By Florence Nakazi and Miriam Katunze

Farmer Groups (FGs) constitute a crucial component of a properly functioning agricultural system. They not only offer an opportunity to market agricultural produce, but also offer avenues for farmers to gain skills such as financial acumen, entrepreneurship, decision- making and negotiating. At the same time, FGs enable members to access inputs and remain competitive in dynamic markets.

Uganda has experienced an expansion in the number of available FGs as a result of the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADs) intervention in 2001 and the proliferation of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). According to the Agricultural Technology and Agribusiness Advisory Services (ATAAS) database by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), the proportion of households with at least one member subscribing to FGs increased from 20 percent in 2011 to 23 percent in 2014. The NAADS programme targeted both men and women to reduce the gender imbalance in access and use of agricultural information. As such, there was an increase in the number of FGs comprising of both men and women. By 2014, women and men’s representation in farmer groups stood at 35 percent.

The question at hand is whether the boom in FGs has enabled women to overcome their social and cultural barriers to taking up leadership positions in such groups. In this article, we examine barriers to female participation in leadership positions of FGs and their consequences to agricultural transformation.

Barriers to female participation in leadership of FGs
To the best of our knowledge, information on the status of female participation in leadership positions of FGs is largely absent. This means we are unable to undertake a trends analysis given that we lack a baseline. However there is evidence that suggests that overall few women are participating in leadership positions of FGs in most parts of Uganda. A recent empirical study of 65 farmer groups in Central Uganda by Nakazi et al., (2017) revealed that due to limited and non-standardization of the number of leadership positions in FGs as manifested by an average of 5 positions i.e. chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary, treasurer, auditors (Figure 1), women do no participate much. This means that while FGs have constitutions/by-laws that govern them, they remain highly informal- lacking globally recognized positions/standard number of positions in a typical FG. The more positions- the better for women as they have more space to compete but this is not always the case.

Furthermore, the study found that with the exception of the vice chairperson and treasurer positions, females were under represented in almost all the other leadership positions. This suggests women’s limited access to informal political space (figure 1). For instance a lady chairperson led only 35 percent of the groups. Women’s limited participation in key decision making positions like chairperson shows that women bargaining space is still limited, which gives them less say in major decision making processes. Unfortunately, taking the status quo of 5 positions on average in an FG, how much bargaining power does a woman have in the decision making space? On the other hand, 54 percent of FGs had women as vice chairpersons suggesting that women are shy to speak in public, always under the cover of men and yet this position is synonymous with one as a wife in a home and can therefore be leveraged on by women to make decisions. Furthermore, the over representation of women among the vice-chairperson position may suggest a token appreciation rather than a consideration of women as equal decision makers.

Nonetheless, it is however commendable that 70 percent of FGs had lady treasurers- suggesting that women contribute to financial stewardship of FGs. However, another recent study on Uganda warehouse receipt system also found that women leaders are risk averse when it comes to applying for loans (Katunze et al, 2017). As such, taking up some leadership position without taking advantage of the available financial services may not do justice to advancing the women’s cause in agricultural transformation. Nonetheless, increasing women in leadership position even if not as chairpersons can increase their voice and influence over group decision making which builds their confidence and skills. Furthermore, the study by Nakazi and others shows that while women were traditionally less inclined to information dissemination, a large proportion of FGs have women as information officers (47 percent). This suggests that women are becoming more empowered in public speaking.

The above patterns in FGs leadership structures can partially be explained by cultural norms within the household and the community that men are perceived to be more knowledgeable and able to make decisions organize group activities and maintain discipline within the group. This could also be explained by the perception held by women suggesting men are better placed to establish contacts with external institutions to amplify their concerns/voices. Cultural norms that limit women’s movements outside the household/community perpetuate a male-dominated political scene.

More so, patriarchal socialization is equally responsible for such structure. FGs led by male chairperson are reluctant to place women on top of their lists, thus limiting women's chances of getting elected. Yet male leaders can undercut such socialization by championing women in leadership. In addition, the triple role phenomenon is perhaps the biggest barrier to women’s participation in leadership of FGs. The cultural assumption that women are the primary or sole caregivers of children has often been used to exclude women from the public sphere, especially with regard to leadership in groups.

Figure 1: Distribution of FG leadership positions by gender

Miriam Nakazi Blog

Source: Nakazi et al (2017)

Policy implications

By increasing women's participation in FGs, we can have a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of the agricultural sector. There is need to establish quotas for participation of women in leadership structures of FGs. This may take the form of setting a minimum percentage of representation for both sexes to ensure a balanced presence of men and women in political and decision-making posts. Some posts should be ring fenced for women while others should be left for direct competition regardless of gender.

These will serve as a catalyst, which nurtures the self-confidence of women from the grassroots level to participation in politics. These quotas should be specified in the FGs constitutions, planning and monitoring systems. We also believe that utilizing the leadership potential of women in FGs can be an effective tool in addressing social norms and empowering rural women. While NAADs requires the provision of inputs through collective action, very little effort has been dedicated to mainstreaming governance structures of FGs. Essentially NAADs should collaborate with Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives to offer oversight roles in governing of FGs-making them formal. This should be undertaken, bearing in mind that promoting women in leadership provides benefits to FGs especially in financial performance.

Important References 

[i] UBOS (2014) Agricultural Technology and Agribusiness Advisory Services (ATAAS) Baseline Survey (Kampala: Uganda Bureau of Statistics).

[ii] Florence Nakazi, Paul Aseete, Enid Katungi & Michael Adrogu Ugen. (2017). The potential and limits of farmers’ groups as catalysts of women leaders. Cogent Economics & Finance, 5: 1348326.

[iii] Katunze, M., A. Kuteesa, T. Mijubi, and D. Mahebe (2017) Uganda Warehousing Receipt System: Improving Market Competitiveness and Service Delivery. EPRC Research Series No 137


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