By Tiwonge Kampondeni:
Inessi Maliko, 50, is a Lilongwe-based smallholder farmer.
She and her husband have been farming since 1995. They have a five-acre land where they grow maize, beans, soya and sweet potatoes.
“We farm as a family. I make sure that I provide nutritious food for my family, which is why I always persuade my husband that we grow a variety of crops,” she says.
Maliko and her husband have adopted affordable climate-smart technologies to maximize production on their farm.
Not connected to Maliko’s farm, enterprises such as Green Impact Technology are developing technologies that would make farming more productive.
Green Impact Technology’s business manager, Joyce Sikwese, says the firm engages small scale farmers in developing organic fertilizer known as M’bwezera Nthaka. The fertilizer is made from bio-slurry, compost and poultry manure.
Besides reducing the burden of high inorganic fertilizer costs on farmers, M’bwezera Nthaka contributes to mitigating greenhouse effects and global warming by sequestering carbon in the soil.
According to Sikwese, in comparison with men, women have been adapting well to changes affecting farming, despite the fact that women farmers have less access to land, credit, modern technology, improved seeds and education as compared to men.
She therefore calls for concerted efforts to combat discrimination in land and natural resources’ access and remove gender-related barriers in accessing education, training and financial resources.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), allowing women to have equal access to productive resources as men in the agricultural sector could increase yields on women’s farms by 20-30 percent.
This, it says, would result in a 2.4 to 4 percent increase in total agricultural output in developing countries, followed by a 12 to17 percent reduction in hunger globally.
This is likely to be prominent in the next Africa Soil Health Action Plan to be launched at the African Fertilizer and Soil Health (AFSHS II) in Senegal later this year.
The summit is a follow-up to the first Abuja Summit of 2006.
The African Union Commission and its technical partners, which include the Africa Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes (Anapri), the Alliance for African Partnership (AAP), International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Africa Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (Afap), are working on preparations for the summit.
FAO estimates that 95 percent of food is produced directly or indirectly on soils and that soil quality is directly related to food quality and quantity.
Research has also revealed that intensive food production has been depleting soil nutrients for many years.
And given the strong link between healthy soils and high crop yields, agriculture experts urge for serious efforts in soil health regeneration.
Gender Equality & Women Economic Empowerment specialist for the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), Eva Sanou, notes that successful soil regeneration would necessitate participation of all actors, including men, women, and youth.
She says to increase agricultural productivity in a sustainable, resilient, and environmentally friendly manner, it is necessary for stakeholders to understand each actor’s contributions and facilitate their access to information and technical and financial resources.
“When all (actors) are visible and recognized for their efforts in the production chain, it will be easy for communities to adopt best practices for soil and land management.
“In this sense, the gender component is about highlighting everyone’s efforts and ensuring that everyone is compensated and empowered for and through their contributions to preserving healthy soils,” Sanou says.
And while women, men, and youth are said to have equal access to these opportunities, disparities still exist, she says.
“Access to the right information at the right time, combined with limited access to adapted financial products, has contributed to these gender disparities.
“When all actors do not have the same set of skills and information, the risk of counterproductive actions in soil and land management increases. These have primarily impacted women rather than men,” she says.
Sanou says the role of women does not need to be reaffirmed because it is clear that women are gatekeepers to the quality of produce consumed in households and communities.
“We simply need to strengthen their visibility and bargaining power over the right to learn, act, and earn revenue with best practices for soil management even when they are not land owners, as is frequently the case in Africa and around the world,” she says.
Nellie Magwero, a soil scientist and researcher at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, says gender equality and women’s empowerment are critical to promoting soil health and transforming Africa’s agricultural and food systems.
The importance of gender considerations in sustainable land management and soil health as a path to increasing agricultural productivity on the continent, according to Magwero, is critical because all actors will be included as partners.
Women like Maliko understand the value of good soils in producing nutritious food crops.
She starts by applying organic fertilizer in her field, which she later supplements with chemical fertilizers.
Green Impact Technology is one of the 24 youth-led enterprises to win the African Youth Adaptation Solutions Challenge (YouthADAPT).
It received a $100,000 grant to empower 20,000 farmers through cooperatives comprising largely women with expertise in producing and selling M’bwezera Nthaka.
Through the facility, the farmers will also receive pay-as-you-go solar water pumps for irrigation farming to maximize their agricultural productivity.
In Senegal, the Africa Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit is expected to draw on lessons learned since the first Fertilizer Summit in 2006 and incorporate the most recent technical knowledge to create an African Fertilizer and Soil Health Action Plan.
According to Sanou, the summit is the ideal platform for discussing how to help youth become champions of fertilizer and soil health management.
She says a proper cost structure analysis and a review of how flexible and adaptable technologies and innovations are put into women’s context are required to improve their access to farm inputs.
“Having women and youth-led demonstration plots to champion identified technologies and innovations will also help women farmers adopt such technologies and replicate the same in their fields,” she says —Mana