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Women in Agriculture: “Dear African leaders, it’s time to put your words into action” 1

A powerful and also very passionate woman, Frannie Léautier is the former Vice-President of the World Bank and has been the Executive Secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) from 2009-2013*. In this interview with Afronline, Léautier provides us with a sneak preview of the results of extensive scientific research into the role of women in the African agricultural sector which will be presented at the 22nd African Union Summit, to be held in Addis Ababa from 24 to 31 January.

“This research was conducted as part of the Empowering Women in Agriculture (EWA) initiative launched in 2012 during the 19th summit of the African Union,” explains Léautier. “We have been able to rely on the support of a high-level panel made up of six heads of state, including Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, and Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, as well as representatives from the private sector”. The initiative was coordinated by the ACBF, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS) and the “Gender is My Agenda Campaign” (GIMAC) network.

Little data is required to understand that the establishing of EWA and the efforts undertaken by Léautier on behalf of women in rural Africa have not arisen out of the blue. While women make up the majority of the workforce on average in Africa and produce, process and store up to 80% of foodstuffs, few can have access to land ownership, credits, services, ICTs or traning courses.

Despite the declarations of African political leaders, who never miss an opportunity to convey to women the importance of their role in the agricultural sector, signs of political, social, cultural, economic and legal progress have yet to be seen. “It is time to put words into action by following the example of those countries who have implemented tangible initiatives in recent years,” stresses Frannie Léautier, who believes the World Expo, to be held in Milan in 2015 and focusing on the topics of food and nutrition “will represent an extremely important opportunity to promote rural women in Africa.”

Dr Léautier, what are the main obstacles to the emancipation of African women in the agricultural sector?

In the countries where we conducted our research, women make up between 40% and 90% of the agricultural workforce. Our study also reveals a large number of initiatives here and there aimed at strengthening the position of women in the agricultural sector. Unfortunately, the impact and implementation of these initiatives are hindered by a lack of coordination and state funding which is insufficient for the goals of the African leadership. Some countries have drawn up clear strategies on gender equality but are then faced with a lack of funding. Fine words are not followed up by action and, where action does follow, there is a lack of coordination among the initiatives launched. Having said this, each country can boast a certain level of excellence. Rwanda, for example, has made significant progress in terms of promoting women in the Rwandan agricultural sector. For its part, the Tanzanian government has efficiently integrated the CAADP strategy at national level.

What impact has been made?

Access to land ownership, credits and new technologies remains an issue. Access to land is clearly a real problem. It is an enormous undertaking to be addressed with the traditional leaders, many of whom have shown willingness to embrace the cultural change required to allow women access to land ownership. But the political class also has to play its part. Unfortunately, gender equality is still not being tackled seriously today. This is a multi-sectoral issue that should be addressed by all of the departments of an African government but is instead delegated to the usual competent ministries with next-to-no powers. Having said that, there are some countries, such as Rwanda and Tanzania, which have made tremendous efforts to strengthen the position of African women. But this is not exclusively a gender issue. Agricultural work is not held in sufficiently high regard by African people. Young people do everything they can to leave the countryside. However, the agricultural sector could present major business opportunities, as well as ensuring the provision of an essential commodity in food. But we need to change people’s mentality, for example by training students to make their expertise and innovation available to producers.

In 2015 Milan will host the next World Expo, the theme of which is food. What opportunities could Expo 2015 offer Africa?

The themes chosen by Milan and Italy are ones of fundamental importance to our continent, especially for African women working in the agricultural industry. Expo 2015, and especially the “Women for Expo” project, promoted in tandem with the minister Emma Bonino and the deputy minister Marta Dassù, represent a unique opportunity to share experience and to create positive synergies for the benefit of women in the fields of agriculture, food and nutrition.

* Dr. Léautier left the Foundation last November to become the Managing Partner for Mkoba LLC.  Mkoba, a private equity company created to respond to the opportunities presented by Africa’s fast developing small and medium enterprises

©Vita/Afronline, Echos des Grands (Rwanda, Burundi, RDC), Les Echos (Mali), La Voix du Paysan congolais (RDC) e L’Autre Quotidien (Benin)

This post was firstly published on november 2013.

This article is published in the framework of an editorial project supported by the Universal Exposition of Milan (EXPO 2015).

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  1. Lydia Sasu says:

    I do strongly agree with Dr. Frannie Léautier. It is time to look at the role of rural women in Africa. Although most of us are illiterate but we produce the bulk of the food on the table feeding the country. Access to land is a major problem for rural women as we follow our men to farm. Rural women are not involve in decisions and policies.
    We would be very grateful to be part of this programme at Milan to share ideas and exchange of information.
    Thank you
    Lydia Sasu
    Development Action Association.

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