However, the exact contributions both in terms of magnitude and of its nature are often difficult to assess and show a high degree of variation across countries and regions.
In Tanzania their essential contributions to the agricultural and rural economies cannot be under- estimated.
Their roles vary considerably between and within regions and are changing rapidly in many parts of the world, where economic and social forces are transforming the agricultural sector.
Rural women often manage complex households and pursue multiple livelihood strategies. Their activities typically include producing agricultural crops, tending animals, processing and preparing food, working for wages in agricultural or other rural enterprises, collecting fuel and water, engaging in trade and marketing, caring for family members and maintaining their homes.
Many of these activities are not defined as “economically active employment” in national accounts but they are essential to the wellbeing of rural households.
Agriculture sector positioned as a major source of livelihood in rural Tanzania, but characterised with poor technology and socio-economic disparities.
Women make up almost 50 per cent of the agricultural labour force in sub-Saharan Africa, an
increase from about 45 percent in 1980.
The averages in Africa range from just over 40 per cent in Southern Africa to just over 50 per cent in Eastern Africa.
Last week, a local Non-Government Organisation, Land O’ Lakes International Development announced plans to raise 150m/- for the Centre for Advancement of Women in Agriculture in Tanzania (CAWAT) to enable the organisation build capacity for women in the country so they can practice agriculture at an enterprise level.
According to the Land O’ Lake International Development Chief of Party, Dr Rose Kingamkono, the proceeds, raised through a fundraiser (Harambee), will be used to train women develop their business skills and plans.
Further, it will train them on how to pitch their businesses to potential investors, promote their innovations to potential customers and last but not least, link them with potential investors.
She said that was in addition to advocating for policy changes that promote gender equality, thereby creating an enabling environment for women to embrace agro-business practices.
Dr Kingamkono further stated that the CAWAT programme was a carry-over from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded Innovation and Gender Equality (IGE) project, which for the past 4-1/2 years has been at the forefront of promoting Tanzania’s household food security programmes and whose lifespan ends next month.
Currently, CAWAT is in its early stages of transitioning from being an IGE supported entity to one that is fully independent. As is the case with all new organisations, forming a fully-functioning, well-managed and financially viable independent entity is a lengthy process, hence the call for Harambee (fundraiser).
Dr Kingamkono’s decision to spearhead the formation of an organisation that will take over from IGE is a step in the right direction.
A well-funded CAWAT will provide continuity to the IGE programmes that have been building capacity for women to practice agro-business, and helping change an entrenched perception that agriculture is an employer of the last resort, especially after graduates miss out on white collar jobs.
Through pilot projects spearheaded by IGE in 13 districts and four regions of Mbeya, Iringa, Morogoro and Songwe, women farmers have benefited from innovative local solutions that have reduced time spent on their farms while increasing productivity.
IGE has also held several seminars to build capacity in entrepreneurship and promote policies in gender equity in agriculture.
Statistics indicate that in Tanzania, over 70 per cent of the population resides in rural areas. Out of this, it is estimated that approximately 98 per cent of rural women classified as economically active are engaged in agriculture. Recent statistics also indicate that the sector contributes 26 per cent of the national wealth.
Nevertheless, these women are faced with a myriad of problems that work against them. For instance they have to grapple with archaic customary laws that have by and large deprived them of decision-making at the household level, ensuring that the man continues to call the shots in all farming-related activities, even in those where women contribute the majority of the labour.
It is therefore easy to see why more efforts and resources must be directed towards ensuring that women are given capacity to practice agro-business, since they carry the major responsibility for both subsistence agriculture, especially food crop production, and domestic work.
Time use studies have also consistently shown that women spend more hours per day than men in both productive and reproductive activities.
That is precisely why the proposition to fund CAWAT must receive unequivocal support from all well-wishers, whether individuals or corporations from the private or public sectors.
Currently, CAWAT is fully dependent on volunteer support and continues to receive financial support through USAID/IGE programme. CAWAT therefore requires full support from the public and private sectors to stand on its own.