Levelling the Field: Improving Opportunities for Women Farmers in Africa


  • Women farmers in Africa produce between 13% and 25% less than their male counterparts
  • A new report from the World Bank and the ONE Campaign identifies factors holding back women farmers and provides policy guidelines to reduce inequality
  • Addressing the agriculture gender gap will help drive economic growth across Africa

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2014 -Although almost half of the agricultural workers in sub-Saharan Africa are women, productivity on their farms is significantly lower per hectare compared to men, according to a new report jointly published by the World Bank Group and the ONE Campaign. 

“Levelling the Field: Improving Opportunities for Women Farmers in Africa” delves into the scale and causes of the striking differences between how much men and women farmers produce in six African countries-- Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda-- which together make up more than 40% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population.

The report, the first of its kind with access to better data and new approaches to analyzing gender gaps, reveals deep rooted inequalities in African agriculture, identifies factors holding back women farmers, and sets out concrete actions that policy makers can take to reduce inequality.

In the six countries profiled, the report found that productivity on womens' farms is significantly lower per hectare compared to men, ranging from 13% in Uganda to 25% in Malawi. Even though women make up a large share of Africa’s farmers, they tend to be locked out of land ownership, access to credit and productive farm inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and farming tools, support from extension services, and access to markets and other factors essential to their productivity. The report also found that equal access to resources such as fertilizer, farm labour and training does not always translate into equal returns for women farmers.

Closing the gender gap could help reduce hunger and improve livelihoods for Africa’s growing population, which is expected to quadruple within the next 90 years. If women worldwide had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30% and raise total agricultural output by 2.5–4%. Gains in agricultural production alone could lift 100 to 150 million people out of hunger, according to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate.

Enabling women farmers to be more productive may also benefit Africa’s next generation--families in which women influence economic decisions allocate more income to food, health, education and children’s nutrition. Improving gender equality through agriculture could therefore translate into a generation of Africans who are better fed, better educated and better equipped to make productive contributions to their economies, within agriculture and beyond.

To narrow the gender gap, the report calls for African governments to address key policy areas which will help empower women farmers. These include the following:  

  1. Strengthen women’s land rights
  2. Improve women’s access to hired labour
  3. Enhance women’s use of tools and equipment that reduce the amount of labour they need on the farm
  4. Provide community-based child care centres
  5. Encourage women to use more, higher quality fertilizer
  6. Increase women’s use of good quality seeds
  7. Tailor training to women’s needs and use social networks to spread agricultural knowledge
  8. Promote the cultivation of high-value and cash crops to women farmers
  9. Help women access and participate in markets
  10. Improve the education levels of women farmers


Ari Goldberg, ONE Campaign

Lillian Foo, World Bank Group