CORAF, Women, and Agriculture Research and Development

The Executive Director of CORAF wishes to extend his warm greetings to all the hardworking women of CORAF and of West and Central Africa on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2018. In the following statement, Dr. Abdou Tenkouano highlights CORAF’s work in favor of women and states that gender issues are critical to its long-term plans to achieve food and nutrition security. Read on…

I just went back to look at the new 2018-2027 strategic plan of CORAF. In my content analysis of the document, I noticed that the terms women and gender are used 49 times. This is up from 30 mentions in the previous strategy written about ten years ago. Now when you look at our projects, our ambition seems even higher. For example, in the new West Africa Agriculture Transformation Program (WAATP) currently under design, we target the inclusion of 50 percent of women in all interventions.

What does this mean for CORAF and our determination to tackle some of West and Central Africa’s intractable challenges? In a way, what this suggests is that CORAF acknowledges that while poverty is a major challenge for countries and communities of our region, rural poverty is primarily feminine – and we cannot afford to bring research and development solutions that are insensitive to this harsh and unacceptable reality.

As the international community celebrates women, we at Africa’s largest Sub-regional research organization view this as an opportunity to highlight the many gender-sensitive technologies and innovations that if adopted can fundamentally transform the lives of millions of women, girls, and the general well-being of our populations.

How Well Are We Doing?

Between 2013 and 2016, CORAF spearheaded a multi-donor-funded technology generation and adoption project known as the Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF).

In the project completion report, they found that more women accessed, adopted and used innovative technologies to improve agriculture productivity in West Africa during the period 2013-2016.

Compared to the 2013 baseline during which the CORAF MDTF project started, data shows that women’s lot dramatically improved at the end of the project. Women nearly doubled their participation relative to their target. Specifically, close to 44,000 women were reached compared to a baseline of about 22,000 representing a 200 percent increase. Overall, the project reached about 100.000 people in participating countries and communities against a target of 82.000 people. “The resulting 123 percent achievement above the target was entirely due to the swelled number of women involved in the Innovation Platforms.”

“Women’s gains in the adoption of technologies and innovations have been impressive, with women getting closer to parity with men in these areas,” the report concluded.

Women as Catalysts of Innovation

To empower those in the fields is just side of the equation. Empowering women to lead the discoveries, inventions, and research of today and tomorrow is perhaps more critical. This is why CORAF has made the training of the next class of agricultural researchers a central priority. Take for example, since 2008, three out of every ten researchers trained under the West Africa Agriculture Productivity Program (WAAPP) have been women. Overall, over 1000 young researchers have been trained under WAAPP. And many more under our other projects. From our perspective, this is probably one of the only ways to generate research that meets the needs of women and girls of our region.

Gender Mainstreaming a Central Priority

In 2010, CORAF adopted a Gender policy to ensure that women issues are mainstreamed systematically in our activities. Since, the adoption of the plan in 2010, considerable progress has been made in addressing the concerns of women and girls in the access, adoption, and uptake of agricultural technologies and innovations in West and Central Africa.

Innovation Platform Approach Attracts More Women

In 2008, CORAF through the WAAPP created innovation platforms as part of a larger program to improve food systems in West Africa. These forums serve as spaces for the informal exchange, learning, sharing, and adoption of agricultural technologies, innovations and best practices among the major food chain players in a given community.  Most of the women participating in these platforms have gained new knowledge and the know-how to use certain technologies or begin start-ups through these spaces. This also explains why these platforms are critical to approach of reaching out to more women going forward.

And Why Should We Focus on Women?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, women represent 62 percent of the active farming population in Africa. They play a key role in food production and providing for their households. They have limited access and control over agricultural technologies and innovations, extension services, education, financial services, and rural employment, jeopardizing to this extent, efforts towards sustainable agricultural growth, food and nutrition security in the continent. There is no denial that despite all the speeches and action, we have not achieved what we desired in terms of inclusiveness and gender equality. Part of this the challenge of lack of education. This is why CORAF focuses on educating young female scientists and empowering communities and people to seize on opportunities to improve their livelihoods.

Going forward, therefore, we shall ratchet up our focus on women and hopefully through some of the technology and innovation solutions we bring to the table, we can collectively reverse the disturbing trend of rural and urban poverty affecting unfortunately mostly women. This is the minimum we contribute to the improvement of the plight of women in West and Central Africa.

Lastly on a personal note, I will reiterate our firm commitment to respect the integrity of women in the workplace. We have seen and heard many stories regarding the harassment of women in workplaces around the world. Harassment, in whatever form, is unjustifiable and intolerable. There is no doubt that CORAF is firmly committed to this dynamic of respect.

On behalf of CORAF staff, I wish you all a happy international women’s day 2018.