Dr Jemimah Njuki is the director for Africa at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the custodian for the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Lever at the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, which kicked off on Thursday. She spoke to Isaiah Esipisu on gender equity and agricultural production
How significant is the UN Food Systems Summit for women farmers in Africa, who comprise the majority of smallholders?
Women provide more than 50 per cent of labour force in agricultural production, but they do this with a lot of inequalities. Gender and food transformation are usually interconnected. Gender inequality is a cause for food insecurity, and when there is food insecurity, women suffer more.
From this hindsight, we dialogued with women to understand priorities that can be taken to the UN Food Systems Summit. In Africa, three key issues came out. The first one was land rights because women are producing food from the land they do not own. The ownership of the land is pegged to men either as daughters or wives.
The other issue was financial inclusion. The current mode of loans and financial inclusion do not always work for women. Women do not have collaterals and most credit schemes are not structured to respond to what is happening in agriculture.
The other one is empowerment of women and closing of the gender digital gap.
How best can African communities improve gender equity and equality in food systems?
Legal rights are necessary, but they are not sufficient for women to own land and property. The Kenyan constitution for example gives equal rights for girls and women to own and inherit land. But since 2010, we have seen only 10.3 per cent of title deeds go to women. Currently, less than 2 per cent of land in Kenya is owned by women. So, apart from the legal rights, our cultural social perception about women in regard to land ownership has to change. We are calling on traditional leaders, chiefs, the church and those who have a voice to change the perceptions of people. There is a need to engage men, so that they understand that their girls owning land is not only their right, but it is a good thing.
What achievements have we made to entrench gender equality in the agriculture sector?
We are seeing a situation where we have many women in leadership positions, both political and economic. We see more women in businesses. In Africa, we have more women who are entrepreneurs than men, even though their businesses are much smaller.
How can we ensure the youth and women benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)?
AfCFTA is one of the huge things that women and youth can take advantage of. But it has to be structured in a way that focuses on places where women and youth are. For example, more than 70 per cent of the informal cross-border trade in Africa is done by women. So we cannot be successful with AfCFTA if we cannot address the non-tariff barriers that affect women and youth who are in informal trade.
The UN summit sought to harness science and technology to improve nutrition and safeguard the environment, is this achievable amid increased use of chemicals in farming to boost food production?
We can make our food systems sustainable while at the same time ensure we are benefiting from important technological developments that are at our disposal. Our food systems in their current forms are not sustainable. To change this, we must make sure that our smallholder farmers have sustainable choices to increase their productivity.
For example, the global fertiliser uptake is about 135kg per hectare, but in Africa, on average, we use 17kg. Our main goal should not be to reach the global average of 135kg. But we need to be innovative and use technologies such as micro dosing among others.
We also need to adopt the agro-ecological principles to keep our soils rich and healthy.
We also need stronger standards so that some dangerous chemicals that are banned in other countries are not dumped in Africa.