but statistics from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization indicate women control less than a quarter of agricultural land holdings in developing countries.
By 2020, the Gates Foundation-funded grant expects to have trained more than 200 researchers, representing at least 30 research institutions in sub-Saharan Africa, to “advance gender-responsiveness as the norm and standard for agricultural research,” Tufan said, according to the Cornell University report.