Agriculture is at the core of many of humankind’s greatest challenges: how to feed a population fast rising to 10 billion, how to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and how to protect and restore vital ecosystems and agro-biodiversity. These challenges are particularly pronounced in Africa, where productivity remains far short of potential, hindered by poverty, drought, land degradation, low budget allocations to the sector, and in some cases, corruption and turmoil.
For decades, efforts to boost Africa’s agricultural outputs have focused primarily on men, as heads of households and the ones best positioned to engage in commercial farming. Those efforts have indeed raised incomes, but they have done little to bolster food security – because it is primarily women who grow the food consumed by rural African families.
Yet social norms often constrain women’s decision-making power and their access to equipment, supplies, even to extension services and development programmes that seek to support them. What they produce within these limitations is impressive, but they could do much better. Closing the gender gap in agricultural inputs alone, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has estimated, would lift 100–150 million people out of hunger.