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Women Farmers: A Means To Sustainable Food Security

My friend Rose Adongo, a smallholder farmer and member of the Uganda National Farmers Federation presented at the Economist conference on global agriculture February 13th in London. Here is her presentation:

We are at a time when food security and hunger eradication are taking the centre stage in as far as we reflect on the challenges we are bound to face when the world’s population reaches 9.5 billion in 2015. Where will more food that is meant to feed the world come from, considering that land size will remain constant, people the world over are already experiencing the effects of climate change; and that women farmers are at the centre of food production?

My area of focus will be on the women farmers of Uganda; the challenges they face and how these challenges can be addressed to enable these women feed the growing population.

The Challenges

  • In Uganda, 80% of the farmers are women. Of this, 90% are rural smallholder farmers who produce about 60% of the food that feeds the country. However, these women own only 1% of the land they use for farming. This is mainly acquired through purchase. The rest of the land is under the control of the men as land ownership in Uganda is a preserve of men and control over what is planted on such land is dictated by them. For instance, it is sad to note that in most cases they usually use such land for growing tobacco which does not contribute to sustaining food security. This implies that the size of land women use for agriculture is very limited. Whatever is produced on such land is limited to household consumption. Besides this land is over-used and has low fertility.
  • Out of every 100 workers in a farm in Uganda, 75 are women (Government of Uganda Gender and Productivity Survey 2011). 43% of this massive labour force is not paid and provide labour in their family farms. Considering that a woman has other roles she plays in a home and that agriculture is labour intensive, and requires 4-5 hours of a woman’s working time, it is evident that her productive time will have been reduced because her time for care work competes with that for agriculture. This implies that if a woman is to produce food that will sustain the world population, then her means for food productivity has to be improved so that she can produce for the household and the market.
  • Limited accessibility to farm inputs and technology such as fertilizers, improved seeds, agro chemicals, ox ploughs and tractors. Tractors as well as animal drawn ploughs are still in limited supply. As a result, women farmers continue to open land using the hand hoe, a factor responsible for the small scale production and delayed planting. Besides, a majority of the smallholder women farmers can hardly afford improved seeds, planting and stocking materials, agro-chemicals and fertilizers due to the high prices. Even the distribution of the agricultural inputs suppliers is still limited and the women farmers find it tiresome to travel long distances to buy the improved inputs.
  • Lack of affordable Farm Credit. Up to now, very few farmers are accessing affordable Farm Credit. The interest rates remain high thereby preventing farmers from borrowing. The situation is worse with women rural farmers. In Uganda, only 10% of the women farmers have access to grants offered to farmers by government. The condition to accessing this grant is through groups. The criteria for membership in a group may also make some women fail to join such groups.
  • Poor marketing system. Smallholder women farmers produce and market as individuals. As a result they fall prey to the middle persons as they have no bargaining power. Secondly, in Uganda, access to market is basically limited to men and yet whatever little a woman earns from the proceeds of the farm, she will use it to improve on the livelihood of her family. On the contrary, most rural men would squander theirs on drinks.
  • Limited on-farm value addition. Majority of the women farmers continue to sell their produce without any value addition. This is the major cause of the low earnings they get from production.
  • Ineffective agricultural advisory/extension services. This impact on productivity of the land in use. Access to agricultural information is very vital. A farmer irrespective of gender must get the knowledge and skills to enable them improve on their farming practices with a view to increasing food production and income to their families. This area is worsened by the fact that there are few trained women agriculture advisory and extension workers. Women feel they can easily access the services of fellow women than men.
  • Effects of Climate Change. The effects of Climate Change have been experienced in different forms, the worst being the frequent droughts which seriously affect both crop and animal production. This is of course worsened by the fact that most of the smallholders entirely depend on weather for production. The rain patterns have changed and left the rural farmer who reads the sky for signs of rain confused. A lack of an effective weather forecast system makes it difficult for such farmer to plant their crops at the right time.

Way Forward

In order to enhance women smallholder farmers’ efforts to food security and sustainability, governments, National farmer organizations, financial services providers, civil society organizations and other relevant bodies should work in collaboration and ensure the following are done:

  • Provision of good quality seeds and planting materials. Support should be extended to the seed companies to enable them multiply adequate quantities of seed which seed should be distributed by the companies. This will help to ensure that farmers get good quality seed.
  • Promotion of fertilizer use in areas with low soil fertility. Deliberate efforts should be made to promote fertilizer use by farmers in such areas. Also efforts should be made to repack the fertilizers in quantities that suit small holder farmers and are hence affordable. Packages of 50 kgs at over Shs.120,000 are not favorable to a smallholder farmer.
  • Enhancing mechanization. Individual farmers as well as farmer groups that are eager to procure tractors should get government support to acquire them. This will go a long way in alleviating the labour shortages for land preparation and will improve on women’s productivity time since they will make use of less energy but produce more for home consumption and for the market.
  • Promotion of value addition. Appropriate arrangements should be put in place to enable organized farmer groups to access the agro-processing funds designated for small scale farmers. Maize Shellers, Rice Hullers and Cassava Mills should be given priority.
  • Climate Change mitigation and adaptation. Special attention needs to be put to mitigating the bad effects of Climate Change and addressing all possible adaptation measures. Water harvesting techniques should be given emphasis and sizeable investment should be put into promoting irrigation.
  • Improvement in the marketing system. Farmers should be encouraged and supported to market collectively. Those that belong to groups (SACCOs) should be supported to put up good storage facilities through which they can link up to the Warehouse Receipt Systems.
  • Animal diseases control. Farmer’s ability to control animal diseases is still limited by hindrances to access drugs such as de-wormers, acaricides and vaccines. Some of the drugs are either not readily available within the vicinity of the farmers or they are too expensive. Support should be extended to the local stockists and the Veterinary Staff in the field facilitated to respond to the farmer’s needs.

All these interventions need concerted efforts with the different actors playing certain roles, especially Governments, Farmers’ Organizations and civil society organizations. These can play different but complimentary roles as follows:


  • Put in place enabling policies that ensure sustained agricultural production.
  • Ensure policy implementation. One of the key challenges is that there are so many good policies especially in Uganda which are not implemented particularly those that target women’s access to land.
  • Increase budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector to support very important components like agricultural research.
  • Provide the necessary infrastructure e.g. roads, cold chain, etc.
  • Provide extension services to the farmers through local governments.
  • Provide meteorological information to farmers so that they can plan their farming activities better. This can be through local radio stations (FM channels) or through short message texts (SMS).

Farmer Organisations:

  • Monitoring the implementation of the different government policies and giving feedback to government.
  • Building capacity of farmers/members through training in areas where there are gaps in practice.
  • Providing extension services to compliment government services since they do not reach everywhere.
  • Mobilize farmers for different things like bulk marketing.
  • Provision of market information to farmers/members (information dissemination).

Civil Society Organizations:

  • Lobbying and advocating for farmer friendly policies (act as a mouth piece of the otherwise voiceless women farmers).
  • Sensitizing the community on the rights of men and women to own and use land for food production.
Robynne Anderson

Robynne has extensive experience in the agriculture and food sector, working throughout the value chain – from basic inputs to farmers in the field to the grocery store shelf. She works internationally in the sector, including speaking at the United Nations on agriculture and food issues, and representing the International Agri-Food Network at the UN.Throughout her career she has worked with farm organisations like the Prairie Oat Growers Association, the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi and the Himalayan Farmers Association, as well as global groups, to further the voice of agriculture in the food debate. She has also worked with Fortune 500 companies growing worldwide businesses to assist them with issues management and strategy decisions.

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