Leaders of the ECOWAS members states have been called upon to resolve the problem of women right to land ownership saying despite many promises the issues remain unresolved.
Addressing journalists on Land Rights for African Rural Women on Friday, the Chairperson, Pan African Rural Women Assembly, Mrs. Ejim Lovelyn Nnenna, said ECOWAS policy makers should address the problems of women land ownership, land use decision-making power, and protection against land grabbing.
According to Mrs. NEjim, these are all sensitive issues that require major reforms in land rights at regional level.
“Over the years, commitments were being made at different fora on the need for rural women’s empowerment to alleviate poverty, ensuring rapid and sustainable development and fighting hunger. Despite many promises it is now obvious that challenges previously identified remain an issue particularly the issue of land rights. The ECOWAS Heads of States Summit is starting tomorrow. This is again another opportunity for us, the rural women across the African Nations to stress on the crucial role of women to achieve sustainable development goals.
“Records show that women represent more than 60% of the agricultural labor in sub-Saharan Africa. We account for 60 to 80 percent of food production on the continent. We make up almost half of the agricultural labor force and involve in 80 to 90 percent in food processing, storage and transportation as well as hoeing and weeding. Despite this significant contribution, less than 20 percent of women farmers own their farm, whereas women herders who manage almost alone milk production and play an increased role in small ruminants breeding and poultry farming, do not know at all or have very little knowledge on how to secure protection of breeding pasture,” she said.
She noted that while rural women are a powerful driver for agricultural development, their potential is still hampered by the disparities between men and women adding that women’s lack adequate and secure access to land was a major issue.
“We are the first victims of land and related natural resources grabbing, all this together seriously threatens the capacity communities to meet the whole challenges of sustainable agricultural and food systems today and tomorrow thus not allowing the world to feed itself with healthy and high quality food and nutritional diversity, and to contribute to poverty eradication.
“It is believed that If women farmers have the same factors of production and opportunities as their male counterparts in the world, we would be able to increase our crop yields by 20 to 30 percent and help prevent millions of people from starving,” she stated.
She further said efforts should be made to increase agric budgetary to allow for more investment in agriculture for women farmers.
She admitted that the problem of land for rural women has start gaining more attention in policy documents. “Land is a right granted to women specifically by legal instruments in West Africa. And states have ratified the law. But in practice, the reality is quite different and sometimes dramatic, especially in terms of inclusive management or equitable access.
“Social and traditional norms continue to be barrier to rural women and girls access to land. In West Africa, from Nigeria to Mauritania through Ghana, Togo, Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso or Senegal, rural women still face three major challenges: equity in access to land, safety of operating and investment by women and the protection and preservation of women’s land rights,” Nnenna lamented.
She also explained that women are not only limited to play major roles in cash crops, staple-food production, processing, or marketing, but that as holders of local and traditional knowledge in farm seed conservation and natural resources management, they also play a critical role in the transmission of traditional knowledge to future generations.
“For all these reasons, women should be leaders in the transition to sustainable agricultural and food systems.
“Therefore as the ECOWAS heads of States are meeting again from tomorrow, we stand again today to ask policy makers in West Africa to move from words to actions. Direct right to land ownership, land use decision-making power, protection against grabbing are all sensitive issues that require major reforms in land rights at regional level and in each of the country under ECOWAS. Similarly, it is key to awaken the rural world to laws adopted on land and especially awaken men on provisions in favor of women, and enforce the laws throughout the territory.
“We demand that having access to land for women is not enough if public funding targeting rural women is not made available or if access to credit for women is not easy. We reiterate our demands as contain in Our Kilimanjaro Charter Titled “Charter of Demands: Actualising Women’s Land Rights in Africa,” she said.