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Levelling the field: improving opportunities for women farmers in Africa

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While agriculture across sub-Saharan Africa forms the backbone of many nations' economies, women are largely locked out of land ownership, access to credit and productive farm inputs, as well as support from extension services. This report seeks to focus international attention on the impediments that African women farmers face, presenting the clearest evidence to date on the breadth and depth of the resulting gender gap in agricultural production. The report brings together data from national statistics offices, with assistance from the Living Standards Measurement Study – Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) programme, to profile six countries: Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, Niger and Ethiopia. Detailed analysis examines the possible reasons behind the gender gap in each country, leading to concrete policy proposals to redress the constraints women farmers face.

The LSMS-ISA programme contrasts with prior available evidence in that the surveys are nationally representative and contain information at the level of individual farm managers and plots, thus allowing for a rich and detailed assessment of gender dynamics. The authors apply decomposition analysis (a statistical method usually used in labour economics) to the agricultural sector, yielding new insights on the effects of various factors on women’s farming productivity. Each country profile provides detailed gender disaggregated analysis and policy priorities.

Among the key findings of the study is that productivity gaps range from 13% in Uganda, up to 25% in Malawi. However, when accounting for plot-size and geographic differences, the gaps grow even starker, ranging from 23% in Tanzania to 66% in Niger. Contrary to the conclusions of previous, more methodologically limited studies, the results of this study show that, even when women and men have equal access to any given input, productivity gaps remain; this signals that broader norms, market failures, or institutional constraints influence the effectiveness of these resources for women. In northern Nigeria, plots farmed by women produce 27% less per hectare than men. In the south, an initially significant gender gap disappears after key productive factors are accounted for. This indicates that, if women in southern Nigeria had access to similar agricultural inputs as men, the productivity gap may disappear.

The report recommends that a “challenge fund” be created to support the piloting and scaling up of effective policies. Also, national agriculture plans with a clear focus on the different needs of male and female farmers should be supported. Finally, the report's findings should be considered in relation to donor programmes, including the use of gender analysis to inform programme design, and the collection of sex-disaggregated data as part of monitoring and evaluation processes.