LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women in Africa make up 60 to 80 percent of the continent's smallholder farmers and produce 90 percent of its food, according to the Farming First coalition of farmers, scientists, engineers and industry players.
Yet women account for only 15 percent of landowners in sub-Saharan Africa, receiving less than 10 percent of the available credit and 7 percent of the extension services that promote farmer education.
At a London conference on the challenges of feeding the world, Rose Akaki, who has a 500-hectare farm in Apac, northern Uganda, where she produces beef and honey, described what it was like for women farmers in her country.
"Land ownership in Uganda is actually a preserve of men. Women basically own only about 1 percent of that land. Yet about 80 percent of the farmers in Uganda are women and they produce about 60 percent of their food that is used for feeding the country. If a woman is owning land, it's because she has purchased it using her own money, but as regards to family land, it is the men who own the land and they can do whatever they want with it.
The constitution of Uganda says women and men should have the right to land ownership but that is not being followed.
There's some slight change now because the civil society organisations have come in to protect the rights of women in acquiring land. It had been a problem with the widows. When the husband dies, the family land is taken over by the relatives of the husband and the woman has no control over it.
Sometimes you will find that a man decides to use the land for something that is not food production. For instance in northern Uganda, we are having tobacco growing and that is a cash crop not a food crop.
The responsibility of feeding the family is supposed a male business but now most of the rural men only think about what is in their pocket and if it is enough to go and sit among men and drink. A woman's concern is, 'are my children fed?' A woman will never eat unless the children have eaten. It is sad to note that somebody will be talking about growing tobacco at the expense of maybe growing cassava, potatoes, maize because they want to go for high-value crops. In certain areas, they have gone into growing sugarcane at the expense of food crops and it is bringing famine into their families.
In arable farming, we use the hand hoe. To plough one acre, if it is only the woman and the children hoeing, it may take about a week or so to open an acre. Animal ploughs are starting to come in but it's still minimal because you have to acquire an ox plough and you've also got to acquire the animals that should move them. So it becomes difficult for a rural family to have that. In the past, communally-owned tractors used to be there, but have disappeared. Now you have private tractors. For the rural farmer, where do you get money to hire such services?
The use of fertiliser is minimal. It is only commercial farms, which are few, that use fertilisers. The problem is money, especially for a rural African woman.
Farmer organisations have tried to advise farmers to form groups and make village collections. There are village collections where women come in and pool money and that money is borrowed by group members to help in making their lives easier.
It's better than nothing.
What would help is more land ownership for women. Food in the family is produced by a woman and if a woman has access to the land, more food would be produced. Also important are inputs and technology. Besides agriculture, women have the family to take care of. Inputs would reduce the time a woman spends on the farm.
I feel there's improvement because I can now stand up and speak and say 'I want this' - much as people are not hearing, and there's not much response. If women can organise themselves and pool their resources then we're moving towards the right direction."