Closing Africa’s Agricultural Gender Gap

SEATTLE – Africa’s GDP is now growing faster than any other continent’s. When many people think about the engines driving that growth, they imagine commodities like oil, gold, and cocoa, or maybe industries like banking and telecommunications. I think of a woman named Joyce Sandir.

Joyce is a farmer who grows bananas, vegetables, and maize on a small plot of land in rural Tanzania. When I met her in 2012, she had just harvested her first crop of maize grown from a seed specifically adapted for Tanzania’s climate. Even during a bad crop year that caused many of Joyce’s vegetables to wither and die, her maize crop flourished. Without it, her family might have risked going hungry. Instead, the maize harvest ensured that Joyce’s family had enough to eat – and even enough extra income for Joyce to pay her children’s school fees.

As Joyce’s story demonstrates, agriculture is crucial to Africa’s future. Farmers make up 70% of Africa’s workforce. They are the foundation of its economy, and the key to triggering its broader growth. Research shows that increasing agricultural productivity is the most effective way to reduce poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

In fact, agriculture offers the continent its best opportunity to turn a vicious cycle of poverty into a virtuous cycle of development. That is why leaders and policymakers from across the continent have declared 2014 Africa’s Year of Agriculture and Food Security.