Improving food security and women’s empowerment in Africa

15 Oct 20

In Africa, villagers are facing increasing food insecurity, and rural women are some of the hardest hit. As part of the International Day of Rural Women this year, we are highlighting how women’s empowerment plays a vital role in increasing their food security.

Seventy-three-year-old Beatrice lives in a small village in rural Zimbabwe. For the past few years, her village has faced a severe drought, which has drastically reduced harvest sizes and driven up local food prices. According to the new Global Food Crisis Report Forecast, this year an estimated 4.3 million rural Zimbabweans, including Beatrice, are at risk of food security and in need of urgent action.

Food insecurity in Africa

Food insecurity in Africa is caused by long-term and severe droughts mean that crops have failed and driven up food prices across Africa.

But it’s more than just environmental factors: African countries like Zimbabwe are also going through an economic crisis, which has led to shortages of currency, fuel and power. Without fuel, farmers like Beatrice can’t afford to run their generators, so they can’t irrigate their crops during the long drought. Other issues that impact food security are the widespread poverty and spiralling inflation, which mean that low-income households can no longer afford staple crops like maize.

These factors frequently force households to eat less, skip meals and sell off livestock. Female-headed households like Beatrice’s are especially vulnerable.

Because Beatrice was struggling to afford the $5 USD for a bucket of maize at the nearby markets, she was selling off her chickens, falling into a cycle of debt and food insecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made the situation worse.

The Food insecurity impact

Food insecurity impacts everybody, but the consequences are especially dire for rural women, who rely on smallholder agriculture for their food and income.

Even though rural women are often productive and enterprising farmers, they rarely have the same access as men to credit, seeds, fertiliser and fuel for generators.

Women also usually receive less money for the same crops, and in many parts of Africa, including Zimbabwe, women frequently lack proof that they own the land they live and work on, and rarely formally inherit land from their fathers or husbands.

Women are also more likely to spend time collecting water and looking after domestic chores and the household, which leaves even less time for farming.

Empowering women to improve their food security

Food security projects in south Africa is an effective way to improve rural women’s food security through agricultural training and support.

In July 2019, Beatrice joined the Zimbabwe Integrated Community Development Program which is implemented by Caritas Australia and Caritas Gweru, and learned about groundnut production. Groundnuts are growing in popularity in rural South Africa, including Zimbabwe, as they are not only an excellent source of protein, fats and vitamins, but a natural nitrogen fixing crop. This makes groundnuts especially suitable for small-scale women farmers who have limited access to nitrogen fertilisers and often have farms with poor soil quality.

Through the Zimbabwe Integrated Community Development Program, Beatrice attended two training sessions in groundnut crop production and started to grow the crop herself, using seeds provided by Caritas Gweru.

This new crop means that Beatrice has been able to improve her harvests and increase her food security despite the ongoing drought.

“The groundnut seed has brought great joy to me, and I have already harvested 50kg of unshelled groundnuts,” says Beatrice. “This means that I will be able to use some for peanut butter and still keep some for seed for the next farming season.”

Women In Africa Water Scarcity
Beatrice with her new ‘tippy-tap’, a simple device that means she can now wash her hands with running water. Photo Credit: Caritas Gweru
Beatrice Africa Harvesting
Beatrice with her groundnuts harvest. Photo Credit: Caritas Gweru.