Nairobi Sharefair calls for enhanced access to technologies that are sensitive to rural women’s aspirations

UN Agencies – IFAD, FAO and WFP, led by the UN Women and with the support of the African Union (AU), last week (October 15 – 17, 2014) co-hosted a Sharefair for Rural Women’s Technologies in Nairobi, Kenya, the first of its kind in Eastern and Southern Africa.    The objective of the Sharefair was to showcase agricultural innovations that enhance women’s access to labour-saving technologies, as the main players in ensuring family nutrition and household food security.  The event was organized to coincide with the International Day of Rural Women marked yearly on 15 October, with this year’s theme, Rural Women and Agriculture; and World Food Day, on 16 October on the theme of Gender, Food and Nutrition Security.

More than 400 policymakers, academics, food producers, investors, rural women, representatives of UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, including 155 exhibitors of technologies took part in the event. 

African can feed itself
Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, officially opened the Sharefair on the first day, urging Africans to harness the continents’ full agricultural potential in order to achieve food security. Christine Musisi, the Regional Director, UN Women, ESA stated, "When women lose, we all lose,” adding “women are the heart and soul of agriculture in the developing world.”  Other guests present at the opening ceremony were the UN Office in Nairobi Director General Sahle-Work Zewde, and Government of Kenya Principal Secretary, Ministry of Devolution and Planning, Eng. Peter Mangiti.

IFAD’s Senior Technical Adviser, Gender, Empowerment and Social Inclusion Claire Bishop-Sambrook delivered the key note address during the first Round Table Dialogue (RTD) on Women’s access to technologies: where are we and what are the opportunities for agricultural growth?  Some issues raised by Bishop and other panelists were: the need for involving community leaders and other decision makers as an enabling factor for enhancing women's access to labour-saving technologies; supporting women to share on the challenges facing them and provide solutions; involvement of the private sector in supporting technologies that enhance rural women’s productivity; and ensuring mechanization is done at all levels of the farm labour profile, and not just during land preparation.  A repeated call throughout the Sharefair was ‘The Hoe Must Go!”, a call to modernize agriculture with affordable, labour and time saving technologies that support women and that attract the youth to agriculture.

Women’s voices must be heard
Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Director African Women in Agriculture Research and Development (AWARD) presented the Key Note address during the second RTD on Looking to a food secure and prosperous Africa: what will it take? Dr. Wanjiru’s address focused on the role of women in decision making and getting their voices heard in matters nutrition, mechanization and access to finance.  “Women must take center stage in agriculture conversations…all of us need to build the pipeline of young women who sit at the decision-making table,” she urged.  The second speaker, FAO Country Representative in Kenya Luca Alinovi, emphasized the role of family farming and the importance of investing in youth as agents of change in agricultural development, and poverty alleviation in general. 

Other panelists in this session were Julianne Friedrich (IFAD PTA - Nutrition), and Mubarak Mabuya and Jasper Mwesigwa of IGAD who highlighted IGAD’s efforts to address women’s vulnerabilities to shocks and support for community-based climate services to achieve food security and build resilience in the Horn of Africa. 
Put farmers first in research
The last RTD dwelt on farmer-research linkages with an appeal to researchers to involve smallholder women farmers in research processes as the chief custodians of indigenous knowledge.
Besides, the policy-level round tables, the Sharefair also organized parallel technical sessions such as: Knowledge management and networking in the innovation cycles by IFAD’s Silvia Sperandini, Intellectual Property as an assest in the business and Innovative Practices: Women’s Voice from Community to Policy and Back, among others. 
Recognizing youth potential in agriculture
Kenya Gospel Music Rapper Juliani performing at the Young Innovators Award ceremony on October 16.  Juliani is the Amiran Poverty Eradication Ambassador and has been leading a campaign to spark a youth driven agribusiness revolution in Kenya 

Another component of the Sharefair was the Young Innovators Award which sought to recognize promising students who are designing technologies that take into consideration the unique gender dimensions of rural agriculture, food security and nutrition. The award targeted students from agricultural learning institutions, social science, and IT departments within universities and polytechnics in the Eastern and Southern Africa region. The categories that won awards were: -
  • Innovations and technologies benefiting women smallholder farmers – The winner in this category was Wacoco, Paul and Ocheng, Matthew from Makerere University, Uganda for the Portable Electro-Chemical Aflatoxin Testing Kit.  The second prize was awarded to Pauline Wanjuki Njeru from Egerton University, Kenya, for the innovative mushroom growing using affordable, readily available materials. 
  • Communication technologies which promote the dissemination of agricultural innovations – Gladys Mwanga, a student at Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, Tanzania took the award for the Mobile Application for Livestock Production
  • Technologies developed in research and/or learning institutions – The winners were Rose P Funja, Grace S Makanyaga, Dickson Msack, and Deogratius Mushi, all students at the University of Bagamoyo, Tanzania.  Their technology was the Farmland Ownership Mapping Software. 
The Portable Electro-Chemical Aflatoxin Testing Kit helps in the  analysis of aflatoxin contamination in cassava and facilitate demonstration of compliance to trade and regulatory requirements of safety, thus enabling women in Uganda to access markets.  
In concluding the
Sharefair, the main messages in moving forward the agenda for rural women technologies were: -
  • The need for upscaling of existing technologies so that they are accessible (& affordable) by the rural women
  • The need to look across the labour demands across the whole livelihoods system at household level, including at the domestic sphere
  • Recognizing that farmers are part and parcel of research – putting farmers first in research
  • Efforts to have women’s voices heard at all levels (at the household level, communities including farmer organizations, boardrooms, national mechanisms)
  • Need for a Transformative Agenda in order to break down the gender division of labour in farming and household tasks as a critical first step towards improving agricultural productivity
  • Taking advantage of policy environment such as the Declaration by African Union of the Year of Women’s Empowerment - 2015

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