Global Resources

Women and agriculture: the untapped opportunity in the wave of transformation

Author: Dr. B. Njobe, S. Kaaria
Publisher: African Development Bank Group
Publication Date: Jan 2015

African women play a central role in the continent’s agricultural sector, representing around 50% of the labour on farms in sub-Saharan Africa, and producing between 60% and 80% of the continent’s food. However, this comes despite women farmers, livestock owners, workers and entrepreneurs consistently experiencing limited access to productive resources compared to their male counterparts. Thus, women represent an untapped opportunity for growth, and with rapid population rise, increased urbanisation, increased demand for agricultural commodities and biofuels, and climate change, it is vital that the African agricultural sector adopt innovative approaches founded on gender-equality, inclusivity, sustainability and good governance to maximise production and adaptation.


That is the context put forward in this background paper produced for the Feeding Africa conference, October 2015. The authors highlight the multitude of challenges African women face in agriculture, particularly in relation to access to productive resources, but also through access to finance and financial services, infrastructure, training and technology, and information. The paper discusses how such challenges negatively impact the continent’s productivity, but also looks at the opportunities available which, while not a guarantee of success, calls for all stakeholders to commit to the implementation of gender-responsive programmes. These include opportunities relating to political will, the capacity for growth, and in regional and global value chains.


To contribute to narrowing the gender gap in African agriculture, the paper discusses a number of potential interventions which, if implemented, could add as much as $28 Trillion to global annual GDP by 2025. These recommendations are split between five key pillars:

  • Institutional transformation: strong institutions both at national and subnational level are important to achieving Africa’s transformation agenda in agriculture, and must encompass land policy and regulatory frameworks; fiscal spending on agriculture; farm-level institutional efficiency; agricultural trade policy; and evidence based gender-sensitive policy practice.

  • Access to productive resources: equal access to productive resources is critical to the production of competitive goods, and women’s economic empowerment. It requires governments to increase the availability, affordability and suitability of productive resources, including: finance, water, energy, research and development, hard infrastructure, transport and logistics.

  • Investment in hard and soft infrastructure: African women need a safe, secure, efficient, and transparent enabling environment along Africa’s trade transit corridors to negate the invisibility, stigmatisation, violence, harassment, and poor working conditions they disproportionately suffer.

  • Development of high-value agricultural value chains: as economies have grown, the ability for small and local producers to compete in high-value agriculture markets has fallen, with large, sophisticated, and regulated markets increasingly blocking small producers from competing. Regionalisation in Africa presents opportunities for small and medium-sized horticulture producers to scale up and experience organisational learning as they adapt to increased standards when moving from national to regional to global chain participation.

  • Increased access to technology and mechanised methods: due to household and childcare responsibilities, female farmers have limited time to devote to their own farm work, undermining their productivity. Improving women’s access to tools and machinery that can reduce the amount of on-farm labour required has potential to reduce the productivity gap. Policy-makers should therefore consider piloting programmes that offer financing for the purchase or hire of time-saving technologies for women farmers, as well as community-based childcare centres to grant women more time.