Politics of Poverty

Financing women farmers: Are we doing enough?

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Amenata Nibaly, in purple, and other women sell vegetables at the market in Sare Yoba village, Senegal. (Photo: Holly Pickett / Oxfam America)

Women farmers are critical to food security, nutrition, and climate change adaptation around the world. New analysis shows how we can better support them.

While hosting the amazing Monica Maigari, Nigerian Female Food Hero winner from 2014 in Washington, DC last week, I was once again reminded how important supporting women farmers is to ending hunger. Improving their productivity, helping them adapt to climate change and expanding market opportunities not only increases food availability and income, but contributes to better food security and nutrition.

In Oxfam’s meetings with government officials and donor representatives, we often argue that too little attention is paid to women farmers. But we wanted a way to show it. In order to try and capture just how much (or how little) support is going toward the needs of women food producers, we examined how much public finance went to the agriculture sector in six countries – Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and the Philippines. Our new policy brief, Finance for Women Farmers: The need to increase and redirect agriculture and climate adaptation resources underscores the large gaps women in the sector still face.

Generating a complete picture of all the funding flows to agriculture is no easy task.  A dizzying array of donors – new and traditional, bilateral and multilateral – channel funds to promote agriculture development in developing countries. This is on top of the budgets of the developing countries themselves.  African governments, under the Maputo Commitment, have pledged to allocate 10 percent of spending to agriculture. While there is no similar such target in other regions, around the world spending on the sector remains critical for poverty reduction.  Adaptation finance flows add an additional layer of complexity.

The threat climate change poses to agriculture underscores the need for investment in this sector. Hotter, drier conditions and more erratic and extreme weather patterns amplify the inherent risk of farming.  And support for vulnerable farmers and farming systems should be part of any government’s climate plan.  As countries have made commitments to tackle climate change in their Nationally Determined Contributions, the vast majority of them – 102 out of 113 – have included agriculture adaptation measures. Given its importance and the promise of new climate finance opportunities in the years ahead, the report incorporates a review of climate adaptation finance for climate change, specifically looking at the funds dedicated to agriculture.

On top of tackling the question of how much, the report digs into the questions of what for and for whom.  The exercise provided a wealth of information and insight that is useful in pushing governments to do more and better.

Looking across the data and analysis, three top takeaways are worth reflecting on:

  1. Despite rhetorical commitments, there are still large gaps between commitments and funding allocations in the agriculture sector. Among the African countries under review, only Ethiopia has reached the 10 percent Maputo target. The staggeringly small allocations to agriculture budgets in other countries – just 4.9 percent on average for the period under review in Nigeria, for example – mean governments cannot implement the programs necessary to achieve sustained growth in the sector and drive poverty reduction.
  1. The lack of gender disaggregated data in spending on agriculture, including adaptation finance, makes it difficult or impossible to ascertain whether women are receiving adequate support. While it is well-recognized that women farmers face legal and social barriers that reduce their productivity, governments are not doing enough to target resources to them.
  1. A fraction of needed funding for adaptation activities is being delivered, and only a sliver of spending is focused on agriculture adaptation and support for smallholder farmers. Mitigation activities remain far better funded. To make matters worse, in several countries the bulk of adaptation funding is being delivered as loans rather than grants, saddling developing country taxpayers with debt to address a problem they didn’t create.

This research paints a disappointing picture showing that we are doing far too little to tackle hunger and food insecurity, and to support prosperity and opportunity for small-scale farmers. Developing countries and donors alike need to increase their spending in agriculture in order to grow their rural economies so people can escape poverty. In addition, more funding needs to be directed to the adaptation needs of those least able to bear the risks and challenges from climate change. The world has set a goal of Zero Hunger by 2030. We know we aren’t doing enough. Will we wait until it’s too late?

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