More Women Owning Agricultural Land in Africa Means Increased Food Security and Nutrition

Evidence shows that when women are empowered, farms are more productive, natural resources are better managed, nutrition is improved, and livelihoods are more secure. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2018 (IPS)

Despite women being key figures in agriculture and food security, gender inequality is holding back progress towards ending hunger, poverty, and creating sustainable food systems. 

During a high-level event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the African Union (AU) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO) reviewed the persistent gender gaps in agri-food systems in Africa and highlighted the need for urgent action. “It is therefore economically rewarding to invest in women’s education and economic empowerment since women often use a large portion of their income on children and family welfare.” — AU commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture Josefa Leonel Correa Sacko.

“There is a strong momentum to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment in agri-food systems because women constitute the majority of agricultural labour,” said AU commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture Josefa Leonel Correa Sacko.

However, despite women’s crucial role in such systems, there are persistent gender gaps.

“We need to better recognise and harness the fundamental contribution of women to food security and nutrition. For that, we must close persisting gender gaps in agriculture in Africa,” said FAO’s Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva.

“Evidence shows that when women are empowered, farms are more productive, natural resources are better managed, nutrition is improved, and livelihoods are more secure,” he added.

While women account for up to 60 percent of agricultural labour, approximately 32 percent of women own agricultural lands across 27 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa through either joint, sole ownership, or both.

Only 13 percent of women, compared to 40 percent of men, have sole ownership on all or part of the land they own, according to the Regional Outlook on Gender and Agrifood Systems, a joint report by the FAO and AU that was presented during the event.

In 2016, thousands of rural women across Africa gathered at Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro to protest and demand the right to land and natural resources.

Some even climbed to the peak of Africa’s highest mountain, showcasing their determination for change.

Even when women are able to own their own land, many still lack access to productive resources and technologies such as fertiliser, agricultural input, mechanical equipment, and finance.

This poses numerous challenges along the food value chain, including food loss.

Globally, approximately one-third of all food produced is lost or wasted. Food loss and waste is a major contributor to climate change and in Sub-Saharan Africa, the economic cost of such losses amount up to USD4 billion every year, FAO found.

Closing productivity gaps could increase food production and consumption by up to 10 percent and reduce poverty by up to 13 percent.

While women account for up to 60 percent of agricultural labour, approximately 32 percent of women own agricultural lands across 27 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa through either joint, sole ownership, or both. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

The FAO-AU assessment also estimated that agricultural output could more than triple if farmers had access to the finance needed to expand quality and quantity of their produce.

Panellists noted that addressing the agricultural gender gaps in Africa could additionally boost food security and nutrition in the region.

Globally, hunger is on the rise and it is worsening in most parts of Africa. Out of 821 million hungry people in the world in 2017, over 250 million are in Africa.

Many African nations are also seeing a rapid rise in obesity, which could soon become the continent’s biggest public health crisis.

“It is therefore economically rewarding to invest in women’s education and economic empowerment since women often use a large portion of their income on children and family welfare,” Sacko said.

Graziano da Silva noted that among the key issues is the lack of women in governance systems and decision-making processes. 

Between five and 30 percent of field officers from ministries and rural institutions are women while only 12 to 20 percent of staff in ministries of agriculture are female.

This coincides with the lack of gender targeting and analysis mechanisms, resulting in services that target male-dominated sectors.

If such trends continue, Africa will not be close to achieving many of the ambitious development goals including the Malabo Declaration, which aims to achieve inclusive growth, sustainable agriculture, and improved livelihoods.

There has been some positive trends as many African countries have started to recognise the importance of putting women at the heart of the transformation of rural food systems.

Botswana’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme provides grants to women, enabling them to start their own enterprises and advance their economic well-being.

First Lady of Botswana Neo Jane Massi attended the high-level event and stressed the “importance of inclusive growth in our national development agendas in order to ensure that no one is left behind.”

Similarly, the Joint Programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Women, implemented by various U.N. agencies including FAO and U.N. Women, has provided more than 40,000 women with training on improved agricultural technologies and increased access to financial services and markets.

While women’s participation in decision making has increased from 17 to 30 percent, Graziano da Silva stressed the need for better and more balanced representation of women at all levels.

Presenting the recommendations from the AU-FAO outlook report, Sacko called for an “enabling environment,” reinforcement of accountability mechanisms for gender equality and women’s empowerment, and a “gender data revolution” to better inform gender-sensitive policies and programs.

“Let us be ambitious, and let us all put our wings together,” Massi concluded.

Q & A: Why Switching to Renewable Energy Sources is No Longer a Matter of Morality, But of Economics

The Bangui Wind Farm located in the northern Philippines hosts 20 wind turbines with a capacity of 33 megawatts. GGGI works mainly with governments that express an interest in sustainable growth and is supporting the Philippines in mainstreaming green growth into the country’s development planning. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Carmen Arroyo
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2018 (IPS)

When the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) was founded eight years ago, the general public thought that renewable energies would never replace oil and coal. Today, the tables have turned.

Dr. Frank Rijsberman has been the director general of the institute since 2016, and for him, green growth is no longer a matter of morality, but of economics. Renewable energies are now cheaper than fossil fuels. They create employment, do not pollute and provide countries with the amount of energy they need. Last week he joined several side events at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

GGGI is an intergovernmental organisation that works with over 60 countries. It seeks commitments among governments and private companies to switch to green growtheconomic growth that takes into account environmental sustainability.

The organisation, based in Seoul, South Korea, works mainly with governments that express an interest in sustainable growth. Its work does not directly depend on changes in administrations.

Under Rijsberman, GGGI has consulted with Colombia on their protection of the Amazon rainforest, the United Arab Emirates on how to diversify its economy, and more recently with New Zealand. Rijsberman is especially proud of the organisation’s work in Ethiopia and Rwanda, with its president Paul Kagame, who he considers a “champion of green growth”.

Rijsberman is not only very knowledgeable, he also calls his job “his passion”. When he describes GGGI’s presence worldwide, he jumps from Australia to Ethiopia, from South Korea to Mexico, and from Norway to the Philippines.

He talks slowly, like a teacher giving his first class, or a father trying to get his point through. And when he talks about GGGI’s achievements, he smiles in the affable way most Dutch people do. His excitement is justified: renewable energies are the present. And public opinion cares. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Director general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) Dr. Frank Rijsberman outside the Office of the Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning in Thailand Photo Credit: Sinsiri Tiwutanond/IPS

Inter Press Service (IPS): Why has green growth become relevant?

Frank Rijsberman (FR): A variety of countries are already convinced green growth is their only option for pollution and climate reasons. For example in Asia, air pollution is a strong driver of investors in green growth. In Seoul, everybody checks the air condition in the morning, because it is a real issue. We have to decide whether we are going to wear air masks or not. In the West, last summer we saw fires and heat waves. And in Africa, the average farmer is convinced the climate has changed.”In the end there are gonna be more jobs with renewables than with coal.” — Director general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) Dr. Frank Rijsberman.

I’ve been involved in climate change for a long time, and it used to be something we talked about that would happen in a 100 years. Then for our grandchildren. Then our children and then… it’s today.

Before, ministers of finance used to say they wanted first to develop and then they would care about the climate. Now, they also care about the quality of growth.

IPS: Has that international public opinion changed since United States president Donald Trump’s election?

FR: The truth is that the U.S. government was very influential in making the Paris Agreement exist in the first place. We have to thank them for that. They brought China to the table.

And after Trump was elected, the Chinese government did not back out, because solar and wind has become cheaper than coal. Wind energy prices have dropped by 66 percent and solar by 86 percent. In the last three years, the atmosphere has changed. There is a stronger belief that renewable energies are making a breakthrough.

Apart from the prices, the second big deal is batteries.Generally, you need a grid or a diesel generator to back solar and wind up. But instead of using diesel generators, now we can use batteries that store energy. Battery prices have also gone down by 80 precent. And over the next five years, batteries will be cheaper than the diesel backups. The investment recommendation we make is to buy batteries now, not diesel generators.

IPS: Where have renewable energies impacted the most?

FR: For example, in electricity production, we’ve seen a huge disruption. Most of the investments go to renewable energies. However, electricity is only 20 percent of energy use.

The other 80 percent is transportation and buildings. But I am confident that in some years, electric vehicles will be cheaper than normal fuel cars. These autonomous vehicles could reduce the number of vehicles in cities by three, which would reduce pollution, traffic, and costs.

IPS: The institute must also face challenges when promoting green growth. Is shifting investment patterns its biggest challenge?

FR: Yes. The hardest has been convincing Southeast Asian countries with fast-growing economies. They still invest in coal. Convincing those governments that solar and wind are cheaper remains the biggest challenge.

Sometimes we also find resistance in the utilities, companies that work with fossil fuels. We’ve had one government for which we did a plan for renewable energies, and then they told us they had already signed with fossil fuels. There are also countries where hotels want to put solars on their rooftops, but utilities say: “we will cut you off the grid.”

However, once the government agrees, it can take a short amount of time for them to transition to sustainable energies. In India it took two years. India had coal fired power plants. But as soon as the price of renewables decreased, the coal fired plants went down.

The example of Canberra (Australia) is also enlightening. They decided they wanted to be renewable by 2020. So, they put solars in schools, and they made it accessible so people could also put it on their homes. People got used to it and then they moved to utility-scale renewables.

IPS: Does this resistance in transitioning have to do with the loss of jobs?

FR: In the end there are gonna be more jobs with renewables than with coal. Trump talks about the job losses in coal, but he doesn’t talk about the new jobs with renewables. It’s true they may not be the same people, so you need some formal training. But that is normal. One industry dies and another is born.

IPS: You have been director general for two years, what have you achieved so far?

FR: GGGI has been strong in policy for a number of years. My predecessor saw there was a gap in developing bankable projects, and he started green investment finance services.

In 2017, we mobilised half a billion dollars in green and climate finance for the first time. I increased our goals to mobilise a couple billion dollars in our strategic planning. We raise it by investor commitments. Although our clients are governments, sometimes they can’t find investment themselves for renewable plans. We help find projects, we bring investors to the table, they sign a letter of intent, we hand it to the government and they decide over it.

IPS: And what do you want to accomplish in the next two years?

FR: We want to demonstrate that we can do it. Our goal for 2020 is to raise more than two and a half billion dollars in green and climate finance. And then convince more governments that this is crucial. Not only renewable energy, also waste management, pollution, and green jobs. We want to get more evidence that this works, and scale it to more countries. Our goal is to transform countries’ economies to green growth.