Female headed households require more than farm input to boost food production
Gender food security gap can be minimised but cannot be completely closed even if female headed households have the same land quality, resources, input, human capital and access to institutional services as male headed households, a study has revealed.
The study, done by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) recently found out that 9.6 per cent of female headed households suffered chronic food insecurity.“Nearly 58 per cent of men headed households were food secure but only 43 per cent for female headed households, a 15 percent difference,” said Dr Menale Kassie in an exclusive interview with Kenyan Woman.
In many countries in Africa, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of female headed households in recent years. This is caused by deaths of husbands, family conflicts and disruption, male migration for work, women deciding not to marry, changes in women’s roles and increased empowerment of rural women.
However, female headed households are usually disadvantaged in terms of access to land, livestock, other assets, credit, education, health care, markets and extension services.
Women’s isolation from the public arena, greater time scarcity, and lack of mobility limit their access to markets. They usually have less information about prices, rules and rights to basic services.
Moreover, distance from the market may limit the ability to sell or purchase in markets in the absence of adequate transport facilities.
In a study that was done in the maize growing regions of Eastern and Western Kenya that has high rainfall patterns, chances are that female headed households would be food insecure was six per cent higher than that for men headed households and 12 per cent higher for transitory food insecurity.
“The study found out that if resources of male headed households are made the same as that of female headed households,these households would have their food situation worse,” Menale notes.
The study calls on the government to focus on enhancing productivity of smallholder farmers since exploiting the agricultural frontier for bigger farms is no longer feasible.
He adds: “We encourage those in policy positions to work closely with academia and other research institutions to bring to farmers cutting edge social science research to unearth these issues and inform appropriate policy response.”
However, development partners and policy makers should facilitate and encourage female headed households to adopt recommended intercropping and soil fertility enhancing practices to increase productivity and thus improve food security.
It also recommended the strengthening of local institutions to help women easily access information, credit and market.
The study that involved 484 men and 121 women suggested that women groups be encouraged by providing them with financial support and training as they are better placed in sustaining their home food chain.
“The strengthening of social groups that uplift female headed households since belonging to certain social networks were found to be associated with better food security outcomes for these households,” Menale reiterated.
He said that women need information on how to ease their access to inputs, market outlets, credit facilities and transaction costs that they face.
Menale observed that due to the social capital network, policy makers should continue to work on strengthening female farmers’ groups by providing financial support and training.
“These institutions can effectively provide smallholder female headed households with access to inputs, market outlets as well as credit and information that can reduce the transaction costs they face,” Menale noted.
Because area expansion is infeasible due to land scarcity in Kenya, policy makers could instead look at how to increase productivity per unit area, such as using intercropping practices in order to help farm households, particularly female headed households, escape food insecurity.
Although little can be done with respect to distance to markets, policy interventions could enhance road quality and traffic by improving road networks and maintaining existing ones.
“Female farmers in Kenya tended to focus on producing food crop rather than cash crop to a greater extent than men may reduce overall women income further, but it might also, to some extent, reduce the food security impact of having fewer productive resources,” noted Menale.
He observed that a bigger share of women’s contribution to the household income is spent on food and on private goods for women, while a bigger share of men’s contribution to the household income is spent on alcohol and tobacco and on private goods for men.
In Kenya, women contribute the bulk of the agricultural labour but they have a poor command over a range of productive resources, including land since land registration and legislation from the colonial period favoured male ownership of land.
The use of important communal resources employed in agriculture has frequently also been gender biased, both through discrimination against women when such resources are sub-divided and privatised as well as through customs and management practices that exclude women.
However, female members of male headed households access these resources indirectly through male household members. Inheritance practices have frequently entailed male heirs inheriting land and female heirs.
According to Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) gender equality has been a key aspect of many development projects in the recent past. This is because gender inequalities and a lack of attention to gender in agricultural development have contributed to lower productivity, higher levels of poverty and under-nutrition.
The 2012 World Bank development report entitled Gender Equality and Development warned that failure to recognise the roles of men and women as well as the differences and inequalities between themposes a serious threat to the effectiveness of agricultural development strategies in the world..