Extending ‘kitchen table conversations’ on the participation of women in sustainable agriculture – Fellows’ seminar by Elina Amadhila

2 June 2023

Gender matters and there is a need for gender-sensitive policies to enhance and improve the participation of women in agriculture and contribute to their overall empowerment. This is the opinion of Elina Amadhila of the Department of Management Sciences at the University of Namibia.

Amadhila is in the final residency of her Iso Lomso fellowship at STIAS. Her overall project looks at government agricultural finance interventions as instruments for social protection in developing economies but her current emphasis is a specific focus on the role of social protection for women in agriculture in Namibia. “This study focuses on social assistance or safety nets as measures to encourage agricultural production and its sustainability especially among women.”

STIAS Iso Lomso Fellow Elina Amadhila

She presented global work in this area via a video which emphasised that although social protection in agriculture is not a magic bullet, it is an investment that facilitates better coping strategies, increasing the economic potential and purchasing capacity of the household, and leading to improvements in child health and education. But there is a need to scale it up particularly to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal targets – especially SDG 2 – Zero hunger.

“The workshop I facilitated during this residency and my project overall has emphasised that social protection, which includes cash transfers and social insurance, can change things including access to education, the ability to acquire more resources (such as livestock, seeds and other inputs) and assist in implementing climate-change adaption strategies,” she said. “But gender matters and women are underrepresented in access to social protection which also doesn’t take account of gender-specific life-course risks and vulnerabilities (including maternity leave and child-rearing responsibilities).”

“The title of my seminar is inspired by the kitchen table conversations event held last year in Windhoek, Namibia to discuss the challenges that women face in agriculture in Namibia. I believed we needed to extend the conversation,” she said.

She pointed to major gaps in the research literature in this area – with most from Asia and the results are context specific to Asian economies and therefore not applicable to African countries, very little from Africa and an emphasis on collecting data from heads of households who are usually men.

“There is a need to ask women specifically about their needs to tailor an appropriate response,” she continued. “There have been studies conducted in the Global South with a focus on gender participation and social protection in agriculture, but the focus has never been on Namibia.”

Making women’s experiences more visible

“In the Global South women constitute 43% of the workforce. Namibia has a small population of 2 million with 51% women of which 21% are involved in agriculture concentrated in subsistence farming but they receive scant attention.”

She pointed out that although there have been great strides in reducing poverty in not only in Namibia but other African countries as well, these have been offset to some extent by population growth, climate change and increasing urbanisation. “Namibia is a country of persistent droughts and social protection may be the answer,” she added.

Although the country has a comprehensive social-protection system not that much goes into the agricultural sector. Amadhila’s specific study objectives are to explore the role and impact of social protection in farming and identify challenges for women in obtaining social protection. But, more broadly, she hopes to understand how social protection in agriculture can assist in reducing the gender gap, and enhancing female decision making and empowerment.  Empowerment being the ability to make economic decisions, to access resources such as adequate income and to own the land. Agriculture with or without insurance but without land will not progress.”

“The theoretical framework of the work is female economic empowerment,” she said. “

Teasing out the themes

Amadhila’s methodology for this study is qualitative, encompassing interviews using open-ended questions and purposive sampling (starting with women from the kitchen table conversation event) followed by snowballing and the inclusion of secondary data from agriculture surveys.

The majority of the 21 participants interviewed thus far were aged over 40, most had bachelor’s degrees and some post-graduate degrees. The majority were involved in livestock and horticulture and income on average from farming was about NAD $1000 per month. Eighty per cent of the women did not have any social-protection insurance – either because they didn’t know about it or because they believed they couldn’t afford it. Most did not own the land they farmed on – which was mostly residential backyard or urban farming. The majority had other jobs with farming as a side-line, and none were involved in high value-chain agriculture.

The main themes that Amadhila has teased out include the challenges to obtaining insurance and protection and issues around land ownership.

“Agriculture insurance penetration is low but the reasons why the penetration is low have been missing from extant literature. Many participants believed social-protection insurance to be unaffordable in view of the low income they made from farming or were not aware of the availability of social-protection insurance.”

“Furthermore,” she added, “many participants do not own the land they farm. Those who rent/lease land, lamented that it is expensive, which impacts on the affordability of other expenses such as water, social protection and other inputs needed to farm sustainably.”

“Land rights in Africa are a sensitive issue,” said Amadhila. “Land is mostly inherited, sometimes via community leaders, and given to men as the heads of households. There is a perception that women will marry and move away or the land will go out of the family. Action on land rights could assist in closing the gender gap and helping to fulfil women’s economic potential.”

“The government should consider subsidising social-protection insurance in collaboration with the private sector as long as this is justified in terms of cost-benefit versus alternative uses of taxpayer money,” she added.

She also emphasised the need for training including understanding markets, the return-on-investment value chain and how women can transition from subsistence to higher-value agricultural outputs.


Michelle Galloway: Part-time media officer at STIAS
Photograph: Ignus Dreyer

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