Rural women and girls are a powerful development force, who contribute to the growth of their regions and national economies. The United Nations estimates that women comprise 40 percent of the agricultural workforce worldwide, and as much as 60 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, including Rwanda.
As farmers, women plant, weed, and harvest food crops and tend to livestock, often working longer hours than men — in developing countries, typically 12 more hours per week than men. They are also caregivers who look after their families, including children and relatives, and manage their homes.
Additionally, many are entrepreneurs who dedicate much of their time and resources to their families and societies.
Farming is the foundation of many rural societies and, in most cases, the main economic activity. It supports employment, businesses that support agriculture, and environmental services.
By extension, agriculture supports the establishment and expansion of economic infrastructure.
As critical stakeholders in agriculture and rural economies, women occupy a central place in advancing Rwanda’s fourth strategic plan for agriculture transformation (PSTA4), 2018-2024, which targets an average annual growth rate of 10 percent.
Key pillars of the PSTA4 include providing an enabling environment for agriculture and creating responsive institutions, increasing the productivity, diversity, sustainability, and resilience of agricultural production, and continuous research, innovation, and empowerment of different stakeholders.
Invest in women
At a time when smallholder agriculture is rapidly evolving in response to commercialization, digitization, and climate change, we must help women seize emerging opportunities. The FAO estimates that if women had as much access to land as men, agricultural productivity in 34 developing countries would rise by some 4 percent.
Uplifting women farmers could reduce the number of undernourished people by some 17 percent, or 150 million people.
Laudably, there has been considerable investment in creating inclusivity in agricultural innovation and development. Yet the sector underperforms, in part because women, who are a crucial resource to the industry, face constraints in accessing productive resources which dims their contribution.
Investing in women can significantly improve productivity and food security. Studies on Sub-Saharan African show that food production could increase by 10 to 20 percent if women had fewer constraints to grapple with. Empowering women is fundamental in reducing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.
The best way to celebrate the contribution of rural women to development is through empowering them. To help them translate their hard work into prosperous livelihoods, we must prioritize their specific needs within our national development blueprint.
This entails advocating for gender equality in accessing tools such as credit, ensuring decision making on land use, and the skills they need to farm successfully.
One Acre Fund, an agricultural service provider operating across six countries in Africa, offers a working, sustainable model. The organization, whose Rwanda program supports upwards of 600,000 farmers – about 270,000 of whom are women – supplies smallholder farmers with financing on credit and training to help them increase farm productivity and earn more income.
Farmers enjoy a flexible repayment system that allows them to pay back their loans in any amount throughout the loan term.
Another useful tool is to meaningfully facilitate women to take part in policy dialogues that spur positive change in their favor. In 2012, UN Women, the World Food Programme, and FAO launched a program to empower rural women through economic inclusion and food security initiatives.
The initiative sought to empower women to consolidate their rights to land and leadership, and to participate in shaping laws, policies, and programs that directly impact them.
Just as importantly, we must make education and training a priority, to empower women to improve their social, economic, and financial skills. Enhancing women’s ability to undertake profitable ventures is essential to improving their overall status.
Greater financial independence goes hand in hand with economic and social empowerment.
In Rwanda, women regularly work together, in groups and networks, because it is a highly effective way of gaining access to the assets and services they need to expand their opportunities.
Creating and supporting initiatives to expand the scope and reach of such partnerships is one way to encourage their growth and use, to ensure as many women as possible benefit from them.
Equally, we must work to promote an equitable balance in workloads and the sharing of economic and social benefits between women and men. For example, we need a culture that allows the sharing of farming profits commensurate with the work put in.
And if we reduce women’s burden of work to enable them to take part in economic leadership and decision-making roles, we can bring the dream of attaining our sustainable development goals that much closer to reality.
The writer is Chief of Staff and Governance Relations at One Acre Fund-TUBURA.