Women’s lack of access to education creates barriers for their success in many arenas, including in agriculture.
Research indicates that every additional year of education that a woman receives results in agricultural returns anywhere from 2 to 15 percent, and educated women are more likely to adopt new technologies.
Investments in women’s education (and achieving SDG 4 and SDG 5) should be part of country and donor plans to achieve SDG 2.
It is widely accepted that access to agricultural inputs, like land, improved seeds, fertilizer, and technology, is crucial for increasing the agricultural success of smallholder farmers. Providing female farmers with access to these resources would go a long way, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in closing the 20-30 percent yield gap between women and men in agriculture (2011). However, educating women is too easily overlooked as one of the main ways we could increase the agriculture productivity of female farmers and thus, the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2: Zero Hunger.
Although the link between the education of women and increased food security is made on occasion, these two sectors aren’t consistently and systematically linked in development discussions and interventions. For example, both the African Union’s 2003 Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security and FAO’s 2017 Strategic Framework discuss the importance of women’s education for achieving food security only to a limited extent. This is a missed opportunity, because there is mounting evidence, as outlined below, that education is key to enhancing women’s role in agriculture, mainly by increasing their productivity and income.
Lack of access to education (addressed in SDG 4) is a widespread issue across the developing world, and it affects women to a greater degree than men (addressed in SDG 5). According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), two-thirds of the worlds’ illiterate adults are women (2017). Women’s lack of access to education creates barriers for their success in many arenas, including in agriculture. The 2009 Global Hunger Index found that “higher levels of hunger are associated with lower literacy rates and access to education for women” (2009, 5). A study in India uncovered that education had a positive effect on agricultural income for both male and female farmers, mostly due to “improved decision-making and managerial skills, increased access to market information, reduced risk aversion…and increased adoption of newer technologies” (Panda 2015, 523). In Kenya, the impact of education has been found to have a greater impact on female farmers’ agricultural output than male farmers’ output (Moock 1976). An empirical review found that every additional year of education that a woman receives results in agricultural returns anywhere from 2 to 15 percent, and that educated women are more likely to adopt new technologies (Quisumbing 1995). All of this evidence makes it hard to deny that there is a positive link between the level of education of female farmers and their agricultural success.
These findings highlight the need for development and government actors to invest in the education of women generally, but especially education that also focuses on agriculture knowledge and gender-sensitive capacity building. This can occur in both formal and informal settings, and at different levels. An example of a formal, higher education agriculture-focused initiative is the African Rural University (ARU) in Uganda. ARU trains women in that country to become agriculture professionals through a curriculum that focuses on interactions and collaborations with local communities. The opportunities given to women through ARU have led to increased food security and better nutrition, along with higher incomes for families in Kibaale district (Juma 2015).
When development practitioners and policymakers treat the importance of women’s education and increased agricultural productivity among smallholder farmers as separate and unrelated goals, they miss the opportunity to capitalize on the evidence that the former goal could lead to the achievement of the latter goal. Development organizations should seek to break down the silos between these important objectives, and better synergize their education programming with their agriculture programming. In addition, ministries of education and ministries of agriculture should take a whole-of-government approach to this issue, and invest and allocate funding and budgets to support the education of female smallholder farmers specifically. In sum, the evidence makes it clear that investing in women’s education (and achieving SDG 4 and SDG 5) should be part of country and donor plans to achieve SDG 2.
The authors, Juan Lattanzio, Sandy Maroun, and Rebecca Rewald, are graduate students at The George Washington University, in Washington, DC, US.
“2009 Global Hunger Index. The Challenge of Hunger: Focus on Financial Crisis and Gender Inequality.” 2009. Welt Hunger Hilfe, IFPRI, Concern Worldwide. http://ebrary.ifpri.org/utils/getfile/collection/p15738coll2/id/15025/filename/15026.pdf.
Juma, Calestous. 2015. The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa. Vol. Second. New York, N.Y: Oxford University Press.
“Literacy Rates Continue to Rise from One Generation to the Next.” 2017. UNESCO Institute for Statistics. http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/fs45-literacy-rates-continue-rise-generation-to-next-en-2017_0.pdf.
Moock, Peter R. 1976. “The Efficiency of Women as Farm Managers: Kenya.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 58 (5):831–35. https://doi.org/10.2307/1239979.
Panda, Sitakanta. 2015. “Farmer Education and Household Agricultural Income in Rural India.” International Journal of Social Economics 42 (6):514–29.
“The State of Food and Agriculture.” 2011. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/i2050e/i2050e.pdf.
Quisumbing, Agnes R. 1995. “Gender Differences in Agricultural Productivity: A Survey of Empirical Evidence.” Washington DC: IFPRI. http://cdm15738.contentdm.oclc.org/utils/getfile/collection/p15738coll2/id/125551/filename/125582.pdf.