Technology helps Africa's women farmers close the gap

Sophie Mbugua – Thomson Reuters Foundation – Monday October 27, 2014 (originally published 23 Oct)

Woman farmer Kenya
A woman farmer in Meru, Kenya tends her crops. Image: Sophie Mbungu/TRF

Women farmers are the backbone of food production in much of Africa, but have long suffered from limited access to information and advice. In the continent’s east, new technologies and conventional media are now being used to help fill that gap.

Jane Kaburia, a small-scale farmer in the heart of Kenya’s Meru County, says erratic weather, poor seeds, expensive fertilizer and a lack of agricultural advice are among the challenges she and other farmers face in the region.

She has never come across an extension officer. “We take it on ourselves to seek out people who are knowledgeable on farming issues,” she said.

When Kaburia tried to plant French beans, they became infected by yellowish rust and dried up, so she gave up and started growing tree tomato (tamarillo). She has also struggled with seeds purchased from farm dealers that never germinated or yielded little.

Women produce as much as 80 percent of basic foodstuffs for household consumption and sale in sub-Saharan Africa and account for 70 percent of agricultural workers, according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). They also carry out 60 to 90 percent of marketing.

But many African governments have failed to ensure agricultural services are delivered effectively to disadvantaged groups, particularly rural women, says a new report from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). . .

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