Africa: Women – Anchoring Africa's Food and Nutrition Security

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Article originally posted on All Africa.

Proper nourishment – which extends beyond simply putting food on the table – empowers people to live and take on new opportunities. Yet Africa’s women, who often shoulder the roles of producing, purchasing and preparing the food on tables across the continent, are often excluded from decision-making tables in governments and communities.

With this, “Empowering Our Women, Securing Our Food, Improving Our Nutrition,” is not just the theme for this year’s Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security, but also an urgent call to action.

Without question, women anchor rural economies across the African Union’s 54 nation states. In fact, in some African countries, 90 percent of women are engaged in agricultural and related activities. Yet these women farm without secure land rights, remuneration, or access to machinery and technologies that could increase their harvest.

With increasing trends of rural-urban migration of youth, more and more African women are faced with the extra burden of taking over farming responsibilities to provide for the younger children. They find themselves doing more labourious jobs, ranging from farmland to vending in rural or peri-urban markets.

By implementing policies and programs that address these gaps and link rural farmers to urban markets, we can increase crop yields and transform the livelihoods – and the lives – of smallholder farmers, most of whom are women and mothers.

Ambitious targets outlined in the Malabo Declaration and the Sustainable Development Goals challenge us to help make this vision a reality.

Malabo reaffirmed a commitment to at least double agricultural productivity levels by the year 2025 – spurred by an increase in government investment and the engagement of women and youth.

But growing more food is not enough. As girls and women grow and produce so much of our food, the terrible irony is that they often do so while burdened by the effects of malnutrition. A lack of access to diverse, nutritious foods takes a toll on their health and well-being.

This affects – and limits – how they live their lives today, and has adverse and lasting consequences for the health, education and prosperity of their children. Simply put, we not only need to increase how much is grown, but also to increase the availability of diverse foods that support health and development.

The recently released Global Nutrition Report indicates that every $1 invested in nutrition yields a return of up to $16. Considering that 38 of the 55 countries working to improve nutrition as part of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement are in Africa, investing in nutrition would mean stronger families, communities, and countries – and a massive breakthrough for the entire continent.

In fact, there is no better time to revitalize our investment in a well-fed, well-nourished workforce as a means to drive economic growth across Africa.

According to a report released this year by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), almost all low-income African countries have the potential to reach middle-income status within the next 15 years. But, on this Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security, we must recommit to not only imagine a healthier, more prosperous future for the continent–but to work to make it happen.

The path forward requires a strong, unified commitment to better practices across the systems through which our food is grown, produced, packaged, stored, transported and sold. And those of us at all points of the system – from government to civil society, farmers to fathers, producers to consumers – we can all look for opportunities to change.

The right investments in agricultural food systems will strengthen communities and grow economies – not only by helping farmers increase productivity, but also by ensuring that every African man, woman and child gets the nutrients they need to reach their full potential and actively contribute to society.

But we cannot achieve any of this without addressing the challenges facing women farmers. Supporting our women and girls is crucial if we want to achieve transformational gains not only in agricultural productivity and nutrition, but in all aspects of society.

As we gather here in Kampala to mark the Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security, let us answer the call to empower women, secure our food and improve nutrition. By doing so, we will make great strides to securing a stronger future for all people across the continent.

By Rhoda Peace Tumusiime

Rhoda Peace Tumusiime is the Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union Commission (AUC), and member of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition. Prior to her current post, she held various senior positions in the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of the Republic of Uganda, including those of Commissioner for Agricultural Planning and Commissioner for Women and Development. Food and nutrition security remain central to Tumusiime’s focus as AU Commissioner, with a special interest in women’s empowerment, agricultural development and poverty eradication, among other causes.

Read about the Global Panel events in Kampala