But land is only the first step. Women also lack equal access to inputs, including fertilizer, better seeds, mechanical equipment, and agricultural extension services that would connect them with information about improved agricultural practices.
This inequality is compounded by the unequal access to credit farmers need to purchase inputs. In Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe, studies have shown that women are less likely to benefit from financial services.
Improving access to financial services and agricultural inputs thus constitutes the second front for empowering women farmers.
Development agencies and non-governmental organizations have begun working to design women-focused financial services and programs to improve access to agricultural inputs. African women are also helping one another, with a growing number of women's organizations, such as microfinance groups, working to improve access to financial services, new technologies and information. In Kenya, members of such self-help groups are more likely than other women to know about climate-smart agricultural practices, for example.
The final front is perhaps the trickiest: Decision-making power. In far too many contexts, women farmers lack the authority to manage the crops they produce or the income they generate. This has far-reaching implications for development.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture is two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than in other sectors. Moreover, as the Goalkeepers report released last month by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation showed, women are more likely to invest resources under their control in meeting their children's needs (food and education). Given this, enabling women farmers to control their resources is important not only for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 – gender equality and empowerment of women and girls – but also for many others, including eliminating poverty (SDG1) and ending hunger (SDG2).
Although some progress has been made on all three fronts to empower women farmers, it is now near enough. To encourage further action, my colleagues at the International Food Policy Research Institute and I designed the Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index, which measures decision-making power, access to resources (including credit), control over income, time burdens and membership in groups.
By providing insight into the extent and sources of women's agricultural disempowerment in various contexts, the Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) – and a later, pro-WEAI adaptation that facilitates project impact assessments – is helping governments, donors and NGOs to design effective interventions. So far, the WEAI (including adaptations) has been used by 99 different organizations in 54 countries.
For example, WEAI insights guide Bangladesh's ANGeL project, which aims to identify actions and investments in agriculture that will improve women's nutrition and empowerment. When Africa's women farmers thrive, everyone benefits: The women themselves, the children they invest in, the communities they feed and the economies to which they contribute. With the right investments and policies, Africa's woman-run farms could produce a bumper crop of development. – Project Syndicate.