Date released
12 October 2023

In our rapidly changing world, achieving gender inclusion and equity remains essential for sustainable development. Studies show that women account for nearly half of the world’s smallholder farmers and produce 70% of Africa’s food. The United Nation reports that giving women the same opportunities as men could rise agricultural production by 4% in the poorest regions and reduce the number of malnourished people by as much as 17%.

One outstanding example of these principles in action is the Cultivating Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF) program. Running from 2013-23, this forward-thinking initiative was funded by ACIAR and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and has left a lasting legacy in promoting cultural understanding and inclusivity within diverse agricultural communities.

The program comprised 9 research projects spanning 4 key themes: increasing productivity and reducing post-harvest losses; advancing gender equality; connecting agriculture, nutrition, and human health; and addressing climate change and agricultural water management. Over the past 10 years, these 9 projects were active in rural communities throughout Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

A focus on gender

ACIAR and IDRC’s commitment to fostering a more equitable and empowering environment was evident throughout the program, benefiting men, women and children while transforming gender relations. Research activities were grounded in gender and social analysis, aiming to reduce disparities in social norms related to resource access and decision-making for both men and women.

From the outset, CultiAF integrated gender-inclusive elements, including flexible training schedules and locations to accommodate women's primary caregiving roles. Research activities were also tailored to respect cultural practices.

The research primarily focused on innovations to enhance women's productivity, nutrition and income in areas such as fisheries, poultry, pig production and the cultivation of beans, sorghum and water for production. Tested technologies and products, such as precooked beans in Kenya and Uganda, not only reduced the burden of food production and processing but also addressed micronutrient deficiencies, particularly among women.

The initiatives empowered rural women with financial autonomy that led to increased household earnings and enhanced socio-economic standing. These impacts had a ripple effect, leading to improved educational and healthcare opportunities for their families.

The A$37 million program also played a pivotal role in empowering female researchers and their institutions across Eastern and Southern Africa, fostering a more gender-responsive approach to research, thereby paving the way for greater inclusivity and progress.

CultiAF has had profound influence on advancing gender equity within the agricultural sector, with participating women farmers sharing their stories and how the program has impacted their lives.

Amanna Bashir

Harnessing dietary nutrients of underutilised fish and fish-based products in Uganda (NutriFish) (GP/2019/176)

Woman smiling displaying trays of dried fish in tent drier
Ms Amanna Bashir happily sorting her fish in the solar tent drier installed by the project.

My name is Amanna Bashir, a mother of three, one boy and two girls, aged 8, 5 and 2 years respectively. I am also a wife, a farmer and the Cwaranguta Women’s Group chairperson in Uganda. I started as a small fish farmer, and that’s when the project came in to impact women processing fish to improve the quality of their produce while boosting their income.

What would you consider an impactful outcome of the project’s intervention?

Before the NutriFish project, gender-based violence was rampant. Courtesy of the project, we learnt the benefits a peaceful union would birth not only as a family but at individual levels. This meant having the Cwaranguta Women’s Group morphing to have men participate in the collective activities. This was a game changer as my husband and I now run the business amicably.

The project stirred in me a saving culture. The production of Mukene (the silver cyprinid or the Lake Victoria sardine) is seasonal. At times, you can earn UGX 80,000 (A$33) from selling the fish; at other times, you can generate UGX 120,000 (A$49.5). Learning how to remain consistent on expenditures and savings no matter the season was vital, and this has been helpful for the group as we raised the bar from UGX500 (A$0.21) weekly contributions to UGX2,000 (A$0.83).

At a personal level, with extra funds, I am sustaining household needs and can contribute to paying the [school] fees on time. The narrative of kids being chased away for one reason or another and a lack of fees is no longer the norm. 

It has also empowered me, which has earned me respect in my community, for how I dress and carry myself is not what it used to be. Even with all this, I can still save some money for myself. I am also a decision-maker in the home and confident.

Mukene has rich nutrition value, yet it is despised for its smell. But look at me; I am very healthy and beautiful and owe it to Mukene.

Initially, we would dry the fish through open sun drying, which meant the produce was exposed to dust, other elements and forms of contamination, especially during the windy season. However, with the solar tent driers, the produce is safe, hygienic and of better quality, per the market standards, which means better returns for me.

What does the future look like for you?

In 5 years, I look forward to enrolling my children in private schools. I also foresee an increase in sales. Before the project, I used to produce 2 basins of Mukene. With the projects’ intervention, I now produce 5 basins. Soon, I plan to produce 10 independently and an additional 10 for the group.

Jennifer Nakaya 

Scale-up supply of pre-cooked beans for food and nutrition security by leveraging on public-private partnerships in Kenya and Uganda (GP/2019/115)

Speaking at the CultiAF conference in Nairobi in June 2023 was Jennifer Nakaya, a Ugandan farmer who has benefited from the pre-cooked beans projects. She, too, shared the joys of the projects’ intervention in scaling up her beans business.

A woman in a pink dress tipping beans from tray into a bucker
Jennifer Nakaya is packing the pre-cooked beans in sacks after a bountiful harvest.

I am a bean farmer and chairperson of the Irangira Farmers Group. I have been growing different types of beans and crops. But, when I was informed of the pre-cooked beans variety, I prioritised the improved varieties promoted by the project because they are easy to cook, quick to grow and have a higher nutritional value.

Through project training, we learnt the ideal spacing during the planting season, how to control pests and diseases and post-harvest handling. Our income steadily increased since we remained consistent with these methods, and our lives have changed. Our group initially had 10 people, but many have since joined. We initially harvested 200 kilograms of beans per acre. That has since advanced to 600 kilograms.

Beans are there to fight hunger and boost income. We can now comfortably educate our children and grandchildren from the proceeds of bean farming. Before this intervention, we begged teachers to grant us grace periods to look for other ways of clearing fee balances.

Also, we are happily enjoying two bean harvesting seasons, which have created an excellent financial buffer to build proper houses for our nuclear families and a step further to owning residential homes. This has diversified our income stream.

My life has significantly changed. Were it not for all the above, I wouldn’t be sharing my story with you today. I am just a farmer, a school dropout, but look at me now, I am a testament to change.

The CultiAF program has demonstrated the transformative power of gender inclusion and equity in agriculture. The AU$37million investment by ACIAR and IDRC has empowered rural women across Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe to improve their lives and the lives of their communities.

A synthesis report detailing the impact of the CultiAF program was recently released. Learn more about the program via IDRC’s website and learn more about the partnership between ACIAR and IDRC.