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[NAIROBI] African governments must place rural women farmers at the apex of agricultural research and scientific innovation to achieve sustainable development and economic growth, a conference has heard.

Experts at the Sharefair for Rural Women’s Technologies held in Nairobi, Kenya, last month (15-17 October) expressed concern that women remain marginalised in the promotion of technologies and innovations that support smallholder farming in eastern and southern Africa.

Participants at the forum were also informed that women were still grossly under-represented at the policy-making level in agricultural production research and in institutions that teach science, technology and innovation.

The three-day event was hosted by UN Women’s Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme.

“We really need to drive change here and involve more women in decision-making.”

Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development

Experts at the forum appealed for more investments in nutrition and for women to be placed at the heart of initiatives to promote agricultural research because of their significant role in farming and in the family.

“We should not only focus on increasing agricultural production but look at the systems,” said Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, director for African Women in Agricultural Research and Development, adding that only one in four African women are scientists and that only one in seven agricultural leaders are women.

Wanjiru challenged African countries to invest more and give a stronger voice to young women and upcoming scientists in order to build capacity in agricultural research on the continent.

“We really need to drive change here and involve more women in decision-making,” Wanjiru said. “Women are a critical component in unlocking Africa’s potential, but I really wonder why African women are talked about all over in agriculture with very few in practices. If we [do] not pay attention to women, they are easily forgotten.”

Wanjiru said there is need for women voices in nutrition, mechanisation and finances, noting that the failure to connect agriculture and nutrition is a result of long marginalisation of women voices.

Jacqueline Amuji, a Ugandan member of parliament and representative to the African Union (AU), said Africa must change the patriarchy system and ensure women have land ownership rights to access finances to advance agriculture. Amuji also called for more investments and support of young girls in agricultural research.

Rose Mwebaza, an advisor on women’s economic and political empowerment at the AU Commission, told SciDev.Net that the voice of women must be heard in policy-making at community, national and global levels for them to compete favourably with those in developed nations which have built capacity in men and women equally.

“In some African countries, 30 to 40 per cent of the population is starving due to improper diets,” Mwebaza said, adding that women are not being involved in the full value chain of agriculture, thus contributing to malnutrition, which affects the cognitive development of children.

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

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