Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – Thousands of women farmers in Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda could escape a life of poverty if better policies were adopted to bridge a yawning gap in agricultural productivity between women and men, according to a World Bank and UN report.
The study by the World Bank and UN Women measured the economic costs of women farmers in the three east African countries having less access to land, labour, fertiliser, crop choice and machinery that made them less productive.
Previous studies have found women farmers in Africa produce between 13 percent and 25 percent less than male farmers.
It found as many as 238 000 people in Malawi, 80 000 in Tanzania, and 119 000 in Uganda could be lifted from poverty if this agricultural gender gap was addressed as studies show women reinvest 90 percent of income into families.
Agriculture is a key engine for most African economies, representing a critical source of income and ensuring food security and nutrition, with women comprising almost half of the agricultural workforce in sub-Saharan Africa.
"I'm very efficient when it comes to farming but since I don't have access to the land I'd need for irrigation, I often produce less as a result and the whole family suffers," said Salima Nyantole, a women farmer from Morogoro in southern Tanzania.
"If we had a system that gives us equal rights to use land as we please I am sure we would be better off."
The report, titled "The cost of gender gap in agricultural productivity in Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda", said gender issues were not fully reflected in the countries' agricultural policies and this needed to be addressed.
Analysts estimated that the gender gap was wiping $100 million off the annual economy in Malawi, $105m in Tanzania, and $67m in Uganda.
"These estimates can help policymakers understand the scale of the problem to help design better policies to improve women's ability to use agriculture to lift themselves out of poverty," said the report released this week.
Caren Grown, senior director of the World Bank's Gender Group, said she hoped the report would be used by policymakers to implement "gender-sensitive and environmentally sustainable agricultural policies and programmes".
The report found women farmers in the three countries have lower levels of education than men and are more often single.
In Malawi 70 percent of women farmers are widowed, divorced, or separated, against 3 percent of male farmers while this figure is 67 percent in Tanzania compared to 9 percent of men.
In Tanzania, women farmers cultivate about 0.6 hectares of land on average while male farmers cultivate more than 1 hectare. In Uganda, women farmers cultivate plots that are on average about 0.23 hectares smaller than those managed by men.
Women farmers in Malawi are less likely to grow cash or export crops with a 28 percent gap in the area of land devoted to export crops in Malawi by men or women.
Commenting on the report, Judith Kizenga, deputy director in Tanzania's Ministry for Community Development, Gender and Children, said the government was working on a number of programmes to better balance gender equality in agriculture.
"We are trying our very best to ensure that women are empowered so that they can make a meaningful contribution to the economy," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.