ECOWAS member states have been urged to enhance the implementation of policies that would ensure that the rights of women and small-scale farmers are protected to improve efficiency in the agriculture sector.
The call was made by participants at a conference organised by the ECOWAS Parliament and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) on the side-line of the parliament’s Second Ordinary session in Abuja.
The event tagged; “Promoting gender equality in agricultural investment in Africa”, sought to address challenges faced by women farmers in the sub-region.
Participants reiterated that women accounted for about 60 to 80 per cent of smallholder farmers and comprised the largest percentage of the workforce in the agricultural sector.
They further stressed that inequalities between women and men in access to land, productive resources and income-generating activities undermined women’s capacity to contribute to the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Senior Officer for Gender, Equality and Rural Development from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Regional Office for Africa, Ms. Tacko Ndiaye, said it was germane to promote value in agriculture production.
Ndiaye said: “When we talk about these issues, we should really look at gender inequality not as a women’s issue per say, but a capability issue which undermines the full growth potential of the agricultural sector in ECOWAS member countries.
“When we talk about empowering women in agriculture, it is not just about production; it is also in the agricultural value chains, the food system.
“We believe that empowering women in those processes is a smart shortcut for achieving the SDGs but also for achieving the main goals of ECOWAS.”
She also said that supporting small-scale farmers with required resources would promote inclusive agricultural growth and increase food production, and sustainability.
The FAO representative added that protecting the rights of small-scale farmers could also enhance access to safe and nutritious food and facilitate the achievement of zero hunger by 2025.
Also speaking, Regional Director, West Africa Oxfam International, Mr. Adama Coulibaly, urged African governments to ensure the implementation of policies that protect the rights of smallholder farmers.
Coulibaly said it was pertinent for governments to have “well-balanced policies”.
“This is so that when investors invest in large-scale agriculture the rights of small-scale farmers are promoted and protected.
“The truth is that 80 per cent of people in agriculture in Africa are smallholders and we cannot just dismiss their rights.
“We have to make sure their rights are protected while those big investors are coming in, if not we will end up creating more vulnerabilities.”
Agriculture and Investment Advisor, Economic Law and Policy Programme, IISD, Ms. Carin Smaller, said that her organisation was working with governments to help influence laws aimed at achieving the SDGs.
Smaller added that it was necessary for governments to consider challenges faced by women while implementing programmes aimed at supporting their contributions to agricultural development.
“The fact that women don’t have secure land rights it is much harder for them to make agriculture productive; it is much harder for them to get a loan from a bank without a title, harder to access seeds or fertilisers and get training.
“There is a big issue around not only at the legal level, but also in practice, that when we do try to help women, making sure that you are doing things at the time and place that maximises the potentials for women to participate.”
She, however, said that the institute was working with members of the ECOWAS Parliament to boost their contributions to laws aimed at realising the SDGs.
“We are very active with parliamentarians and seeing what roles parliamentarians can play either at the legislative level or at an oversight level.
“Thus, making sure that laws that have been brought into place by the government are being respected and enforced and that their constituencies know about what is happening, and can apply these new laws and regulations.”