Women play a central role in making food available and a crucial one in translating agricultural products and income into food and nutritional security. When a higher share of income accrues to women, substantial global evidence indicates that significantly, more will be spent on food compared to when the same increment is accrued to men.
In addition, and contrary to the traditional (unitary) household model, evidence shows that households do not behave as a unitary unit, and control over resources is individualized rather than centralised.
This means that improvements in food and nutrition at the household level are not just a function of improving the welfare of households; it is related to whom the improvement in welfare accrues to within the household.
For example, given that more than 70 per cent of women in rural areas in Kenya are more likely to be employed in agriculture, improved productivity among women farmers has huge potential in raising their incomes and enhancing food security among households.
Women and men face similar challenges in agriculture. However, the challenges of women are in most instances greater in magnitude and have direr consequences on household food security.
Women are disadvantaged in access to agricultural inputs and formal credit, improved technologies, marketing infrastructure, information on new agricultural practices, training and extension services.
The agricultural sector transformation and growth strategy dubbed “Towards Sustainable Agricultural Transformation and Food Security in Kenya: 2019-2029” highlights that agriculture employs about 75 per cent of Kenya’s women compared to 51 percent of men. However, only half of these women own farms.
This limits women’s ability to access high levels of credit with land as collateral. It limits access to higher quality inputs and ability to join farmer-based organizations that would facilitate access to high-end markets.
Unfortunately, information and statistics on women constraints are also non-existent, or under-reported in policy making.
Research by the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) shows the potential of improving household food security by double when women are empowered in agriculture, compared to men.
Research in rural Kenya further shows that female-headed households are more likely to be food-insecure than male-headed households due to gender gaps in endowment of resources.
For the Government of Kenya to secure citizens’ right to adequate and nutritious food, there is need to equally empower women and men’s capabilities (abilities to achieve) in agriculture. This is needed not only in terms of levels of food sufficiency at the household level, but also at the national, regional, and global levels.
Various food security indices identify five crucial areas of women’s empowerment and inclusion in the agricultural sector, namely: (1) decisions about agricultural production; (2) access to and decision-making power over productive resources (including agricultural credit); (3) control over use of income; (4) leadership in the community; and (5) time use (workload issues).
Evidence from developing countries shows that empowerment across the domains is associated with improved food security, more diverse diets and ability of families to buffer against the effects of climate.
While specific domains of women’s empowerment may matter differently for food security and nutrition, empowerment in one domain should not be at the expense of another; the domains complement each other.
For instance, a woman farmer facing inadequacy in leadership would lack voice, inclusion and participation in community development initiatives such as development of market infrastructure.
This is likely to affect other dimensions of empowerment such as autonomy in production and ownership of assets, underscoring the point that empowerment across all the domains is important.
Policies designed to improve food and nutritional security should therefore be informed by the level of farmers empowerment across the domains, and identify gaps for action.
Whereas there is strong commitment to improve food and nutrition security as reflected in the “Big Four” agenda, there is need to improve the capabilities of women and men in the various dimensions.
Towards this goal, various sectors of the economy need to work in harmony through multi-sectoral approaches to improve agricultural market infrastructure, voice and leadership of women in agriculture, access to agricultural finance, among other dimensions.
Food and nutrition multi-sectoral platforms are likely to have much higher positive impacts on agricultural productivity, food and nutrition security.
Ms Kihiu is a policy analyst at the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA)