The State of Women in Agribusiness

The agribusiness sector is booming, and with that growth comes the challenge to stay knowledgeable about shifts in everything from technology to historical-social trends. While changes in technology are easily measured, underlying influences on the agribusiness value chain are difficult to read when dissecting hidden gender gaps within the sector. Further, the success of the agricultural sector as a whole relies on equal contribution from both men and women without unequal opportunities for success. While women comprise over 40 percent of the agricultural labor force worldwide, inequity persists.

The World Economic Forum reports that in Uganda “the proportion of men owning land is 21% higher than the proportion of women,” and in order to secure land rights, “women depend on the strength of the relationship with their husband’s family and clan.” These kinds of inequalities are what hinder potential economic growth via agricultural production. This issue is not just prevalent in countries like Uganda. World Economic Forum explains that, in addition to Uganda, female farmers do not have equal rights to own land in over 90 countries. As Farmer’s Weekly affirms, “bridging [the] gender gap would not only boost yields and therefore food and nutrition security globally, but would free women up to participate in other economically viable activities that contribute to the economy.”

As we all make an effort to reduce poverty and increase food security, we must account for all factors that can contribute to those goals. In recent a World Food Bank article, we address the ways in which food insecurity contributes to micronutrient deficiencies among young children, but studies show that if women gain more control of resources and income, they are likely to use them to improve the health, nutrition, and education of their children. These are the kinds of solutions we want to bring into the fold—solutions that have wide-ranging impacts on the local and global community.

In an International Finance Corporation report, authors vie for “gender-smart solutions,” which address gender gaps that act as a “barrier to growth, profitability, and sustainability.” They explain that gender gaps create systemic hindrances to agricultural growth.

  • Gender gaps in inputs and production can reduce the quantity and quality of the harvest;
  • Gender gaps in post-harvest processing and storage can lead to post-harvest losses; and,
  • Gender gaps in transportation, marketing, and sales can result in fragmented and inefficient markets.

To be sure, gender gaps influence the entire agricultural system, and recognizing these gaps can create opportunities to drive local economies by way of the agriculture sector, especially in areas facing extreme poverty.

Figure 1 – Reducing Gender Gaps (Source: International Finance Corporation: Investing in Women along Agribusiness Value Chains)

There is hope. Recent news reports that the government of Kenya launched an affirmative action policy “to preferentially award 30 percent of government ministry tenders to women-owned businesses in each sector, including agriculture.” This move is not only beneficial to women in Kenya, but to Kenyans across the country, making room for substantial growth that can strengthen their national economy. What is more, the award acts as a model and symbol for the ways in which we can all invest in overlooked and underutilized contributors to agribusiness.