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African women need to be educated and empowered to play an active role in the transformation of African agriculture

On the sidelines of the 2018 Annual International Agriculture Agribusiness Incubators Network Conference in Dakar - coinciding with this year’s  International Women’s Day- we sat with H.E. Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, Ugandan national, former Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union Commission and Malabo Montpellier Panel member to discuss the status of women in African agriculture.

What do you think of International Women’s Day, and what does it mean for women in Agriculture?

As a woman this annual celebration means a lot to me. In 1978 I was the first to head an institution called 'Women in Development' in my country. At that time there was no agenda for women issues, there was no policy or recognition of the importance of women in society and our challenges were not acknowledged. Having been the first woman to head this institution in my country means a lot to me. Right now, I see that we have come a long way, and the 8th of March is a critical day of celebration. I cherish this landmark and certainly, I am grateful to the people who have put in place. It has become a very popular day and is now celebrated all around the world, but I think it should be more than just a celebration, we should on this day take stock of what women have really achieved.

What is, in your opinion, the current state of women in agriculture, what are the particular challenges women face?

The agriculture sector is facing many challenges despite the many policy efforts put in place by the African Union. It means that women are suffering more than any other farmer because they are the providers of food and caregivers at home. All challenges in the agriculture sector - limited funding, food insecurity, food-related diseases or the consequences of climate change - affect women even more than men. So, we need to focus on solutions in line with increasing productivity in the agriculture sector, but also getting the right technology in the right hands. Currently, our agriculture sector is still unmechanized: we need to focus on mechanization at the farm level. Women should now be massively working in agro-processing, and production activities should be all mechanized for them to start enjoying the benefits of agriculture and producing the right quality of high standard and nutritious food for the people.

What are some of the policy actions already in place, or that could be enhanced, to help women in the agriculture sector?

The African Union Commission supports the African heads of state in ensuring that they adopt the right policies to catalyze the development of the continent. As far as women are concerned, there are a number of policies and decisions that have been put in place, which can promote women, the agriculture sector, and the entire continent. There are various African Union policies on education, and underlying policies focusing on women in education. And in the same line, African Union nutrition-focused policies also target women more specifically to ensure child health for instance. We have affirmative action policies for women - but are they being implemented? In a nutshell, we have several policies in place at the continental level, but the issue is more about implementation. All these policies need to be implemented and financed. Unless all gender-focused programs in the agriculture sector are financed, women won’t prosper.

 I would like to address the question of how will women be enabled to participate actively in the transformation of African agriculture? We want to see more champions, like Rwanda, where women are being promoted in parliament, where their access to technologies and inputs in agriculture are facilitated, thus making them independent providers for their families. In that matter, I think that Rwanda is the pride of Africa. We want more countries like Rwanda, who truly enable women.

What can women do themselves to improve their condition?

As a woman I succeeded because I was educated. Once there is education and girls are empowered, women will be better off. 

As a woman, I succeeded because I was educated. Once there is education and girls are empowered, women will be better off. 

If we eradicate poverty at the household level, then women will do better. I would like to underpin the importance of education, capacity building and skill development, which can enable women to reach for the stars in all sectors.

What is your message for African women in the context of this women's day and month?

Women need to continue demanding for their rights. They won’t be able to compete in this harsh world unless they know their rights because knowledge is power. I want women to take all available opportunities so they stand at the forefront of each sector. My message to women is for them to thrive and become economically independent, produce, innovate and acquire as many skills as possible.

The opinions represented in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of individual Malabo Montpellier Panel members and their organizations.