Women Farmers of Uganda

Esther inherited a huge area of land from her father. But after marriage, her husband took over most of it, and decided what is to be produced in there

I was happy with what I was doing in my land. The yams and fruits were feeding us; it also earned me an income – quite a good one I must say” lamented thirty-one year old Esther Wanjala who feels a burden on herself now. “My man was determined to make big money through tobacco. How is that going to feed my children and their children in the future?”

In Uganda, out of the 41 million people, 36 million live in the rural. The rural areas of Uganda witness poverty and the rural dwellers rely on agriculture as their main source of income. In these areas about 22% of the population, live below the national poverty line. And even with a 66% of employment received through farming, food is scarce and insecure in the land. Food insecurity has become a major issue in Uganda.

Though Uganda comprises almost half of farmable land in the Eastern region of Africa, the country is able to meet the food requirement of only 19.5% of its population. This is due to the uneven distribution of resources among men and women farmers, with a huge lack of land used in food production. There are many women who engage in home farming and small scale farming. These women encounter more challenges than the women who involve in larger cultivation.

“Our people are increasing too fast” states Beatrice, a woman of 60 who still engages in farming. “We women are working hard for food. There are more women farmers and yet we women suffer with lack of food. Men seem not to understand the problem with food. They only decide which crops to be planted – crops that will yield more money. And we have to obey. I am lucky that I am a widow. No one is there to control me. Yet I pity my daughters.”

In Uganda, women play a crucial role in rural agriculture. Women in Uganda comprise 80% of the farmer population, and they produce 60% of the food for the country; yet as women own only 1% of land and fewer resources than men, the productivity of women in Uganda’s agriculture stays low. Men, who own a vast majority of the lands, decide on the crops based on their own interests and economic factors.

The produce that is received from the food crops is limited and serves for the household consumption of the women farmers. These women do not have extra food produce to sell in the market, which allows them to face hardships in purchasing the required utilities for their farm land. In addition, the meager portion of land they own, tend to be overused which results in low fertility, challenging the growth of crops.
Due to the high poverty level, women do not have the ability to purchase agriculture enhancing resources to fertile the ground, or even do not seem to have enough time to fertilize the ground with natural manure. The Ugandan government pushes people to obtain loans for their agricultural purposes; and they do this so that to overcome the country’s issue of food insecurity. But it is not easy on the rural people who own small plots of land to secure loans when they do not have a solid guarantee to show. The banks have their own demands and this makes the rural villagers to draw back from obtaining loans. And this is even worse in the case of women, as women are not considered solid enough for loans to be granted.

It is this discrimination towards women, the lack of value for their work, the societal attitudes and cultural practices seen in a typical patriarchal dominance that makes them stand unrecognized, even whilst they toil hard for the benefit of their families, societies and the country. While men farmers receive vast benefits for farming such as better-quality seeds, appropriate tools, required fertilizers and training on modern technologies for agriculture, women are always excluded. The reason that men’s farms yield more crops than of the women is due to these added advantages given to men.
Not only do women and their hard work go unseen, their hardships due to their work in the fields go unrecognized too. Women’s work does not end when the sun goes down. Women farmers also have to cover their household duties, which do not allow them to rest their bodies. Women not only have no claim on their own lands, but their privileges in their homes are also minimal.

Afiya, 41 says, “I walk to my farm. But before I do that I have a lot of chores to finish at home; it is not easy to be a mother of 5 young children. And then again I have so much to do when I get back home. Sometimes I feel very sick; my bowels hurt; untimely and scarce meals is the reason they say; but I cannot stop what I am doing.”

Women are usually burdened and over-strained with different work and responsibilities. And if you are poor woman or a woman from a dominant society, the situation is even worse. This impact negatively, on women’s physical and mental health conditions. Women farmers have to constantly bend or squat during their agricultural activities. As most of the farming tools have been designed to suit men, which make the women to put extra pressure and efforts when dealing with them. Women tend to develop severe aches, and constant squatting of pregnant women leads to miscarriages, premature births and infant mortality.

“I have gone through two abortions already; but even after every abortion I was forced to work in the farm land” mentioned Kenyangi who is only 29 years. “My husband is addicted to liquor, and I am the breadwinner of my family. I have to feed my two children. Some of my friends suffer from spinal problem as they stay bent throughout the day. We have to weed out the grass and some weeds cuts through our skins. Insects bite us too. But we are forced to pass through all these problems. When we get home, we can’t even see a doctor, or buy some medicines. We don’t even have the time to rest. I don’t earn so much from the crops, but that is what feeds us. My additional suffering is my drunkard husband who is very harsh. I do all the toiling, yet my man decides what I grow. He owns the farm and the house. I am just a helpless slaving woman.”

Gender discrimination and inequality between men and women does not only affect the woman alone, but all communities in all aspects. Women are almost 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. Out of these women, for 79% agriculture becomes the main source of livelihoods. According to FAO, highest female farmer population is in Africa. But women here have the least access to resources and services in the field of agriculture.

As FAO former Director General Jacques Diouf stated, ‘women make crucial contributions in agriculture and rural enterprises in all developing country regions, as farmers, workers, and entrepreneurs. Their roles vary across regions but, everywhere, women face gender -specific constraints that reduce their productivity and limit their contributions to agricultural production, economic growth, and the well-being of their families, communities, and countries’.

Natasha | Uganda