UP research focuses on women in African agriculture

Posted on August 12, 2020

As we celebrate Women’s Month in South Africa, it is a fitting time to reflect on the role of women in food and nutrition security on the African continent.

Women play several important roles in African food and nutrition security, from farming to food preparation. They contribute significantly to agriculture – taking on both paid and unpaid roles in food production. More often than not, women prepare family meals and have a great deal of influence on the diversification of household diets. When women have direct control over income, they are likely to spend it on the well-being of the family, particularly on improving nutritional security.

Inequality persists

Despite the contributions of women in Africa to food and nutrition security, they face significant and persistent inequalities.

Women have less access to farming resources, technologies, and agricultural inputs. They have less access to credit and financing to support their farming activities and often do not own the land they cultivate. Women are also more vulnerable and less resilient to climate change and environmental degradation.

Women have less access to education and training, and are under-represented in decision-making spaces – at household level, at community level, in the scientific workforce and in policymaking spaces. They have less time available to focus on income-generating activities, carrying a higher proportion of domestic and care responsibilities in the household. Women are often paid less for their work and do not always have decision-making power over the income they generate.

These inequalities limit the contribution women can make to food and nutrition security and limit the benefits women derive from food systems activities. Addressing inequality in the food system presents a dual opportunity to improve food and nutrition security in Africa and eliminate inequality for the benefit of women.

The University of Pretoria’s commitment to empowering women to achieve food security in Africa

Bringing women to the table, and ensuring their voices are heard, is necessary to ensure that the priorities, preferences, talents and knowledge of women in African food systems inform our approaches to achieving sustainable development and gender equality. This includes ensuring women hold positions of leadership in the research landscape.

Professor Lindiwe Majele Sibanda (left), Dr Elizabeth Mkandawire (centre) and Dr Melody Mentz-Coetzee (right).

The University of Pretoria (UP), under the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence in Food Security, is leading two international collaborative food systems research projects funded by the UK Research and Innovation’s (URKI) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) – Capacity Building in Food Security for Africa (CaBFoodS-Africa) and the Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa). Both are focused on building research capacities within the African food system. The ARUA Centre of Excellence is a multi- and interdisciplinary entity working across faculties and disciplines to focus on complex challenges in the food system.

CaBFoodS-Africa focuses on skills development through training on topics such as food and nutrition security and post-harvest losses. Starting in July 2021, FSNet-Africa will offer two-year research career development fellowships to up to 30 early-career researchers from six African countries. At least 60% of the FSNet-Africa fellows will be female to help address the low proportion of women in African science. The FSNet-Africa fellows will be trained and mentored to consider the gender implications of their research, with several research projects adopting a specific gender focus. In this way, FSNet-Africa will be intentional about seeking evidence-based solutions to achieving gender equality in the food system.

Three recent appointees in these projects demonstrate UP’s commitment to African female research leadership.

Professor Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, a globally recognised African food systems expert, has been appointed to the ARUA Centre of Excellence. Prior to her appointment she was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship at UP. She serves as the Co-chair of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA), is a member of the SDG Target by 2030 Champions 12.3 on reducing food loss and waste, and a Commissioner for the EAT-Lancet Commission on Sustainable Healthy Food Systems. In July 2020, the Food Planet Prize appointed her as a member of their jury that will name two prizes of $2 million later this year.

Dr Melody Mentz-Coetzee was appointed to FSNet-Africa earlier in 2020 when the project was awarded. As a senior researcher in the team, her responsibilities include the monitoring and evaluation of the project. Dr Mentz-Coetzee has a wealth of experience in the monitoring and evaluation of capacity building initiatives in Africa. She previously worked with AWARD (African Women in Agricultural Research and Development) for over seven years on evaluating their fellowship programme targeted at building the capacity of female scientists in African agricultural research.

From 1 October 2020, Dr Elizabeth Mkandawire will take up the role of FSNet-Africa Research and Network Manager. She previously coordinated the United Nations Academic Impact Hub on SDG 2 at UP, where her responsibilities included developing narrative around on-going research at UP that advances SDG 2 – Zero Hunger. She also conducted research on gender, food security and nutrition policy. Her over seven years of experience in gender, food security and nutrition includes five years as a Research Assistant with UP’s Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-being.

Professor Frans Swanepoel, FSNet-Africa Principal Investigator and Director, said, “I am delighted that we have been able to attract such a diverse, dynamic and talented team of women to work with FSNet-Africa. Their expertise and contributions will be critical to the success of the project.” FSNet-Africa is a collaboration between UP, the University of Leeds and the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN). The project is co-directed by Dr Claire Quinn from the University of Leeds.  

UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Tawana Kupe said, “Food insecurity is a major obstacle to development and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The transformation of Africa’s food systems plays a critical role in not only achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of achieving food security and alleviating malnutrition; but also contributing to public health and providing opportunities to eliminate poverty.”

CaBFoodS-Africa is led by Professor Hettie Schönfeldt. She holds a South African Research Chair (SARChI) in food and nutrition security supported by the Department of Science and Innovation and the National Research Foundation.

- Author Dr Melody Mentz-Coetzee

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