* This article was published in The Huffington Post on 19 December 2016.

Most of Africa’s smallholding agricultural output is from women. It is counterproductive to continue seeing agriculture as a man’s pursuit.

Policy and investment decisions should be informed by the realities on the ground. This perspective resonates with the findings of the recent Africa Agri Investment Indaba organised by the African Agri Council – a network of global executives, decision makers and key stakeholders in the agricultural industry.

The Indaba took place on the back of growing optimism about agriculture’s potential contribution to economic growth, job creation, poverty reduction in Africa, as well as growing investment interest in the midst of all these initiatives.

The discussions covered a wide range of topics, from policy to technical challenges on farms and agribusinesses, all in an attempt to establish practical solutions that can make African countries an attractive investment environment for investors.

Similar to many agricultural engagements, the Africa Agri Investment Indaba had a few female participants, particularly amongst the panellists. This is regrettable as women’s role in African agriculture is significant – in both the labour market and farming. Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) shows that women make up almost 50% of the agricultural labour force in sub-Saharan Africa.

Moreover, the World Farmers Organisation posits that within the 80% of Africa’s agricultural production by smallholder farmers, a large part of it is by women. Given this structure of African farmers and the agricultural labour market, it is counterintuitive to continue seeing male domination in agricultural policy engagements.

Embracing diversity in agricultural policy making is critical, and the need to recognise and promote it should be embedded throughout the sector’s the value chain.
Besides the gender equality argument, we are missing out on the potentially rich diversity of views and the vital learning that would otherwise emanate from the very people that work the land in most African countries.

That said, some African countries have recognised women’s role in agriculture and they have responded by adopting new land laws that reinforce women’s land ownership rights. This is a positive development in unlocking investments in the sector and strengthening women’s participation and should be replicated throughout the continent.

Overall, discussions and planning about investments and other policy debates in African agriculture should mirror the actual structure of the sector. In that way, policy makers will be able to calibrate well-informed development programmes for the sector. In a similar vein, for investors to maximise the opportunities in the sector, they should directly engage the people who are working the land – their potential clients.

Embracing diversity in agricultural policy making is critical, and the need to recognise and promote it should be embedded throughout the sector’s the value chain. That needs to start at the top, with policy makers engaging women directly in their policy discussions and plans about the sector’s future.

Policy decisions have long term effects and need to be calibrated in a careful and well-informed manner. In order to achieve that, discussions and planning forums should be a representation of all parties in the sector. The fact that women are actively farming and many are showing interest in the agricultural sector sets a clear message of the need to actively engage and support them as these are key ingredients to enablement. It is only through such engagement and support that African agriculture can attain long-term inclusive growth.

This article is also available on: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/wandile-sihlobo/the-reality-on-the-ground-needs-to-start-informing-agri-policy/?utm_hp_ref=za-

Wandile Sihlobo
E-mail: wandile@agbiz.co.za