Empowering Female Farmers to Close the Gender Yield Gap
Women play a crucial role in agriculture across sub-Sharan Africa. In Mozambique, women make up more than 70% of the agricultural labor force; however, the productivity of female farmers is generally lower than their male counterparts. This is attributed to many factors, including unequal access to quality seeds and other inputs, the knowledge gap and cultural norms that make women less mobile, and time constraint.
To address some of these barriers, the Feed the Future Mozambique Improved Seeds for Better Agriculture (SEMEAR) made concerted efforts to reach more female farmers. SEMEAR encouraged women’s participation through gender-inclusive seed production and delivery systems that enhanced accessibility to seed varieties preferred by women. The project also ensured that women had access to extension services through various capacity-strengthening activities and demonstration plots hosted by female community champions.
Amélia Bitone, a farmer at Magige, a community in the Gurué district in Zambezia province, is one of the champions in the community who believes that female farmers are just as efficient as men when they have access to productive resources. She went further to prove her belief. Amélia is a soybean farmer and in 2016, she attended a training session on good agricultural practices conducted by SEMEAR, focusing on the use of good quality seeds of varieties tolerant to drought, pests and diseases; appropriate planting time; row spacing; and planting density. Amélia was happy with her harvest that year, and desperate to improve her soybean yields, she attended several training sessions organized by SEMEAR. She also hosted demonstration plots on her farm to disseminate the knowledge she had acquired and help strengthen the capacities of female farmers in her community.
With improved knowledge and confidence, Amélia expressed an interest in seed production, so she joined a soybean seed production training session conducted by SEMEAR for community seed growers. The seed growers were trained and supported with extension services and then linked to the Seed Inspection Agency to inspect their seed fields and certify the seeds they produced. In 2018, Amelia invested in seed multiplication; she planted 10 hectares (ha) of soybean for certified seed. She selected her preferred soybean variety (Zamboane) from a demonstration plot she had hosted the previous year. This variety is among the resilient soybean varieties registered and released by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique (IIAM) through a previous USAID-funded project, “Platform for Agricultural Research and Technology Innovation (PARTI)”. Amélia harvested 14.35 tons (1.4 ton/ha) of certified seed that year and sold them to a local cooperative, Cooperativa de Produtores da Alta Zambézia (COPAZA), of which she is a member, for 40 Mozambican meticals (MNZ)/kg (about US$0.67/kg; exchange rate at the time) a total of 574,000 MNZ (about US$9,690). Amélia was happy with the income from her seed multiplication. She said, “The skills I gained changed how I managed my farm. Quality seed, appropriate planting time and density are key to high soybean yield. I almost doubled the yield from last year. I use inoculant if I can get it and that made it even better.” An inoculant is a bacteria-based product that enables the soybean plant to obtain nitrogen from the atmosphere when applied to soybean seed before planting or placed in the planting furrow. Hence, there is no need to apply nitrogen fertilizer to the field. When asked why she decided to grow seed instead of grain she responded, “I sold soja grain at 16 MNZ/kg and seeds at 40 MNZ/kg, so I prefer to invest in seed production. Thanks to SEMEAR, I know how to grow soja well and my yields are even higher than those of many men within and outside the community.”
While exploring opportunities, Amélia decided to add common bean and sesame to her production portfolio in 2019 since the prices for the two crops were even higher than soybean. She reduced her soybean area to 7 ha and planted the remaining 3 ha to common bean and sesame. She harvested 9 tons of soybean seed, which was sold to COPAZA at the same price as the previous year based on a signed contract with the cooperative, but the results from the common bean and sesame were not as expected.
Amélia participated in a field day organized by Serviço Distrital de Actividades Economicas (the district extension service provider under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development) in partnership with SEMEAR in Gurué in 2019. She learned that the Dreamers Group (DG), a youth agribusiness venture, had started a seed multiplication business and the DG was interested in engaging experienced farmers as seed outgrowers. Amélia was relieved as she had dreamed of selling her seeds at a competitive price compared to the contract price offered by COPAZA. She contacted the DG and discussed terms and conditions to which she agreed. With an attractive soybean price in mind, she went all out in 2020, expanding her soybean seed multiplication area to 16 ha, but this time planting two varieties — short and medium duration varieties — to spread the risk. “The harvest was amazing,” she said. A total of 28.5 tons (1.8 kg/ha) and proof that when women have access to resources, they can be as productive as their male counterparts. She sold the soybean seeds to the DG at 70 MNZ/kg (about US$1.03/kg), making almost 2 million MNZ (about US$29,480). With this revenue, she paid off an input loan obtained from COPAZA.
In 2021, Amelia expanded her soybean multiplication field again, planting 9 ha for seed and 11 ha for grain. Amélia explained that she had a great year because soybean grain price increased more than 70% compared to that of the previous year (US$0.62 versus US$0.36), so she was happy with her decision to produce grains. For the current 2022 season, Amélia planted three soybean varieties on 15 ha, but due to severe drought, only one variety (Wamini, one of the IITA and IIAM varieties mentioned above) had good emergence and is now harvesting. She noted that variety selection is very important, but she has no regrets because she has no control over the weather. With a smile on her face, while posing for a photo in her soybean field, she said, “with revenue from seed and grain sales, I increased my cattle from 10 to 23, bought 15 goats and seven pigs, and I’m able to pay my children’s fees at a private university.” Amélia’s soybean multiplication activities employ other women and men in the community during the growing season as seasonal workers for land preparation, planting, weeding, harvesting and threshing.