Educating women key to sustainable farming in Africa

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Educating women is key to implementing sustainable farming, says study Copyright: Flickr/World Bank Photo Collection

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The successful implementation of sustainable agricultural practices (SAPs) in Sub-Saharan Africa is linked to improvements in women's education, according to a study.

SAPs are often touted as a solution to land degradation, low agricultural productivity and widespread poverty in the region.


  • Women's education has direct impact on sustainable agriculture uptake, says study
  • Designing interventions favourable to women smallholder farmers key to success, say experts
  • Short-term income deficits could hold back progress, experts warn

The new study is the result of research conducted in rural Ethiopia that aimed to identify interdependent factors affecting the adoption of SAPs in Sub-Saharan Africa and their impact on incomes and livelihoods. 

It was carried out by a team from the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

The researchers analysed a household survey — conducted between October and December 2010 — of 900 farm households working on 4,050 farming plots in three maize-growing regions of Ethiopia.

They identified the factors that influence the adoption of three key SAPs: using improved seeds; conservation tillage; and maize-legume crop rotation systems. They also compared how incomes were affected by the three different practices.

"We found that each year of education for women increases the probability of adopting more than two of the SAPs by 12 per cent," says Hailemariam Teklewold, the lead author and a research fellow at the University of Gothenburg.

"The impact of women's education was relevant in both male-headed and female-headed households," Teklewold adds.

The study says that, "in almost all cases, the adoption of a combination of SAPs provides more maize income compared to adopting them in isolation".

Farmers who adopted all three practices earned the largest net income of 5,580 birr (around US$300) per hectare per year, but those who adopted only one of the practices — intercropping, conservation tillage, or improved seeds — earned about US$100, US$128 and US$154 per hectare per year, respectively.

Solomon Jemal, an agronomist at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, says the study provides concrete evidence of the importance of mainstreaming gender issues in SAP efforts in Africa.

He tells SciDev.Net: "The study's findings should make stakeholders consider the important role of women in adopting SAPs, and of designing interventions that will be favourable to women smallholder farmers."

John Achieng', an agronomist at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, says the findings relating to women's education are highly relevant to Sub-Saharan Africa.

"About 70 to 80 per cent of farming activities in Sub-Saharan Africa are done by women, and, because girls drop out of school faster than boys, governments should ensure more women are given an education," says Achieng'. The higher one's level of education, the higher the rate of adoption of a technology, he says.

But Achieng' warns that implementing conservation agriculture also poses some challenges that are unfavourable to poorer farmers. For example, yields are usually lower for the first two years after implementation, although they pick up considerably in subsequent years.

Also, "many smallholder farmers grow crops and keep livestock, and will prefer to give crop residues to their livestock rather than keep them in the soil as SAPs require," Achieng' says.

Link to full study

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.