Women, tech key to curbing food insecurity in Africa

women carrying small sacks of food
Copyright: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

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[KAMPALA] Every time I hear about hunger and malnutrition, my thoughts drift to the millions of African women who toil on farms, but see their children remain hungry.

At such moments of reflection, I often wonder how vulnerable African women and children can be rescued from this vicious cycle of food insecurity and malnutrition.

When I attended the 6th Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security in Uganda last week (28-30 October), the discussions around the theme “empowering our women, securing our food, improving our nutrition” gave me some insight into what needs to be done to address this issue.

Focusing on identifying and harnessing these social advantages could help in tackling the technological challenges faced by African women.

Pauline Okoth

I realised that while the solution to the perennial food security and nutrition problem lies in the hands of women, major obstacles remain, particularly land security tenure.

I spoke to Josephine Kiamba, a senior technical adviser of New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) — which organised the meeting —   and the UK-based Partnership for Child Development, Imperial College, London.

“I think technology is an even bigger hindrance for women than land,” Kiamba told me, reasoning that more women have access to land for food production even if they don’t have ownership.

Kiamba says access to technology reduces the time women spend in farm-related activities, allowing them more time to take better care of their children.

However, as technology improves, she adds, the men tend to take over, noting that in the food system, technological innovations such as bio-fortification, mechanisation and information and communication technology do more than saving time: They produce better quality and quantity outcomes.

Silvia Magezi, the country manager of Harvest Plus, Uganda, says the organisation is supporting the development and promotion of biofortified food including orange sweet potatoes in Uganda.

From Magezi’s experience, women may have access to technology, but if the technology in question is too complicated, they will often require the help of men. If this help is not available, they are unable to access such technologies.

So I asked myself: What use is agricultural technology if it locks out women? Isatou Jallow, a senior nutrition and partnership advisor at NEPAD, also shares in my concern, wondering what use information is if it can’t serve the people at the community level.

Jallow says NEPAD is developing a robust online knowledge management platform for adoption and customisation by different African countries in line with locally available technologies.

I found out that there are various interventions that are adapting technology to women’s needs, for instance by making smaller, simpler machines. However, I suppose the answer lies in the unique social advantages that African women possess.

Magezi says women work well in groups and are good at saving, adding that in well-functioning groups, educated women tend to bridge knowledge gaps for the less educated ones and that group savings can help women acquire better technology.

Thus, my conclusion is that focusing on identifying and harnessing these social advantages could help in tackling the technological challenges faced by African women, consequently contributing to food security and improved nutrition. 

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