Researcher: Gender plays a key role for sustainable farming in Africa


The EU should support rural public education programmes in Africa, with a special focus on women, to facilitate adoption of sustainable farming practices, says Hailemariam Teklewold, a researcher at the University of Gothenburg.

Hailemariam Teklewold has completed his doctorate in environmental economics at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. He has been working as an agricultural economist in socio-economics unit at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. He responded in writing to questions from EURACTIV's Henriette Jacobsen.

How do you define 'sustainable agriculture'?

Sustainable agriculture is the intensification of agricultural production through innovation, including adoption of sustainable agricultural practices to combat food insecurity and poverty and degradation of ecosystem services.

The [UN] Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) argues that sustainable agriculture consists of five major attributes: conserves resources; environmentally non-degrading; technically appropriate; economically and socially acceptable.

Accordingly, these practices, broadly defined, may include conservation tillage, bio-diversification (e.g. intercropping and crop rotations), improved crop varieties, use of animal manure, complementary use of organic fertilisers, and soil and water conservation structures.

What role do women play in agriculture and farming in Africa?

Women in rural areas of developing countries where agriculture is a means of livelihoods play an important role in most aspects of agricultural production, marketing, household food preparation and nutrition.

In farming, women participate in numerous agricultural tasks including mainly cleaning the field during land preparation, transporting inputs to the field, weeding, harvesting, transporting, threshing and storage of the production. The role of women in managing home garden crops, poultry raising, feeding, watering and cleaning of livestock and milking is also important.

You have said that there is a link between 'education among women and use of sustainable agricultural methods'. Education is of course always important, but why do you think it's particularly important in this case?

Adoption of sustainable agricultural practices requires investment decision or planning of farming business. Given the importance of women in agriculture, education of women would create investments and provide skills for a critical evaluation of innovations, improve knowledge about methods of production and increasingly advance women’s entrepreneurial ability.

When the education level of women increases, farm technology adoption decisions cannot be viewed as an isolated decision mainly taken by men, but jointly between men and women as part of an overall household strategy.

You have said that today relatively few farmers in developing countries use sustainable farming practices, despite intense promotion by both governmental and non-governmental organisations. What are the governments doing?

There are a number of initiatives from both governmental and non-governmental bodies which have emerged for promoting the adoption and diffusion of sustainable agricultural practices, mostly through the extension systems. There is a development of technology packages to overcome the decline of soil fertility and increase farm productivity.

What are the reasons why the governments' promotion of sustainable farming isn't reaching the farmers?

In many cases, resource poor farmers lack the capacity to purchase necessary inputs to obtain consistently high yields. As a result, smallholder farmers are trapped in poverty, low investment capacity, soil fertility decline and low productivity.

Our study also shows that the probability and extent of sustainable agricultural practice adoptions are affected by several factors – lack of social capital in the form of limited participation in rural institutions, credit constraint, women’s education, access to markets, extension service, tenure security and rainfall shocks.

What could the EU do in order to help sustainable agriculture in Africa?

They could help the local governments in investments in rural public education with special focus on women. That would facilitate adoption of technologies and practices.

In a country where there is information asymmetry and both input and output markets are missing or incomplete, local institutions can play a critical role in providing farmers with timely information, inputs (e.g., labour, credit, and insurance), and technical assistance.

Hence, the significant role of social capital on adoption suggests the need for establishing and strengthening local institutions and service providers to accelerate and sustain technology adoption.

Investment in public safety net programmes … for example, in public insurance and risk-protection mechanisms, can be expected to have a positive impact on the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.

What is your opinion of microfinancing for poor women in Africa?

From our study, we found that resource constraints are important factors constraining the adoption and diffusion of sustainable agricultural practices for poor farmers. Microfinancing poor women could relax such resource constraints and increase the adoption rate of sustainable agricultural practices by smallholder farmers.

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