An official website of the United States government

Women are Farmers, too
December 14, 2018

There are a lot of reasons why we associate women with food production. Female representation in farming is not one of them. Surprised? It’s not your fault.

In 1972, the United Nations reported — with absolutely no supporting evidence — that women did 60 to 80 percent of the agricultural work in Africa. Despite being little more than a guess, the statistic became “fact” in development circles. In reality, women do roughly 40 percent of the work producing livestock and crops in Africa. So why the huge discrepancy?

“When you look at women, they’re not just the labor force,” says Catherine Sakala, a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow from Zambia. “They’re the people who take this food and prepare it in their homes. They’re the people who you’ll find selling that produce in markets.”

She thinks that if people consider the entire value chain, it becomes clear that women have several roles to play in agriculture, from production to policy.

Catherine is a biologist with the Zambian Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock. She works with farmers to manage their livestocks’ health and prevent the spread of diseases. She also volunteers with ZaWARD, a mentorship program that aims to close the gender gap in agriculture.

She says she mentors girls because more women farmers will lead to better food security and more income for families, simply because it will mean there are more people working in agribusiness. She argues countries lose that added production by leaving women out or not developing their potential.

Angelique Ingabire is a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow from Rwanda who also mentors young women and girls in agriculture. The women are recruited from rural areas where subsistence farming is common, but farming as a business is rare. One of the groups she oversees is a cooperative of 40 women who grow pineapples.

“We trained them, we gave them a small amount of money to start up, and now they’re doing great,” she says.

She sees farming skills as a source of empowerment for her students. In another program on financial literacy, she teaches pre-teen girls how to plant small “kitchen gardens” to contribute to their families’ pantries and pocketbooks.

“For us, it’s more about them being able to say in the future, ‘I think I can do this by myself.’”

Catherine and Angelique would be pleased to know that, unlike the case in the world at large, the number of women working in agriculture is actually increasing in sub-Saharan Africa. The International Labour Organization estimates that by 2022, a third of all women working in agriculture will be in Africa.

“You can’t develop if you have left one gender backwards,” says Catherine. “You have to carry both people along.”

Are you a woman looking to learn about agriculture as a business? Check out these Mandela Washington Fellow–backed organizations: