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Gender transformative change critical for nurturing an equitable rice sector in Africa

Gender experts present evidence and policy lessons on gender and youth integration in rice-based agri-food systems from Africa.

For centuries, rice has played a central role in Asia’s rice-based economies, so central that the crop has become a symbol for wealth, power, and food security. “White gold,” it has often been called.

This label is slowly taking on its own meaning in Africa, where rice is increasingly being seen as a strategic crop, a pathway out of poverty, and for women, a significant opportunity.

The extent of women’s participation and the roles they play in agri-food systems may vary across countries and regions, but the reality remains the same: women are central to the sustainable development of agri-food systems. However, social, political and market institutions which govern food systems portray elements of gender bias at all levels, holding back women in vicious cycles of time and income poverty.

Ranjitha Puskur, Research Leader for Gender and Livelihoods, International Rice Research Institute presented “Gender Equality and Sustainable Rice Agri-food Systems Transformation in Africa: Nurturing Synergies” at the East Africa Rice Conference 2021 (EARC2021), where key players gathered for important discussions on strengthening rice-based agri-food systems in the region.

There is still much to unpack, according to Puskur. Driving gender-transformative change requires adequate and credible evidence, of which we have little for Africa’s rice sector.

Fundamentally, agri-food systems are shaped by gender relations. Over time, skewed gender relations have resulted in huge gender gaps and curtailed women’s ability to engage in the most productive nodes of agri-food systems, with negative impacts for the system.

While women have the potential to become powerful agents of change, driving food systems transformation in Africa, Puskur suggests a shift in perspective to ask, “How can agri-food systems support gender equality?”