Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has recognized the need to strengthen efforts to enhance food security and nutrition with a focus on gender equality. NAM shares the vision of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that agri-food systems cannot be transformed unless there is gender equality and, as such, has asked the Member States to put the spotlight on women’s role in agri-food system, including regional initiatives.

The FAO and the African Union recognise that women are critical agents of change in the fight against rural poverty, hunger and malnutrition in Africa. They are the backbone of their households, communities, and rural economies covering important roles in food production, processing and marketing, and also in the nutrition of the family.

The AU Declaration “2015 Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063” calls upon States to intensify women’s financial inclusion in agribusiness. It invites financial institutions to have a minimum quota of 50 percent to finance women to grow macro businesses. Several commitments at the regional and global levels advocate for equal access to finance for women in agribusiness. In particular, the AU has adopted a specific target that women will access 30 percent of the agricultural financing and that 90 percent of the rural women shall have access to credit and financial service.

The promotion of gender equality and empowerment of rural women and girls is central to the AU and FAO’s mandates towards inclusive agricultural growth, shared prosperity, and zero hunger. As part of this commitment, a report, “Leaving no one behind: A Regional Outlook on Gender and Agri-food Systems” has been launched by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu and the African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture Josefa Sacko at the 31st Session of the FAO Regional Conference for Africa held during 26-28 October 2020.

The report recognises that women’s condition and status are strongly intertwined with the food security and nutritional status of children and other family members and eliminating gender-based inequalities significantly contributes to achieving food security and nutrition.
The report makes the following recommendations to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union’s Agenda 2063:

1) Develop gender-sensitive and gender-targeted activities in the field of food security, nutrition and resilience: These could include gender-targeted social protection, diversifying garden produce, developing locally nutritious products, and gender-sensitive nutrition education programmes that address intra-household dynamics and norms;

2) Scale up female entrepreneurship and women’s economic empowerment in agribusiness so that they can meet the growing urban market demand for high-value and differentiated products. This requires, among other actions, enhanced access to resources, gender-sensitive technology and agroprocessing facilities, strengthening of women’s cooperatives and preferential procurement;

3) Ensure equitable financial inclusion of women and men when scaling up investments in agricultural productivity, post-harvest activities, covering downstream marketing and agro-processing activities. Financial institutions must adopt innovative practices to meet 50 percent of AU targets, including innovative practices and partnership with rural ;

4) Enhance women’s access to and control over land institutions;

5) Incorporation of gender in the national agricultural investment plans (NAIP) processes and accountability and

6) Ensure a “gender data revolution” in the agri-food sector, which will facilitate gender-sensitive diagnosis, monitoring and evaluation.

“Rural women are the pillars of our food systems and agents of change for food security and climate justice. But they’re also disproportionately affected by poverty, inequality, exclusion and the effects of climate change,” UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said by video message during the launch of the report. “According to the findings of the report we are launching today, we must step up our efforts to create an enabling environment for rural women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in the agri-food sector,” Director-General QU said. “I am confident that our joint efforts will pave the way for a more empowered future for rural women and girls in Africa”.

Commissioner Sacko commended the Director-General for the solid partnership and joint efforts to contribute to the evidence base for women’s empowerment.”When we talk about empowerment, we have to have a scientific evidence base to advise policy makers, and this report contributes to that effort,” Commissioner Sacko said. “Women play a substantial role in African agriculture, but it is not sufficiently appreciated or documented.”

By Dr. Ankit Srivastava

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